hat tip-Margo I.
Texas Chicken in Walthamstow. Photograph: David Levene
Despite increasing numbers of consumers shunning mass-produced chicken, spurred on by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver’s Chicken Out! campaign, the cheap chicken market is steadily growing in the UK. So far, branches of Texas Chicken have opened in London’s Holloway and Walthamstow, Bolton and Birmingham, all places with high working-class and black and minority ethnic populations.
The Texas Chicken marketing campaign features images of a black family and a group of teenage boys wearing hoodies and baseball caps. When it launched, the chain also targeted minority ethnic media, such as Eastern Eye, Ethnic Now and Asian Lite. “[Black and Asian] communities prefer spicy chicken, that’s why we run both original and spicy so we can appeal to everyone,” says Kollias. The spicy variety, marinaded in black and cayenne peppers, is already selling four times better than the plainer, “original” counterpart. Both halal and spicy are also among the company’s biggest global sellers, Kollias points out.
The increasing number of halal fried chicken shops in the UK is testament to changing demographic and eating patterns. “The Muslim community here is growing,” says Enam Ali, chair of the Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs. “Fried chicken is cheap – [people who eat it] are young, students, with limited pocket money.” Masood Khawaja, president of the Halal Food Authority, says, “A great percentage of third generation Muslims are not eating the original cuisine of their families – they want more takeaways, more convenience foods.”
Meanwhile, research company Mintel has found that the heaviest users of chicken bars are younger, less affluent consumers mainly from the D and C socioeconomic groups.
Not everyone is happy with how the high street is changing. Tottenham MP David Lammy, who used to work in a branch of KFC, has linked chicken joints with the “poverty of ambition in our inner cities” that do not allow black neighbourhoods to prosper. “When I walk down Seven Sisters Road [in London’s Tottenham], I don’t see dozens of distinctive restaurants or boutiques showcasing the best our community has to offer. Instead I see an endless stream of burger bars and fried-chicken shops, flogging cheap calories to the schoolkids and office workers,” he has said.
“Let’s just grasp the nettle here,” says black comic Paul Ricketts, whose stand-up observations often turn to this issue. “All black areas have loads of fried chicken outlets. It is a socio-economic thing. Chicken is one of the cheapest birds you can get. When people go on about smelly food, what they really mean is fried chicken, and they’re having a dig at the people eating it – we have an era where we don’t mention class any more, we just call them chavs or hoodies – it’s a term for working-class scum.”
People all over the country find fried chicken delicious. I don’t normally eat fried chicken – the batter is often too soggy and fatty – but I find the spicy version of Texas Chicken surprisingly tasty and I could be tempted to go back for more.
At Halal Southern Fried Chicken in London’s Brick Lane, they lace their hot wing batter with chilli powder, turmeric, cumin and coriander. Most customers are men in their 20s. The story is the same further down the road at Al-Badar Fried Chicken and Curry Restaurant, where their hot wings are coated in cinnamon, coriander and fresh and crushed chillies. Manager Amer Salim differentiates his product from the nearby KFC, which, he says, caters to another market. “In London’s Tower Hamlets, the Bangladeshi community like spicy with more and more chilli,” he says. “Fried chicken in KFC is not spicy.” Meanwhile, Shelly, 25, is enjoying chicken and chips with her brother and her 15-month-old son in a KFC in Hackney. “I just like the flavouring – spicy with herbs,” she says. Her 12-year-old brother Lerick says he loves the hot wings “because they’re spicy”.
At Caribbean takeaway Soulfood Shack in London’s Islington, co-owner Ivor Caesar says he sells halal meat, but not just for religious reasons. “It’s because people see halal as safer and healthier as they drain all the blood from the chicken.” They are about to start selling spicy fried chicken along with their jerk and barbecue wings at their customers’ requests. “Fried chicken, it’s like soul food,” says Caesar, who is from Jamaica. “When you come into a West Indian shop, you expect to see fried chicken. It’s a home thing, it’s a black thing.” But this will be “nothing like KFC or commercialised fried chicken”, he says. “Our chicken will be real, home-cooked chicken, Caribbean-style, marinated overnight in the natural way.” This means using pimentos, Scotch bonnet peppers, black pepper, sweet peppers, flour, spring onions and garlic, fried in an open deep-fat fryer so it’s crispy.
Tomorrow he will eat fried chicken with baked macaroni at his mum’s for Sunday lunch. “Fried chicken, man, it’s part of our culture, trust me.”