The origin of the karhai dish is Pakistan. It started its life in truck stops on the roadside known as dhabas, much like local Hong Kong dai pai dongs. This succulent meat dish of chicken, lamb or beef is cooked with fast arm movements on high heat with lashings of ginger, garlic, tomato and spices in a large bucket, called a balti in Urdu.

The “balti curry” appeared on the streets of London in the 1970s, was an immediate hit and is still incredibly popular today. Eventually, the balti went through an evolution of sophistication, and it changed from a bucket to a wok, which in Urdu is referred to as a karhai – something comforting and familiar to Hong Kongers.

This is one of my mum’s recipes, and it’s focused on the garlic, but amazingly without being overpowering. Actually, people find it hard to believe that there’s no actual powdered spices in it at all!

Without doubt it’s one of my signature dishes today. It’s one of our favourite dishes at any time of the year, but it’s particularly satisfying and tasty during the fasting month of Ramadan. I bet you’ll love it too!

Week 3: garlic karhai chicken

Prep time: 10 min

Cooking time: 45 min

Serves: 4–5


  • 3–4 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1kg skinless, boneless chicken, chopped into medium-sized pieces, or pieces of skinless chicken on the bone (ideally leg/thigh meat)
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes or 4 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 5–7 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1–2 tsp tomato purée
  • salt to, taste
  • 1–2 medium fresh green or red chillies or 1 medium green or red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped


  1. In a wok, heat up the oil and add the chopped onion.
  2. Brown the onion and add the chicken. Stir the chicken in the oil and onion until the chicken becomes pale in colour.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, crushed garlic, tomato purée and salt. Mix into the chicken and cover the pan. Leave on medium heat for about 20–25 min, checking and stirring at intervals.
  4. When the oil has surfaced to the top and the mixture has thickened and changed colour to a deeper red, add the sliced bell pepper or chilli, to taste. Leave for another 10–15 min on low heat. Finally add the chopped coriander.
  5. Serve piping hot garnished with more fresh coriander along with rice or naan.

Recipe notes:

  • If you’re using fresh tomatoes, just pop them into boiling water for 5 min, which allows the skin to be easily removed.
  • The karahi chicken can be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge in an airtight container for 3–4 days.
  • If freezing, allow to cool completely and then freeze in an airtight container.

MORE: Week 2’s Ramadan recipe for sweet potato kebabs

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