The story of Chilau in Tampa is more folklore and legend vs. documented history that I have been able to find. Outside of speaking with many area families and a few articles which covered Tampa Bay food culture. The dish has mostly gone hidden and kept in the confines of each family who continue to make it to this day. It's such a well kept secret I thought my gramma created it, I didn't know how to spell the word. I was in for quite a surprise when I began to research the rich history of this dish and the ethnic cultures which played such a huge role in what it is today.
Cuban, Italian and Spanish immigrants arrived in Tampa Bay in the late 1800's to work the factories in the Ybor City District. Once known as The Cigar Capital of the World, by the 1920's Ybor City was an epicenter for ethnic culture and fusion cuisine. As blue crabs were plentiful in the waters of Tampa Bay it quickly became a cheap go-to source of food for area families. Cuban residents introduced Crab Croquettes (Tampa Style Deviled Crab), which became the signature street food that remains true to this day.
Another little-known dish called Cangrejo Enchilado (Crab Stew) was also introduced. Somehow, through mixing of cultures, recipe swapping and all the magic that happens when cultures collide, Crab Enchilado got shortened to simply Crab Chilau, pronounced "Shalla" or "shilah" by many families. The macaroni factories and Italian diaspora had something to do with spaghetti becoming the staple foundation for the original dish while Spanish and African American families brought more spice variations and that Gulf Coast / Low Country depth.
The core to this southern style of cooking coupled with aromatic staples like bell pepper, onion, garlic, celery and cayenne pepper are the base components which makes Chilau Stew base a perfect base for many types of southern inspired stews. Chilau's flavor captures the essence of legendary food districts like New Orleans and Charleston.
The story of this brand may have began in Tampa, but as our customers have spread across the country Chilau is quickly becoming the 1# stew base for southern inspired Stews, Gumbo, Chowder, Boils and more.Grab a jar of Chilau!