Chilau History

Tampa Bay Ybor City picture collage

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 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 even know how to spell the word. Boy was I in for quite a surprise when I began to research learn the rich history of this dish and the ethnic cultures which played such a huge role in what it is today.

Crab Chilau, Shelah, Shalla

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 "Shelah" 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 coastal style of cooking coupled with aromatic staples like bell pepper, onion, garlic, celery and cayenne pepper are the base components which makes Chilau Sauce a perfect base for many types of seafood stews. I love celebrating Tampa Bay and Ybor City Culture, but this flavor also captures the essence of coastal cities and legendary food districts such as New Orleans and South Carolina.

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# flavor base for rich and bold flavor in Seafood Stews, Gumbo, Chowder, Boils and Fried Seafood. 

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