Chilau History

Cuban, Italian and Spanish immigrants came to Tampa Bay in the late 1800's to work the factories in and around 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 "Shilaw" 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.

 

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