Thursday, January 15, 2009

China to Chandni Chowk : Indian Chinese food

Indians will eat anything fried, spicy and sour, said Sanjay Khanna, my mentor at Discovery Channel. He introduced me to both, eating better Chinese food in most continents of the world . Also, eating Indian Chinese food with pride and not feeling hesitant to order sweet corn soup and manchurian anything (only Indians will understand this) in its various forms. Albeit , we did it with an eggdrop and canned asparagus (to renforce ,we had more evolved tastes).

My first experience with Chinese food as a child, was at this quaint Chinese restaurant called Shinkows at Ootacamund on cold and damp winter afternoon. I was on a day trip with my Dad, a travelling salesman , who had then become manager. We had noodles, sweet and sour pork and lots of chilli chicken (I thought for a few years that all sweet and sour was pork) As a teenager, I made an ass of myself, asking for sweet and sour at a family gathering at The Host (a restaurant in New Delhi). My sister in law said sweet and sour what. I then understood the style or the gravy is sweet and sour with a choice of vegetables and meats rather than a dish by itself.

For many years, we understood Chinese food as something you got from a van parked in South Extension , at New Delhi with an obscene name like Hungry Hop. Extravagance and more money meant, going to Chungwa (then at Defence Colony), Aka Saka, Faley (again at Defence Colony), Daichi (at South Extension). My taste buds and exposure to the cuisine improved with the highs and low of Chinese food at Pearls (the Chinese restaurant at the swanky Hyatt Regency in the 80’s with my bro Sanjiv and wife Poonam) to the Tibetan Dhaba and generically called Tib Tabs at Ladakh Budha Vihar opposite the Bus Terminal near Delhi University to Chopsticks at Churchgate in Mumbai (experienced the birds nest soup for the first time). While at Mumbai ordered from Chinese room at Kemps corner and ate at Nelson Wang's (High priest of Indian Chinese)China garden.


So many persons contributed to my evolution in Chinese food, father, brother his wife, friends and of course my mother who will try anything for the experience . So when I met my dear wife , Praveen, and on our first lunch date at Fujiya in Diplomatic enclave at New Delhi, I was kind of equipped to order a Chinese meal. We both enjoyed it, we grew and so did our taste buds, with more guidance, travel, experiences, we understood Chinese food to in its entire glory from provinces to style of cooking with travels in Asia, and US.
The real art of ordering a good Chinese meal is what I learnt from boss and now friend (hopefully) , Sanjay. The Chinese tea, the soup, the steamed rice and chinese greens and especially pakchoy. We had been to every Oriental (Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Burmese restaurant, that was worth visiting in South and South Asia). Mean while Praveen’s taste buds and Chinese food affinity had evolved with innumerable vists to Taipan, Fa-hian, Larry’s China and with her immense travel and lo behold our daughter at 4, was a Dim Sum fiend and enjoyed paper wrapped anything and, adept at chopsticks and enjoyed greens, everything was going fine until ……………


One winter evening, Praveen’s friend Shilpa (working and living in South Asia for 14 years) meets us. We invite her out for dinner. She requests for real hard core Punjabi Chinese (Indian Chinese) and we go to Fujiya. All our learning and delicate development of our palette to distinguish between, Cantonese, Sechwan, Hunan, Haka, Mongolian subtleties is lost and we un learn and immerse into. Hot and Sour soup, Veg Spring rolls, Veg Manchurian, American Chopsuey and what not. Basically, lots of Soya sauce, cornflour, vinegar, chillies ghotala. Prophetic words…. Indian s will eat anything fried, spicy and sour……


However, Shilpa really surprised us with her fondness for this cuisine. Now every winter we have to find and line up the meanest Indian Chinese joint for her visit and shamelessly enjoy Indian Chinese.


Though Wikipedia defines Indian Chinese as the adaptation of Chinese seasoning and cooking techniques to Indian tastes. It is said to have been developed by the tiny Chinese community that has lived in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) for over a century. Immensely popular with Indians, it is widespread in major Indian metropolitan cites such as Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata; and is also enjoyed by Indian and Chinese communities in Malaysia, Singapore and North America. Indeed, in a curious twist, Indian Chinese has followed the mainstream Indian expatriate community as they have spread across the world, providing expatriate Indians with a taste of authentic Indian Chinese.


True , Tangra in Kolkata is where each one of us have their favourites, Kimling, Kimfa, China Haus and my recent favourite Golden Joy (introduced my Manjeet Narwan), contributed to this amazing cuisine .Which has legends like Nelson Wang, Camelia Punjabi and many unsung heroes and improvisers all over India, Nepal and Bangladesh to develop this Chinese chaat which is strangely appealing and perhaps addictive as yet again another Praveen’s friend Tina would say lets order Dirty Chow…….. Cheers to Dirty Chow, Chinese Chaat, Chinjabi, Chindian, Sino Ludhianvi cuisine. I am loving it.







Pal check out Indian Chinese !




Parting shots:
Whats your favourite Tangra restaurant ?
Whats your Indian Chinese food story ?
Where have you had the dirtiest Chow ?


So Long !

22 comments:

Rashmi said...

I am really addicted to your blog.Best part is the detailing you get into and provide an insight to the behind the scene story .
Although I am not a foodie,but the pics posted will make anyone’s mouth water.

Best Regards
Rashmi

Samil said...

Dear Rashmi,

You are kind. I am loving it, if you are loving it.

Warm regards,

Samil Malhotra

Praveen said...

superstuff.
lucid detailing and great insights .

time to go back to fujiya

love and looking forward to the next one.

pra

Ajay Gupta said...

Hi Samil,

Congratulations! you are amazing.

I'm sure some day your blogs will get published in form of a books.

Keep writing.

Regards,
Ajay

ananya said...

papa i loved it....

kingofwishfulthinking said...

Hey Samil, great insight on the chinese food.
Guess that was my first brush with 'firangi' cusine. And yea, the friendly van (chinese van) was the usual dispenser of cheap food.

saurjyesh said...

This blog took me back some 20 years to the Hungry Hop and also the scolding we all got from Da teh Shung ( Some Hi Fi chinese Chef from London ) who tld us that Indians dont eat Chinese they murder Chinese.
I guess the main part of being a foodie is to let go , enjoy and not be a critic. If the food is fun one will like whether Hungry Hop soup or Peking Duck in a swish Beijing restaurant.

Samil said...

SN,

Well said. We should coin food appreciative, rather than food critic.

Warmest,

Samil

mohit said...

Samil

this is hungry reading. maybe you should expand this and write about punjabi chinese, jain chinese, gujarati chinese, maharashtrian chinese and south indian chinese:) Chung Wa evoked some great memories of summer holiday treats with my father when we visited delhi. Is it still around we must have lunch there next time i am in delhi.

cheers
mohit

leon said...

that was an excellent post , happy to hear that you like indian chinese food (:

Chaeles Bagli said...

mann i love bird's nest soup too even IF its made from spit!!! <333

i eat it like once every monthish and used to bought from website hongkong-bird-nest.50webs.com/index_e.htm sometimes, my mom went back to hong kong and bought a full suitcase of it cause its cheaper there XD

Mohit said...

Sir
what a lovely piece on royalty and polity. Pls write more often. Hope you get the time to eat out more often.
looking forward to some posts on your travels within India. Any other local/ street icons we can refer to and read about.
best
Mohit

Leo Maxim said...

Dear Samil,

I have a feeling that this is not written by you at all and all copy-paste stuff !

Have you taken a PA to write this stuff now ?


Ciao,

Leo

Samil said...

Dear Leo,

Why it's too perfect for you to digest. It's all mine pal relax.

Warm regards,

Sam

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Samil said...

Dear Anita,

Thanks. Enjoyed a visitor after some time.

Warm regards,

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