Chindian food has a long history in India and is making its mark worldwide
7/18/2018 12:23:59 AM
|written By : Shobha Tsering Bhalla|
The ancient Silk Route not only opened a thoroughfare for goods and services to flow between India and China, it also brought new culinary methods from India to China and vice-versa.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) –the Golden Age of China – many new foods were introduced such as the “golden peaches of Samarkand” and many other foods like grapes, spinach, lettuce, figs, sugar beets, leeks, and shallots.
It was around this time, too, that India exerted a big influence on China through the growing influence of Buddhism from India and its emphasis on vegetarianism. This led to innovative uses of wheat products in the form of dumplings and fried dough strips and fritters. Food historians like Reah Tannahil (Food in History) believe that deep fried foods like fritters were an Indian invention that came to Tang dynasty China along with the colour vermillion.
In modern times, the influence of China on Indian taste buds has been more striking and enduring. While Chinese travellers had come to India for centuries, it was only in the 18th century that Chinese began settling in India. Yong Ah Chew, a Chinese merchant was among the first. In 1780 Governor-General Warren Hastings granted him land for a sugar plantation and a group of 150 Chinese men came to work for him on the land that became a town named after him – Achipore, near Calcutta. When he died in 1783, his compatriots moved to Calcutta.
Their numbers swelled when they were joined by a band of Chinese sailors who deserted their ship, the “Macao”. Over the decades a steady stream of Chinese arrived in Calcutta during the turbulent days of the Kuomintang rule, followed by World War 2 and Mao’s Revolution. By the early 20th century, there was a sizeable Chinese community in Calcutta and its surrounds with its own schools and newspapers. Naturally, they brought their food with them, giving birth to the first batch of Chinese eateries in India – most of it Hakka. Over time the cuisine evolved to include strong ndian overtones to cater to the taste-buds of the cosmopolitan Calcuttans who took to it with gusto.
Small Chinese communities also sprang up in the hill stations of Kalimpong and Darjeeling, as they were on the trade route to Tibet where they set up restaurants and shoe-shops. Today Chinese-Indian (Chindian) food has become such an integral part of India’s culinary landscape that Chindian restaurants have opened up globally wherever non-resident Indians (NRIs) have migrated, including Singapore.
So what really is Indian Chinese? Simply put, it is the Indian adaptation of Chinese cooking techniques and seasonings with a heightened taste. It’s aimed at pleasing our desi palate, with a larger offering of vegetarian dishes such as the national favourite Gobi Manchurian drowned in a fiery, garlicky sauce. Manchurian? Is that even a real culinary tradition? That’s not a problem for us desis – we’ve invented it and it’s there to stay! For non-vegetarians there is Chilli Chicken and Mandarin Fish and a host of other soy sauce and chilli-laden concoctions.
Not surprisingly, Indian palates are drawn to pungent Sichuan food more than to any other Chinese culinary style.
Recently, while dining at one such eatery, the one-Michelin-starred Q1 – House of Sichuan, I was reminded of the Chilli Chicken and Hot and Sour Soup my foodie mother used to make for my sister and me every winter when we came home from boarding school. Chow Mein (we called it chow-chow) was another all-time Chindian favourite, with my mum going to some lengths to make and freeze-dry her own noodles as no factory-made noodles were available in the far-flung mountainous outposts where my father was posted.
But it soon became obvious that the use of chillis and dark soy sauce was where the similarities began and ended. The difference between my mother’s delicious but homely fare and that of the Michelin-starred Qi kept getting wider as the extravagant meal progressed.
Sichuan food, like Indian food, encompasses all the seven tastes – spicy, sweet, bitter, sour, salty, peppery and aromatic and its fundamental ingredients are star anise, chiilis and Sichuan pepper, a pungent, tongue-numbing berry. There is nothing like a gentle introduction to a Sichuan meal - every dish has a character, tantalising and voluptuous.
Out of the six dishes I tried, the Sugar Glazed Ginger & Scallion Beef was the best – the crisp sweetness balancing the peppery taste of ginger. Sinfully delicious, it complemented the nutty flavour of the juicy little Bang Bang Vegetarian Wontons that came floating like silky sirens on a creamy bed of peanut sauce.
Something about Sichuan cooking lifts even the humble string bean and aubergine to seductive heights. Perhaps it is the quality of the chillis and peppers and ginger that the restaurant flies in from the source, perhaps it is the deft touch of the chef, but even vegetarian dishes appear more robust and satisfying than normal, leaving little desire for meat or fish.
Still we ate on valiantly until we came to the final dish of Braised Garoupa Fish Fillet in Chilli Oil Soup when we had to admit defeat. Not even the hottest Andhra fare comes close to this heroic dish which is served under a thick blanket of crisp dried Sichuan chillis. I counted 80 red devils as I waded for the delicate slices of fish that had somehow retained their equanimity. But by then, we were already in a food coma.
Here are some Chindian and Sichuan recipes to perk up your taste buds:
1. Put cauliflower florets in a bowl. Add refined flour, 2 tablespoons cornflour, ginger-garlic paste,1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, salt and red chilli sauce. Add a little water and mix well so that all the florets are well coated.
2. Heat sufficient oil in a kadai and deep fry cauliflower florets till crisp.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a non-stick wok. Halve spring onion bulbs, chop them and add to the wok and sauté on high heat. Add ginger and garlic and sauté.
4. Chop green chillies finely.
5. Add 1tablespoon dark soy sauce and tomato ketchup to the wok and mix. Add 1cup water and green chillies and mix.
6. Mix 2 tablespoons cornflour in cup water and half of it to the wok, mix and cook till sauce thickens. Add vinegar and mix. Transfer half the sauce into a bowl.
7. Drain cauliflower florets and add to the sauce remaining in the wok and mix well.
8. Chop spring onion greens.
9. Transfer the cauliflower mixture into a serving dish, garnish with spring onion greens and serve hot with the bowl of sauce.
KUNG PAO CHICKEN
1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat until warm. Add raw cashews on medium heat and stir occasionally. Transfer the cashews to a plate to cool.
2. Cut chicken breast into 1 to 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) cubes and transfer to a bowl. Add 1tablespoon light soy sauce and mix well. Add 2 teaspoons cornstarch. Mix by hand until the chicken is evenly coated with a thin layer of starch. Set aside.
3. Combine the remaining 1tablespoon light soy sauce, Chinkiang vinegar, sugar, chilli garlic sauce, and the remaining 1 teaspoon cornstarch to a small bowl. Mix well.
4. Heat oil in the skillet, over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, spread the chicken across the skillet. Let it cook without stirring for 20 seconds. Flip a few times until all surfaces are cooked and slightly browned, but the inside is still raw.
5. Add the vegetables and stir.
6. Mix the kung pao sauce and pour it over the chicken again. Stir to mix well until the sauce thickens. Stop the heat. Add cashews.