India - Culture
The Chinese invasion of India…n cuisine
Louella Lobo says that whilst the Chinese influence silhouetted the Indian food scenario, there was no stealing of the show. It was simply “your lifestyle, our ingredients” - creating food for the stomach and satisfaction for the soul. From Mumbai.
"Hungly? Hungly? Hungly? My Dleam has Dliven me to the land of Flied Lice, Tom Yung and Lung Fung Soups, Manchulians, Noodles and a lot, lot more……Be it the Crab Cakes calling or the Chow Mien……It’s simply Yummmmmmy! Is it a dream? No - No - No - I’m here in India in one of the numerous Chinese outlets that have invaded not just a town or two, but all of it!!!"
The thought of Chinese food seems to spell “Rice.” Yes! Rice was the first grain grown along the Yang–tse river banks as early a 5000 BC, turning this soul-satisfying grain into the staple food of China. As History unfolds itself, on special occasions, the Chinese put petty pieces of meat on their rice. By 5500 BC, they were eating domesticated chicken from Thailand. By 4000 BC, they were eating the native pork and soon after, eating the sheep and cattle which reached there from West Asia.
Since meat was so expensive and Buddhists did not eat meat, around 1000 AD, tofu or bean curd became a prominent source of protein. Scarcity of dense forests and a subsequent lack of firewood for cooking, led the Chinese to cut up their food into small bits so that it would cook quickly over a small fire. It was during the reign of the Hang Dynasty around 100 AD, that the Chinese learned the art of transforming wheat and rice into another of its variations, and there came in the invention of the long noodles.
Chinese food was characterized by an assemblage of plants and animals that flourished prosperously on Chinese lands. The meal consisted of starch staples in the form of rice, wheat, maize, sorghum, millet, kaoliang, yam and sweet potato. Commonly used legumes were soybean, broad bean, mung bean, and peanuts. Their consistently used vegetables include mushroom, Chinese cabbage, green mustard, turnip and radish. Meats used are chicken, mutton, beef, pork, duck, goose and pheasant and of course, fish. Their general spices are red peppers, ginger, garlic, shallots and cinnamon.
The Chinese culture of preparing food comprises in combining “Fan” which are grainy starchy food with “Tsai” which are forms of meats and vegetables. The “Fan” portion comprises of mainly cooked rice, steamed wheat, millet, corn flour bread pancakes and noodles. The “Tsai” portion constitutes vegetables and meats cut up and mixed in various ways and cooked with spices. They are then joined as a meal, for instance, “Wonton”. The food abounds in utterly diverge shapes, flavours, odours and aromas.
The culture of preparing food comprises in combining “Fan” which are grainy starchy food with “Tsai” which are forms of meats and vegetables.
To date, no modern Chinese kitchen can ever be complete without the cleaver or the chopping knife, the chopping anvil, the fan kuo (rice cooker) and the ever-famous Ts`ai Kuo (wok)……and of course, the chopsticks have certainly proved to be of greater service for the job of eating than the fork, spoon and knife.
Records tell of Yang Tai Chow, who was the first Chinese to migrate to India for material prospects. In 1778, he landed and set roots in Kolkata or Calcutta as it was then known, the capital of British India and the easiest accessible metropolitan from China by land. Many more then followed like the Hakkas, and by the early 20th century, a full-fledged China town had developed, busy buzzing with enterprise. The Chinese served with distinction as dentists, tannery-owners, sauce manufacturers, beauticians, shoe-shop owners and a lot more……but it was only as restaurateurs in India that they found their fame and glory. It was then….around 90 years ago that the Indian culinary world was invaded by the Chinese cuisine. With the opening of “Eau Chew” began the Sino-Indian cultural fusion.
This seducing Chinese influence gave birth to a whole new facet in the Indian cuisine leading to today’s contemporary classic cuisine of Indian Chinese. Quick to figure out that the Indian palate would not cope with the Chinese bland, the cooking medium stayed, but “in” went the generous splash of Indian spices, garlic, ginger, chilies, peppers, sauces and shallots to enhance the bland Chinese flavours. With this attack of the mystique, the Indian connoisseurs were now simply heading for the splendour of the shredded lamb in chilly, lollipops, pungent chilly-garlic prawns, the red-hot dragon chicken, the sweet `n` sour pork, lemon fish, Hunan chicken, Peking duck and the chop suey, all with a twist of the newfound Indian Chinese cuisine.
The bus didn’t stop here and then came an elegant experience like no other. Nelson Wong, the owner of the elite “China Garden,” added, to the classy Chinese cuisine the “Manchurian Chicken,” a unique Indian soul-satisfying creation of chicken cubes coated in corn flour, deep fried and prepared to work wonders on the Indian palate. In addition, plain rice and pulses now came to be replaced by fried rice and noodles by the chow mien and the hakka noodles, all tastefully tossed around to tease and please.
Nelson Wong, the owner of the elite “China Garden”, added the “Manchurian Chicken,” a unique Indian soul-satisfying creation.
The further tilt to the novel Indian Chinese is a fusion of flavours, amalgamated with a corresponding Indian state, savoured to give it its stately identity. The Indian Chinese cuisine caters to both, the vegetarian as well as to the non-vegetarian. For the vegetarians, meat is generally substituted with paneer (cottage cheese) and cauliflower. A few of the popular soups like the shark fin soup, the sweet corn soup and the man chow soup, seem to steal the show, not forgetting the delicious deserts like the ice cream on honey-fried noodles or the date pancakes.
So, whilst the Chinese influence on Indian food silhouetted the Indian food scenario with that contemporary tasty touch, there was no stealing of the show!!! It was simply: Your lifestyle our ingredients - to combine those far-fetched flavours that don’t create just food for the stomach, but satisfaction for the soul. Where one can never get enough of the classic Indo-Chinese cuisine that takes your taste-buds from the Indian magic of mushrooms to the heights of the creative Chinese charisma.
What then, I ask, could be the cause of this buzz? Is it just some sinful spice, or an amalgamation of a heady mix that’s created the Indian-Chinese fusion and taken its creative fancy to heights where one always seems to want much more. As stillness speaks, every chef of this celebrated Chinese-Indian cuisine that has entered our country, has entered, not just as a passing interest, but has entered simply to stay.