An ode to Desi Chinese
Hey, who am I to complain about the wonders of tomato ketchup. Suvir Saran and Mark Bittman go against each other where Suvir makes ketchup laden Gobi Manchurian and Bittman raves about it.
In India, we have three types of Indian restaurant food – northern i.e., naan and curry, sourthern i.e. dosa and sambar and then there is chinese i.e. gobi manchurian and hakka noodles.
Kolkata’s Chinatown is a famous place (more like a hole in the world) for finding great desi chinese. It has been a tradition in my family and I am sure in many others to visit Chinatown for a celebration meal, be it anniversary or a birthday or a win at the neighborhood soccer match. Chinatown is a largish slum with restaurants hidden amidst it. Normally, one can find a restaurant by following one’s nose. Not here. There are garbage dumps all over Chinatown. Of course your taxi driver would know, they all do. But if you are driving yourself, a good bet may be to stop where you see other fancy cars parked.
Fundamental components of desi chinese – ketchup and plenty of it, soy sauce, vinegar, red/green chillies, garlic and corainder leaves. This is no Szechuan, but it can be good. You know like the American Chinese i.e., orange chicken a la Panda Express.
Gobi Manchurian, and for that matter chicken Manchurian and other variations thereof, is entirely Indian. I am not sure of the origins of Hakka noodles, was this brought to India by the gypsy Chinese? It is entirely possible – there is a very large population in Kolkata with Chinese roots.
Now I am beginning to notice desi-chinese in Bay Area restaurant menus as well. So go ahead, try some manchurian. Chances are you will love it. And if you don’t , well no harm done – ketchup has lots of lycopene.