Published: June 20, 2020 12:21:33 am
In the 1970s, a young chef of Chinese ancestry at a Bombay restaurant coated pieces of diced chicken with cornflour and deep fried them. He then tossed the chicken cubes into a brown gravy that combined vinegar, soy sauce and corn-starch with onions, ginger, garlic and green chillies. Word spread. People loved this marriage of Indian and Chinese culinary sensibilities. In less than a decade, Chicken Manchurian became synonymous with Indian-Chinese cuisine. It mattered little that Manchurian was never a culinary style in the country of its creator’s ancestors. Very soon the word was suffixed to gobi (cauliflower florets) and paneer. Tomatoes, coriander and even garam masalas added their flavours to the Manchurian sauce. But a Google search on Manchurian today throws up an unappetising word — “ban”. In the wake of tensions between India and China, among others, Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, Ramdas Athawale, has called for a ban on Chinese food.
The Indian Chinese community numbers less than 5,000 people. But “Chinese” is a section in menus of eateries as diverse as street food joints and roadside dhabas, Udupi restaurants and outfits that serve gourmet fare. The mash-up of Indian spices and Chinese cooking techniques is amongst the marvels of contemporary culinary history. And like most items in culinary history, fixing origins to most dishes that comprise this delectable fare is difficult. The bland chicken curry that the first-generation Chinese immigrants got from their home country, for example, is said to have been transformed into the highly addictive chilly chicken. But another school believes that some enterprising chef took elements of the spicy Indian chicken curry, infused them with Chinese elements, such as the soya sauce.
The Kung Pao potato at the roadside eatery bears a closer resemblance to the zeera aloo than the dish made in China’s Sichuan province. Then there are the Chinese Bhel and Chinese Chaat. Let the troubles between the two nations not cloud such culinary imagination.
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