No Indian is a stranger to Chinese food—whether it is a 5-star restaurant or a roadside stall in a dingy lane, ‘Chinese’ is available everywhere in the country. However, what most lovers of this fare are unaware of is that what is called Chinese food in India would cause the actual Chinese folk to turn in their graves! To lay the eternal question to rest, is the much-loved Chinese food available in India authentic? No. But is desi Chinese mouthwateringly delicious? Absolutely!
It is believed Chinese food in India originated in Calcutta, where immigrants from the Hakka region lived in the 19th Century. They adapted to the new surroundings and opened up establishments that offered Sino-Indian food to suit the palate of the average Indian. Today, what is available everywhere in India as Chinese cuisine is in reality more Indian than Chinese. Most Indians would find authentic Chinese fare bland and boring.
Most desi Chinese favourites do not exist in Chinese cuisine
Whenever immigrant communities bring their native cuisine to a new country, there are the inevitable adaptations made to suit the local palate. However, when it comes to Chinese food in India, things have evolved so much that most dishes considered Chinese staples here are actually unheard of in China. If you were to ask a Chinese native about ‘Manchurian’, he would probably talk about the Manchurian people living in north-eastern China! The Indian-Chinese staple of Manchurian is actually closer to the Persian kofta than it is to anything in the Chinese cuisine.
“Soups aren’t starters in China”
Chinese hot-and-sour soup served 1-by-2 is easily the most popular way to start any Chinese meal in India. But people from Mainland China would be highly confused by this order. Their soups have a much thinner consistency and are generally served with a bowl of rice/noodles.
Even the veggies are different
In authentic Chinese fare, the vegetables used extensively include broccoli, watercress, water chestnuts, and bok choy. Meanwhile, in the Indian versions of these dishes, you will find a predominance of local veggies like potatoes, baby corn, carrots, and capsicums.
We don’t cook it in the same way?
Authentic Chinese food (especially Cantonese cuisine) can be quite bland. Dishes have one main ingredient as the hero, while condiments like dried chilli paste, sweet chillies, pickled chillies, etc., are served separately (as many Indians who visit China discover to their dismay). Desi Chinese food lovers prefer deep fried, spicy, oily stuff with loads of spring onions and red chillies as garnish. Different states in India use different kinds of masalas depending on the local taste buds.
Indian-Chinese is veg-friendly
In China, a bit of meat or some fish sauce is added to almost every dish to impart flavour. In India though, there are ample choices of Chinese dishes for vegetarians. You will not be hard-pressed to find restaurants adding “Pure Veg Chinese Food” to their store display.
Desi Chinese food is a far cry from the traditional version. But with all its differences, Chinese food in India is much loved, and we aren’t going the more authentic route anytime soon.