All tangled up: The straight and narrow of Chindian food


Isn’t it fascinating how food by some means performs a catalytic function in virtually each socio-political discourse in our nation? From the sort of meat one is ‘allowed’ to eat, to the quite banal debate usually centred across the North’s roti reverence versus the South’s obsession with rice, we’ve been spectators to all of it.

But none maybe extra contentious than what we all know, love and sure, paradoxically hate, as ‘Chinese food’. A delicacies that we’ve ingeniously co-opted to kind a hybrid within the kind of our coriander leaf and garam masala-redolent Chindian food.

In 2012, a khap panchayat in Haryana’s Jind district blamed the consumption of chow mein for the rising incidents of rape in India. Yes, attempt chewing on that indigestible titbit.

The most up-to-date salvo in opposition to the delicacies was fired by Union Minister Ramdas Athawale, who known as for a boycott of “Chinese food”, demanding that eating places serving it’s banned. All this vilification, however the truth that chow mein might be as Chinese as chaat! Or that one other Chindian staple, rooster Manchurian, was invented in Mumbai within the late 1970s by Nelson Wang, a third-generation Chinese chef born in Kolkata.

What’s fascinating, nonetheless, is that we in India have had a tryst with Chinese delicacies means earlier than dishes like chow mein and rooster Manchurian entered our native culinary lexicon. Unbeknownst to us and because of historical worldwide commerce routes just like the Silk Road and to the Chinese Buddhist scholar Xuanzang, who travelled extensively round India within the seventh century, Chinese delicacies has lent us a number of regional noodle and dumpling iterations. Much prefer it has to Italy’s celebrated pasta repertoire, one thing many imagine to be a direct consequence of 13th-century cultural appropriation by the well-known Italian explorer Marco Polo.

Speaking of Italy, we might as nicely set the report straight about the entire which-came-first-the-pasta-or-the-noodle conundrum. Irrefutable proof within the kind of a 4,000-year-old bowl of millet noodles unearthed at an archaeological settlement within the Laija area of Northwest China has proved that the majority kinds of noodles and dumplings — be they rolled, pulled, lower or extruded — have certainly come to the world from China.

Super-fine hybrids

And that can be how one of India’s most beloved and standard vermicelli-like dried noodles — seviyan or semiya — got here into being. Adapted from Italian vermicelli, additionally known as angel hair pasta or minutelli (which was itself tailored within the 14th century from an historical Chinese super-fine rice noodle known as mai enjoyable), this rice noodle is utilized in each candy preparations like sheer khorma and payasam and in savoury ones like upma. The barely fatter and freshly extruded idiyappam or noolputtu, as it’s recognized in Kerala and Tamil Nadu respectively, is one other hybrid rice noodle that’s steamed in coils and eaten with each candy and savoury (suppose egg curry) accompanying dishes.

Similarly, the translucent corn or arrowroot-starch noodles discovered on the backside of a glass of falooda got here to India from Iran — one other pivotal nation on the Silk Road — the place they’re known as faloodeh. The North Indian candy known as sutarpheni is one other rice-based noodle of Chinese origin that was launched to India by means of the Turkish, who name it pismaniye.

It is by turning our consideration to lesser recognized, extra regional varieties of Indian noodles and dumplings — notably within the excessive north and northeast of the nation — that we see how nicely the unique Chinese ones have been tailored and assimilated into the culinary milieu. Take, as an illustration, the steamed Shanghainese nian gao rice dumplings constituted of dense rolls of pounded glutinous rice. In each Ladakh and Spiti, the kyu constituted of wheat dough and cooked in a warming stew together with yak meat is a well-liked dumpling and a useless ringer for the nian gao.

Chutagi, one other Ladakhi dumpling that got here to the area through the Silk Road from Central Asia, is a bow-tie formed dumpling (very similar to the Italian farfalle pasta) utilized in a soup that’s constituted of meat and greens and much like a thukpa. Ladakhi delicacies can be recognized for its candy dumpling known as pakchel mirku that’s cooked right into a warming dessert together with ghee and dried yak cheese known as churrpi.

Assam too has its personal model of the Chinese bee tai bak (rat tail) rice noodle that takes the shape of anguli pitha. Named after the pinky finger (anguli) that they resemble, these extruded rice dumplings are eaten as a teatime snack when cooked with onions, inexperienced chillies and tomatoes. The chushi and jhinuk pitha initially from east Bengal are additional examples of dried rice flour-based dumplings that may be reconstituted by including them both to a savoury curry or a creamy, milk-based payesh.

Buying seviyan on the eve of Eid in Old Delhi.

Versatile dumplings

This sweet-savoury adaptability can be one of the chief traits of the tiny ring-like dried dumplings known as sarvale. Found within the cooking of Goan Muslims, sarvale are both boiled and served with a topping of scrambled eggs for breakfast or as yet one more kheer-like thickened milk dessert. Substituting dairy for the thick, first extract of coconut milk is the scrumptious coastal Maharashtrian noodle dessert known as ‘naralyachya dudhache shiravlya’ the place rice noodles are cooked with the coconut milk together with sugar and cardamom and served throughout festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi.

While most of China’s noodle and dumpling varieties are constituted of both rice, corn or wheat, there are a number of constituted of legumes just like the mung bean cellophane noodle known as fen si. Interestingly, Indian dumpling variations — notably in areas like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — appear to give attention to these.

With its shiny floor speckled with tempered black mustard seeds and a scattering of freshly grated coconut and coriander leaves, the Gujarati khandvi constituted of a mix of gram flour and buttermilk can be unfold on a flat floor to set earlier than being rolled up into bite-sized morsels, very similar to the Cantonese dim sum dumpling known as cheung enjoyable.

Again in Gujarat, the wheat-based dumplings of dal dhokli which might be submerged in a spiced lentil stew are one other instance of adaptation. As are different regional Rajasthani dishes just like the chickpea flour dumpling strip-based besan chilla ki subzi and Varanasi’s sui mai-meets-ravioli-like wheat pockets known as dal ka dulha.

Wonder what Marco Polo and Xuanzang would have made (pun supposed!) of these?

The Mumbai-based author and restaurant reviewer is captivated with food, journey and luxurious, not essentially in that order.

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