Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Desi Chinese

Goris may be surprised to discover the desi penchant for Chinese food. These days, many non-Chinese origin Americans are aware that the food in American Chinese restaurants varies in degree of authenticity. Those restaurants that serve inauthentic Chinese food are dishing out Chinese as well as locally available ingredients, and Chinese dishes which have been adapted for the American palate and. Some American Chinese dishes do not even have any roots in original Chinese dishes. They were totally created for the American palate. Since most US Chinese immigrants were from Southern China, the Americanized Chinese has a Southern Chinese (especially Cantonese) backbone. Well, waddya know, the desi sub-continent also has small pockets of Chinese immigrants. Just like there are a lot of Chinese Americans, there are also Chinese desis, people of Chinese origin but born and raised in the des, perhaps second or third generation. They are mostly Southern Chinese, just like in the US. And due to this...there is a genre of Chinese cuisine that is served in Chinese-Indo/Pak restaurants that is inauthentic in terms of being traditional Chinese food, but has been adapted to suit the desi palate and uses ingredients available in the des. It is totally different than Americanized Chinese food in many ways. For one thing, it is spicy-hot. Generally speaking, desis like chile heat, hai na? Desis like rice mixed with gravy dishes, so desi Chinese food is also pretty heavy on the gravy, though there are dry dishes as well. The gravy is often heavily cornstarch laden. A lot of desi Chinese food is also made with ketchup based gravy. Garlic-chile sauce is another common addition to desi-Chinese stir fry sauces. Stock cubes are added to stir fry gravies as well. Stock cubes give depth in flavor. In Hindi and Urdu, the way to say MSG is "Chinese namak" or Chinese salt, and it seems that no desi Chinese dish is complete without a heavy dash of the stuff. I am not an anti-MSG person, and I think that MSG has gotten a bad rap in the USA. It is actually a very excellent flavor enhancer. But beware, if you have any sensitivity to MSG, desi Chinese food tends to have a good pinch of it in each dish. There are also many types of noodle dishes in desi Chinese cuisine, and it seems that there must be a noodle dish eaten with every desi Chinese meal. Egg noodles are a favorite. In the desi type Chinese restaurants I have been to, the food is served with Indian long grain variety rice rather than Chinese rice. This affects the flavor of the entire meal as well, since the dishes are meant to be eaten with rice. The vegetarian branch of desi Chinese food is filled with very creative dishes. "Velveting" meat is an authentic Chinese cooking technique. In Desi Vegetarian Chinese dishes, vegetables like cauliflower are velveted (often simply dusted in dry cornstarch rather than a traditional wet cornstarch marinade) and fried. Cauliflower Manchurian and Singapore Cauliflower are two popular examples of this. Manchurian Balls (follow link for nice looking sample recipe) is another unique desi Vegetarian Chinese dish.  Desi home-cooks (meaning wives and aunties) pride themselves on having a few desi Chinese dishes in their battery of recipes. As a gori, you may or may not like desi Chinese food, as it tastes neither like authentic Chinese food, nor like the American Chinese food you grew up with. Bear in mind that a lot of desis ONLY enjoy desi Chinese food. They find American Chinese food to be "pheeka" or bland, and authentic Chinese food to be too foreign and exotic. With an open mind, you may join the desis and develop a strong penchant for it. I have come to enjoy desi Chinese food as a cuisine in its own right. For example, I love chicken corn soup (what Americans call eggdrop soup) seasoned the desi way now, with a splash of green chilies in vinegar and maybe a dash of hot sauce.

2 comments:

aisha said...

salams! just stumbled on your blog through various click serendipities, and I just wanted to say that I am really impressed, not just with your mastery of subcontinental food, but our bi-lingual, dare i say, pidgin english!

Anita Duggal said...


Your blog is very informative and gracefully
your guideline is very good.Thank you

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