Combining the flavors and traditions of these neighboring nations, long a practice in India, is gaining popularity across America. The intriguing hybrids are high in flavor, easy to make — and always leave you wanting more.
Indian-Chinese Cuisine: Of Spice And Zen
Monica Bhide for NPR
If I had to pick my last meal, the dishes would all be Indian-Chinese: chicken Manchurian (batter-fried chicken served in a spicy chili-and-soy sauce), Sichuan paneer (Indian cheese with Chinese spices), Indian-Chinese fried rice, and a dried green chili chicken. These dishes don't come from a cuisine that I dreamed up, but from one very popular in India called Indian-Chinese. It is much spicier than the milder Cantonese Chinese food that most Americans are familiar with. Almost any menu in an everyday eatery in Delhi and Mumbai will list several Indian-Chinese dishes. On our family trips to Mumbai, the first meal we eat out is not traditional Indian, but Indian-Chinese.
The Chinese have been residents of India for more than two centuries. India's largest Chinese population has historically been in Calcutta, a populous city in eastern India. The Hakka, early settlers from southern China, brought with them the traditional styles of Cantonese and Hakka cooking. They assimilated into the local culture, and their cooking took on local Indian flavors. The result is a satisfying hybrid cuisine, created from two very different communities and food cultures.
The intriguing combination of Indian ingredients such as garam masala (warm spice mix), cilantro and tamarind with Chinese soy sauce, ginger, garlic and even ketchup produces dishes that are high in flavor, easy to make and always leave you wanting more.
One of the most commonly used cooking techniques in this cuisine is deep-frying. Typically an ingredient such as paneer (firm-textured Indian cheese), chicken, fish or a vegetable is coated with a cornstarch batter and then deep-fried. Then it is tossed with ingredients such as red or green chilies, soy sauce and vinegar.
Chef K.N. Vinod of Indique Heights restaurant in Chevy Chase, Md., is passionate about Indian-Chinese food.
"I grew up eating it, and then even trained in the cuisine at the Mandarin House in Delhi," he said. The cuisine uses many other techniques in addition to deep-frying, he said. High-heat stir-frying, sauteing and steaming are the most popular.
"When I used to cook this cuisine in India, I remember the most popular dishes used to be Indian-Chinese soups garnished with chili vinegar, and sweet-and-sour dishes prepared with equal amounts of sugar and vinegar," he said.
This hybrid style of cooking, neither truly Indian nor Chinese, is gaining in popularity in the U.S. Indian-Chinese restaurants are starting to sprout up — Ming in Edison, N.J., Masala Wok in Virginia and Texas, Hot Wok Village in Chicago.
Is it still as popular back in India? Antoine Lewis, an Indian food writer and owner of the now-closed Indian-Chinese restaurant The Sizzling Wok in Mumbai, says, "A beggar child on the streets of Mumbai I once gave leftover food to opened the container and told me he wanted it only if it was Indian-Chinese."