INDIA, Delhi: Consider Robin Thapa hailing from Gangtok, Sikkim, standing on the sidewalk at Chandni Chowk, Delhi in front of a little kitchen cart decorated with symbolic Chinese elements to create a Chinese ambiance.
On the burner rests a wok (Deep frying pan) on which he is frying rice for his customer. In a few other containers, you can see rice, noodles, boiled paneer, eggs, semi-cooked chicken, and cut vegetables. Salt, chili powder, turmeric powder, various masalas, and flavoring substances, along with various types of sauce, vinegar, and different oils are also seen.
The predominantly Northeastern Indian staff of Thapa, resembling Chinese people serves the fried rice in a bowl, with a spoon and a fork and not with chopsticks. The noticeable red color has been added to the food by adding chili-based sauces and food color, to gives a spicy and pungent taste to the food, one of the main characteristics of Chinese food available in India.
This is a normal daily routine for Thapa and his team, and every hour is rush hour for his business. Thapa’s Indigenised Chinese Food Cart provides quick, cheap food for people for breakfast, on their way to work, lunch, evening snacks, and also dinner for students.
Thapa is not alone; one can see hundreds of similar Chinese food carts at almost every corner in almost all the towns in India. Momo stalls and chowmein counters at every corner are examples of fondness for oriental food.
In fact, Thapa is a member of the chain of Chinese food vendors who serve Chinese food invented in India; dishes that define the Indian Chinese culinary experience – spicy, deep-fried, and absolutely sinful.
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Indian adaptation of Chinese cooking
India is home to roughly 1380 million people and when it comes to food, everybody has their favourites from Punjabi to Bengali, Kashmiri to Marathi with foreign food being the first choice for almost everyone.
Indigenisation in general and vegetarianisation in particular of almost all cuisines is a must to become popular in India. All foreign food in India has to be localised as per Indian palate and as a result, you get a spicy, rich-in onion pizza, only-chicken burgers with meat cooked in different kinds of masala, etc. Italian, Continental, and the Mediterranean, all dishes served to follow a preset methodology and involve reduced use of meat, fish, and animal fat.
Chinese food beats every other cuisine in terms of popularity. It’s a national obsession and nobody can deny this. It is the most popular foreign cuisine in India, and Indians love it more than they respect the country.
The Chinese food served in India is essentially Indigenised and is the new cuisine category, Indian-Chinese cuisine which is neither Indian nor authentic Chinese. This modified culinary style, combining aspects of both Indian and Chinese foods and flavours is called ‘Chindian cuisine’
History of Chinese Food in India
Indian Chinese food is a result of several isolated concurrences. Some relate it to the late 19th century when immigrants from China came to India for better prospects and a better life and settled in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Some relate introduction of Chinese food to the great exodus of Tibetans from their homeland in the 1960s, which helped scattering of Tibetans and their cuisine across India.
They bought Chinese food as an occupation and later, only the name remained as the dishes changed to suit the Indian taste.
These versions of “Chinese” food tickled the taste buds of people all over India and Indians adopted it in their own style from Chinese Bhel Puri to Szechwan idli, spring rolls in canteens to momos on the streets, Schezwan Dosa, dosa with noodle fillings, etc. Chāu-mèing became Chowmein, Cantonese-style dumplings – “Chūn Juǎn” became Spring Rolls, Sichuan sauce from Sichuan region in China became Schezwan sauce which has dominant flavors of garlic and red chili, Mog Mog (the unofficial national dish of Tibet) and Dimsum became momo.
You can find a Chinese restaurant in every corner of India. Even restaurants serving typical Indian food also have a Chinese section in their menu. And surprisingly, this innovative and fusion cuisine at times is less costly than Indian food.