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Twist in Chinese tastebud

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Chinese children dig into spicy Tangra Chinese fare on the Swabhumi lawns on Friday evening. (Pradip Sanyal)

 

Indian-Chinese food is very different from Chinese-Chinese food…. Indian-Chinese is definitely better!

— Deepika Padukone after shooting for Chandni Chowk to China.

If Lady Long Legs of Bollywood was at Swabhumi this balmy winter weekend, she could have sampled some “Chinese-Chinese” Chicken in Celery Wine and then moved on to “Indian-Chinese” Garlic Chilli Pepper Chicken to realise that what she had voted for during her stay in China was actually Tangra-Chinese.

In a delectable twist in the tastebud tale, a great Chinese chomp challenge at Swabhumi is being sponsored by the office of the Chinese consulate-general in Calcutta.

“I have been to Mainland China several times and the food they serve is absolutely authentic Chinese — you could be in Beijing or Shanghai. The fare in the Tangra eateries, however, is spiced up to suit the Indian palate, which again seems to be very popular here,” says Chinese consul-general Mao Siwei.

So which is the bigger draw, the blander “authentic Chinese” or the spicier “Tangra Chinese”?

“People are now getting more exposed to the real thing thanks to increased travelling and many of them are moving away from the sharper red and black sauces, asking for the lighter stuff instead,” says Anjan Chatterjee, the man behind Mainland China.

Food critic Nondon Bagchi would rather term it a second-coming, as Calcutta has had a palate for paler, lighter sauces. “An Eau Chew, a Nanking or a Waldorf would always do justice to the subtlety of Cantonese flavour. It’s only over the past 15 years that the richer, spicier schools have gained currency,” he says.

The Chinatown brigade couldn’t be bothered by this “real Chinese” wave, and continues to toss up its patented Calcutta Chinese fare cooked in a pungent bed of soya sauce, chilli paste, onion and garlic.

“We give our customers what they want and they simply adore our chatpata style of cooking. Even I have developed a taste for it after so many years here,” says Monica Liu, the owner of Tangra eateries Beijing and Kim Lin.

Tangra-type Chinese food has even invaded New York, where at the Royal Tangra Masala in New Hyde Park, you can dig into a dish of Gobi Manchurian or Royal Tangra Masala and round it off with a cup of Rasmalai!

This distinctive style of Indian-Chinese cooking was taken to the US by Kenneth Chen, who left Calcutta for New York a quarter century ago. The clientele at Royal Tangra Masala in New Hyde Park and other Tangra Chinese restaurants in New York is essentially Indian, Pakistani, South Asian.

The clientele at the Swabhumi food carnival on Friday evening was mixed, and so was the verdict.

“We love the Tangra Chinese, and don’t much care for the authentic fare served by restaurants elsewhere. If we go out of Tangra for dinner, it’s for an Indian meal,” said Catherine Hsian from Tangra, digging into the fare from the Beijing stall at Swabhumi.

Rajat Ghosh Thakur from Jodhpur Park, armed with a plate of noodles from the Mainland China stall, was at the other end of the great culinary divide, seeking a taste of “Shanghai and Shenzhen”, which he often visits.

The consul-general cooked up the Swabhumi food-fest idea to underline that “Chinese food is much more than just Chaomian”.

That awareness is already seeping through, feels Bharat Dhamala of Red Hot Chilli Pepper.

“Earlier, Chinese food began and ended with chowmien and chilli chicken; people used to think momos and dim-sums are the same thing. Now, many are well-versed in the nuances of Chinese provincial cuisine and can tell their Cantonese from their Sichuan,” he says.

But back in Chinatown, that extra pinch of salt-sugar-soya sauce combo is all that matters.

So what do the Chinese make of today’s spice route leading to Chinatown?

“What would Chinese expats around the world do if they don’t cook and open restaurants? They aren’t usually accomplished like NRIs who hold white-collar jobs in the US and the UK,” quips consul-general Siwei.

 

 

 WITH INPUTS FROM K.P. NAYAR IN WASHINGTON

by SUBHRO SAHA

Source:  The Telegraph Kolkata