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Chinese-Indian Cuisine

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Food in Asia (but not China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan)

Summer Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(2) pages: 31 to 32

This magazine has discussed this cuisine in several issues including in Volumes 10(4); 11(1); 11(2);12(1); 14(2); 15(2), and in earlier locations. After each of them when we thought we had resolved some issues, still other questions crossed our desk.

The first record of travel from China to India was in the 5th century CE in the travelogue of one Fa Hien. Other Chinese have been visiting India since, perhaps even before this report. Most were searching for Buddhist teachings. It is without question that the Chinese and the Indian people have known about each other for a long time. Over these many years, many Chinese have gone to India for a better life. The first ones we know about who sought this went Kolkata, which is Calcutta in English, and that was in the year 1778. This city was then the capital of British India and an easy metropolitan area that could be reached by land from China.

The first Chinese settler with this in mind was Yang Tai Chow. He actually started an immigrant community there, shared many Indian beliefs, even acknowledged that Kali, an Indian Goddess was his goddess. He offered her some Chinese foods, namely noodles, some mixed vegetables that we now call chop suey, and some other mixed dishes. These were his signs of unity between the Chinese and the Indians.

Thus began Chinese-Indian cuisine which Indians might call Indian-Chinese cuisine. He and other early immigrants did intermarry, and most of their offspring migrated later to other parts of India and to other parts of the world.

This man, known in India as Tong Achi, had landed on the banks of the Hooghly River, a tributary of the Ganges. A dam diverted water into a canal that supplied this river even in the dry season. That was important for mills that were later built there. When Mr. Yang landed there, he built a plantation and a sugar mill, and then saw the Chinese community in Calcutta grow into that city’s Chinatown; Achipur is named after him.

Many early immigrants came to work in Yang’s mill and most were Hakka Chinese. A large number had jumped ship to do that. Now, there is not a single Chinese family in that city where Yang began his life in India some twenty miles from Calcutta.

What took root was that Chinese cuisine married local Indian foods. They added local vegetables and local halal meats, several whole spices, garlic, ginger, chili peppers, and soy sauce. Their mixtures became local Indian dishes that later became popular throughout India. This mixture of cuisines led to Chinese-Indian cuisine in Calcutta. It spread to many other cities in India and eventually found other tastes and spread further throughout India. This culinary marriage, each year spoke to the Kitchen God going from Tangra to East Calcutta, and to heaven where it was reported to the Jade Emperor in Heaven. In India, these Chinese-Indian marriage folk celebrated Chinese Lunar New Year, Lantern Festival, and other Chinese holidays in India.

There were more than three hundred tanneries, mills, and restaurants in Calcutta. Over the years, those living and working twenty miles to the east in Tangra where most of the original thirty-eight families settled as Yang did, at first saw their families expand, later they saw their numbers dwindle significantly. Yang married a Bengali Muslim woman, and he and his expanded family did start Govindapur and Sutanuti, hamlets of Kolikata (now known as Calcutta), and the city’s Chinatown grew.

At the present time, there are fewer than two thousand Chinese there because most moved to other local suburbs and other parts of India. The areas of these hamlets are still known for their carpenters, tanners, mill workers, other leather workers, cooks and lard makers, even opium sellers. They are related to some of the original Chinese. The Chinese in India no longer are what they were nor where they where.

In earlier times and in these early suburbs, the Chinese did build and worship at temples dedicated to the Sea Goddess, Tanhou, and to Guan Yu of the Three Kingdoms era (220 - 280 CE). Chinese and Indian visitors come to these temples now, but local Chinese are not there to worship at them.

History tells us Yang died a lonely man. However, the streams of immigrants he directly and indirectly was responsible for, had started an edible link then, one maintained elsewhere in India since. In these last years, many left India for Canada and the United States after Indian-Chinese hostilities around 1962. They did start many Chinese-Indian restaurants in many places in these three countries and elsewhere in the world.

Chinese tourists still go to Achipur to purchase Bengali Babus or Cheeni sugar from Yang’s mill and arrack made from molasses from the Tong Achi original ‘Cheeni Mill’ at Budge Budge near the river. Some even go there to eat at the few remaining Hakka restaurants started in the Yang era. Others go to newer Chinese restaurants started by many Cantonese who left China for a safer haven during and after Mao’s revolution.

The newer immigrants and the older ones have, in their restaurants, invented Lollipop Chicken known as Drums of Heaven, Prawns with Black Bean Sauce, Chili Prawns, Chili Chicken called Manchurian Chicken, another soup called Manchow Soup, Cauliflower Chicken, a vegetarian dish with cauliflower looking like chicken, Chop Suey they called Gong Bao Ji Ding that we Americans know as Kung Pao Chicken.

What surprises many non-Indian Chinese, is that Chinese-Indian food is the most favored cuisine after South Indian food in India. In the last ten to twenty years it is still growing by almost ten percent a year. It is also growing, though not that fast, in the United States and Canada thanks to the descendants of the Chinese who left India. Many others from India are coming to the United States and Canada, though their cuisine is leveling off because there are fewer new Chinese-Indian immigrants. What the future holds we know not, but for those visiting Curry Hill-type neighborhoods such as the one in Manhattan, their future does look good.

Check out the restaurants reviewed, many in Curry Hill on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, in Jackson Heights, on Long Island, and elsewhere. Enjoy them and learn what Chinese-Indian food is all about. Now you know how it began; go find out how it has developed since.
Carrots and Peanuts
8 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 Tablespoons ground peanuts
2 Tablespoons chopped peanuts
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons tofu, mashed
1. Mix carrots, cumin, coriander, and the turmeric together; do the same for both peanut preparations.
2. Heat a wok or a fry pan, then add the carrot mixture and stir-fry ofr one minute before adding both peanut preparations and the mashed tofu. Fry this for three minutes, stir well, then serve.

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