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Chinese-Indian Taste Partnerships

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Food in the USA

Summer Volume: 2004 Issue: 11(2) page(s): 13, 14, and 28

What has been called a mini-fad, also a welcome addition to Chinese food from another Asian nation, has made its way to several areas in Queens and Manhattan, also to New Hyde Park on New York’s Long Island, and to Edison, New Jersey. Will your neighborhood be next? There are eight, maybe nine such restaurants serving Chinese-Indian food. Each one has its own take on this combo, so there are differences between them, from very Chinese to very Indian, to one with a wonderful marriage of the two.

Most owners are Chinese from India, most from Calcutta or Bombay. A few are owned by Asian Indians. Virtually every one of them has at least one Chinese chef in the kitchen. These Chinese-Indian restaurants can be and are very fine combo-country restaurants on the Chinese food scene whether their food is one hundred percent Chinese-Indian in taste, or with a only few nods to things Chinese or Indian.

These restaurants have something in common besides the Chino-Indian connection. They serve 'Halal' meat. Therefore, Muslim people can eat at them because their meat is ritually slaughtered following Islamic prescriptions. To learn a little more about that, see the article titled: Islamic Cuisine in China on pages 7 and 35 of the hard copy of this issue. or the magazine's website.

Just off Queens Boulevard, may be the best of all combo restaurants, at least we think so. It and all the other Chinese-Indian eateries join several unusual ethnic eatery fusions proliferating in many immigrant neighborhoods. These Chinese-Indian places join others be they Norwegian-Cantonese, Chinese- Vietnamese, Chinese-Persian and Kosher, California-Chinese, Chinese-Malaysian, etc.

The Chinese-Indian restaurants feature Chinese food found in the country the owners emigrated from. The Chinese-Indian combo palaces serve Chinese food but a few do so in ways quite different from Chinese food served in China. Most combo places select Chinese dishes from China’s huge repertoire of ten thousand or do different dishes and serve only those that would be popular where their restaurant is.

What makes a couple of these Chinese-Indian restaurants is the marriage of flavors, but cooked Chinese style. One favorite is an owner/chef eatery. His family, he tell us are fourth generation Chinese who lived in India but came from China; and they are ethnically Chinese. The food they serve marries Indian taste to Chinese technique. Actually, at two of the restaurants, their great-grandparents migrated to Calcutta, settled in a heavily Chinese-populated neighborhood called 'Tangra,' near the sea port, and they were Hakka Chinese.

It is interesting to note that their a-few-generations-ago-ancestors landed in Calcutta from Shanghai. They and many other Chinese-Indian restaurant owners are Hakka and originally may have been among those who themselves or their ancestors lived in mountainous regions in China’s southwestern provinces. They began wandering throughout the rest of China and many went to other countries in Southeast Asia. An article about Hakka people and food in China appeared in Volume 10, Number 4 of Flavor and Fortune on pages 5, 26, and 34. Another interesting item is that several of the Chinese-Indian restauranteurs told us that most of the Chinese in India are Hakka, and a lesser number are part or all Nepalese.

TANGRA MASALA at 87-09 Grand Avenue; Elmhurst, Queens; phone: (718) 803-2298, is in New York City’s borough of Queens and around the corner from Queens Boulevard. They prepare Chinese food with Indian flavor, not Indian food tasting Chinese. We believe their food is very special. So does our son-in-law who managed Chinese restaurants for ten-plus years. On leaving Tangra Masala on his first visit, he remarked, ”I can not wait until the next time I come back.” From him, that was the highest of compliments. Everyone we have taken to this Tangra raves, be they a culinary professional or not.

The owners at this eatery are Chinese from Tangra, a near-the-seaport suburb of Calcutta. The boss boasts that he is the only owner of these Chinese-Indian restaurants who was a chef in a Chinese restaurant in India. We boast that we love to eat his spectacularly complex sauces, and would grovel to learn how to make them. Actually some well-known chefs have already asked to learn about them and all his tasty foods.

This Tangra is not far from a Queens subway stop called Broadway, and directly across the street form a Seaman’s furniture store. It is small, about forty seats, and hides under a green awning. Eating here has a problem, what to order. So many dishes are delicious, some outstanding. Another concern, at least to some, is that the restaurant is so small, they tell us there is no room to make tea or coffee, or have kids sitting in strollers. Another problem can be on week-end evenings when there can be long a wait for a table. That last item may become a thing of the past as they hope to open a sister place in Jackson Heights, Queens.

On our first visit, many folk had ordered Lolly Pop Chicken, so we did, too. This appetizer used the meat on a single bone chicken wing pulled to one end, marinated, dusted with a complex mix of spices, and deep fried. Yummy! Others had ordered Chicken Pakora. It was also fried, and better than any pakora eaten in India or in Indian restaurants in the United States. It arrived and tasted juicy, piquant, and perfect, and had a dipping sauce of minced coriander and that was equally wonderful.

The Chicken Mo Mo were wonderful dumplings, and the Tangra Masala Fish Fingers delicious fish sticks. There are ten appetizers on the menu, but exercise restraint even though terrific. Save room for the super soups, meat, chicken, fish, vegetable, and rice and noodle dishes, and even their frozen ice cream-like desserts, with or without lichees.

The Chicken Hot and Sour Soup is good, the Tangra Soup is better, and the Manchow Soup is vibrant and the best. It comes loaded with ginger, chilies, tofu, chicken, shrimp, and mushrooms, and is topped with crunchy fried noodles. It should never be missed!

Manchurian Beef, and other meats can be ordered dry or in gravy. We had ours in the sauce and were pleased. The foodies at our table tried to name the spices but no one could. Chilli Goat we ordered dry. It was everyone’s hands down best dish. A teen at our table ordered Chicken with Spicy Black Bean Sauce. After her first bite, she would not share. On another visit, we ordered another and learned why it required hoarding; it was fantastic. Other items that delight and we devoured were Manchurian Goat in gravy, Basil Beef, Chili Tiger Prawns, Manchurian Prawns, Fish with Ginger and Scallions, Mixed Pad Thai Noodles, several dishes prefixed with Tangra Masala, and Eggplant Chili. We also had Mixed Hakka Chow Mein, a dish that needs a name change. On one visit, it was suggested, but we declined. Another time we saw this dish on a few tables and asked what it was. When told, we ordered and adored the long wheat noodles boiled then fried and mixed with beef, chicken, fish, seafood, and vegetables. It was a fine foil for the more spicy dishes served. The three Chop Suey dishes we had to date, were all good and a far cry from any chop suey in a take-out place anywhere. They, too, need other names.

Some foods on the lunch menu are identical to those on the regular one. At the noon hour, dishes come with Hot and Sour or Corn Soup, and with steamed rice. Not so at dinner, when soup and rice are a la carte. Lunch is only available noon to three, Monday through Friday. Dinner dishes can be had noon to ten in the evening. All food at either meal comes with spoon and fork, so do request chopsticks if you want to eat them Chinese- and not Indian-style. Only one dish disappointed, maybe because it was eaten as the end. It was Mixed Vegetables Tangra Masala. Loaded with too many tomatoes some bland vegetables, the sauce was akin to plain tomato soup. With so many great dishes to chose from, never tried it again and earlier in the meal. For dessert, the Falooda was rose-flavored and bright pink. It was ice cream-like, as was the Mango, and the Kulfi. They were all welcome after the mostly spicey food. Available with or without canned lichees, we suggest them together as they are a perfect cooling and sweet ending to wonderful food.

CHOPSTICK at 85-22 Grand Avenue; Elmhurst,Queens; phone: (718) 505-8889 is across the street and a couple of blocks west from Tangra Masala. It may have been the first Indian-Style Chinese restaurant in Queens, or anyplace in the northeast. It has been there about three years, we were told. The owner is Chinese and Hakka, but from Bombay. On one occasion, the chef was from India and Indian, the other times, the owner was the cook. He told us that the Tanga area of Calcutta is where most are Nepali or Chinese. He himself speaks both of these and several Indian languages. There in the Tangra area, he advised that people really appreciate Manchurian-style spicy foods.

Many foods at his restaurant have some Cantonese overtones. They taste less Indian, less spicy, and some more northern Chinese in flavor, hence the bend to Manchurian Style. His menu has a section titled 'Manchurian,' one called 'American Chop Suey,' and many others titled by the main food ingredient category. And on his wall are Thai selections; we did not try any of them.

We requested that he select a very representative Indian-Chinese menu dish for us. He said we should try his goat dish. When we said we could not find it on the menu, he said as his clientele might not like goat, so he calls it Mutton Manchurian. It was good and very Indian with nary a nod to a Chinese taste. His soups, however, were thick and clearly a mix of both cultures. Diners here and at almost every Chinese-Indian restaurant were Indian or Caucasian, not Chinese. They were all eating Chinese-style food tasting piquant, and doing so with spoon and fork.

BOMBAY MAHAL at 39-11 Queens Boulevard; Sunnyside Queens; phone: (718) 482-8777 serves forks and soup spoons and provides chopsticks on request. Its Chinese Hakka owner is from Calcutta, and as do all the other Chinese-Indian restaurants, it only serves Halal meat. Here, too, the food is half Chinese and half Indian, with a few exceptions.

Red Chinese lanterns overhead make the decor more Chinese. Some dishes read, look, and taste the same as Cantonese menu food, others are similar to many on Chinese-Indian menus. Different were their exceptionally tasty Potato Pancakes. They arrived coated in breadcrumbs and topped with sesame seeds. Their Fried Vegetables were battered before frying, the dish piled high with cauliflower, green peppers, carrots, and lots of chopped scallions on top.

Hakka Mee Noodles were not on the menu, but suggested to us when we asked what was their most popular dish. We join in voting for that; they were wonderful and had many different vegetables tossed with the noodles. The two meat dishes we tasted looked Indian, the spices in one were rather minimal, in the other more pronounced and decidedly an Indian curry-like mix In general, their beef and fish items were very good, flavored Indian, looking Chinese.

This restaurant does serve tea, on request. And it has soda available, too. The tea comes closer to tepid than hot. A peak in the metal pot brings two tea bags in view. Leave it brew a long time, and even then, a peak in the small soup-bowl-like tea cup offers only pale colored water.

ROYAL TANGRA MASALA at 2207 Hillside Avenue; New Hyde Park New York: phone: (516) 746-4898, is on Long Island, and owned by a chap who was once was a partner at the Elmhurst Tangra Masala. He opened this restaurant this past February. It has virtually the same Tangra menu but the food does not always taste or show the same kitchen expertise.

One spectacular exception is his Tofu Tangra Masala, another the Basil Tofu. They are wonderful, and good reasons to eat here. This tangra also does not serve tea or coffee. We noted some diners brought their own. It does serve alcoholic beverages, including wines and other alcoholic items. They are displayed behind the cash register.

CHINESE MIRCH at 120 Lexinton Avenue; Manhattan NY; phone: (212) 532-3663 sits on the corner of 28th Street. People who had eaten at the other Chinese-Indian restaurants said the food is more old-fashioned Chinese with more garlic, hot peppers, and ginger; and that most of it is deep-fried. Their Chicken Lollipop was juicy, piquant, and wonderful; one of the best we ever tasted. The batter-fried okra was only a bit piquat but equally good.

Located in what some call the 'Curry Hill' or 'Indian section' of Manhattan, food here is favored and flavored Indian or Chinese, and is liked that way. The soups are thick, one person called them gluey. We found them bland except for the Spicy Coriander Soup, it was consomme-like and tasty.

Manchurian Prawns are in a garlic and onion sauce; and we recommend them dry and not in gravy. They have a mild piquancy from the green chilies mixed in. In almost all the Chinese-Indian restaurants, we prefer dishes dry when there is an option. However, here the Chili Paneer is tofu-based and our exception to the above rule. The gravy version is better than the dry one.

This is the only Chinese-Indian restaurant not open seven days a week (they are closed Mondays), and like many, they close between three and five in the afternoon. Here, try ending your meal with Banana Toffee. Three pieces of banana come wrapped in wonton skins and deep fried. They sit around a flat-topped serving of vanilla ice cream topped with honey. That is the only sweet food we tasted. Chinese Mirch in Hindi suggests spicy Chinese food. Considering its location, do not worry we found their use of chili peppers timid.

TALK OF THE TOWN RESTAURANT at 37-21 72nd Street; Jackson Heights in Queens; phone: (718) 533-9131 is more Indian, than Chinese. Owned and run by people from India who are not Chinese, they have one Indian chef from Bombay, the other from Calcutta. Hard to find due to construction blocking off streets nearby, this almost two-year-old eatery is clearly marked and on the ground floor of a home, set back about twenty feet. It is the only commercial venture on the block. Neighborhood parking is hard to find, but the restaurant has parking directly behind it, to the left is a narrow alleyway to get to it; or you can come by subway, bus or on foot.

The entrance is up a few steps, and one walks in passing four bar stools; so clearly, though Halal they do serve alcoholic beverages. All we saw were California wines next to the bar. This restaurant serves a fantastic Mango Lassi to go with dishes such as Beef Manchurian, Lamb Chili, and Vegetable Hakka Noodles. They were very Indian and very spicy, and we enjoyed them and some Cheese Pakora. The meat dishes came in lots of gravy. And, only the noodles bent to Chinese tastes and looks. This Chinese-Indian restaurant was the least Chinese of the ones mentioned. We told the waiter about the Chinese-Indian restaurants we had been to, and he advised of another called Chinese Oasis which he thought was probably in the College Point section of Queens. We and the telephone company have yet to find it. Some Chinese friends say they have heard of it, but they can not locate it, either.

The same waiter asked if we knew of the other TALK OF THE TOWN in Edison New Jersey, but he did not have its address, nor did he know where MING is; it is another Chinese-Indian restaurant in Edison, New Jersey. They are on our list and we hope to find them and still others, too. If you know of other Chinese-Indian restaurants send their addresses and if you ate at one, please advise us about their food.

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