“Chinese food in Beijing is quite different from what we get in Delhi,” was the recent, rather insightful comment made by a journalist friend living in Beijing. Unfortunately, friend was discovering what many already know. The fact that for most Indians, Chinese food usually means ‘Indian Chinese food’.
While now there are many really good, authentic Chinese restaurants in most cities – including award-winning, specialty restaurants in five stars – most Indian-Chinese experience involves eating ‘chicken chow mein’ from Chinese food vans. Quite literally, these are ‘vans’ that have been converted to have a mini kitchen and modified windows that serve as table tops.
The Indian version of chow mein served in mobile vans means egg noodles cooked with soy sauce, hot green chilli sauce and Ajinomoto (brand name popularly used in India to mean monosodium glutamate aka MSG) along with shreds of chicken and beans. More often than not – and if you’re unfortunate – Indian chow mein will also have turmeric. On most occasions, chopsticks are unheard of and plastic cutlery is a must. That said, the chow mein served in these vans is quite unauthentic, quite tasty and quite cheap. For Rs 10, you can have a plateful and be satisfied.
Fa Yian and Zen in New Delhi were two restaurants I regularly visited; the former for the best chicken corn soup (er, I was not into experimenting then) and the latter for the best bloody chilli chicken in the world (slight exaggeration possible). While the erstwhile Turquoise Cottage From the Orient (popularly known as TC) in Malviya Nagar was also famous for its food; the restaurant was more of a rockers-of-Delhi hang out. Now they have a new one in Basant Lok, but sadly, the old magic is lost.
Another recommendation for those interested in good Chinese in Delhi is the Mandarin Court in Katwaria Sarai. An unassuming restaurant that’s opposite the five-star Qutub Hotel, it serves really good food at a very good price. An additional plus is the extended happy hours and reasonable liquor rates. Unfortunately for me, I discovered Mandarin Court when my Delhi tenure was almost over. While Yo! China franchises were mushrooming all over Delhi when I left; I was not very happy with their food (or prices). The tastiest on-the-go dirty chow mein I’ve had in Delhi were from the van opposite Priya cinema (Basant Lok, New Delhi), the little joint in the South Extension (Part 2) market and from opposite Bikaner Sweets in Ber Sarai (near IIT Delhi).
This is the first of many tried-tasted, non-Indian recipes I'll be putting up. As mentioned earlier, when a recipe is from another source, it shall be duly credited. The recipe given below is from one of my favourite cookbooks, Charmaine Solomon’s ‘The Complete Asian Cookbook’. I use the 1978 version, though later republished versions are now available in the market.
Cooked on: Stir-fried on high heat
Accompaniment: Red wine
Try this with: Egg noodles
Rump steak 500 g
Light soy sauce 2 TBS
Salt ½ TSP
Chinese mushrooms 6, dried
Snow peas/ flat matar 250 g
Oil 3 TBS
Spring onions 4, cut into 1” length
Chinese wine or dry sherry 1 TBS
Sugar ½ TSP
Beef stock ½ CUP
Cornflour 3 TSP
Cold water 1 TBS
- For those who do not eat beef, substitute with pork, lamb or chicken. Vegetarians can skip the meat completely and use more mushrooms or tofu. With any meat – particularly beef or lamb – trim off excess fat; the recipe uses lean meat.
- The last time I checked, most Indian stores have dark soy sauce. Since I was also lazy and preliminary searches yielded only dark soy; I used 1 tablespoon diluted with water. Strict chefs will tell you that my Chinese dish therefore, was a fraud. It was still very tasty.
- Most ingredients – Chinese wine, Chinese mushrooms (shiitake mushrooms, pronounced see-ta-kay) – can be found at specialty food stores. I used fresh shitake mushrooms in the grocery store, dried ones work equally well. In case you don’t find shiitake mushrooms, use large sized button mushrooms or canned oyster mushrooms. Be warned though that the texture of all mushrooms are very different and might affect how the dish tastes. The shiitake has a beautiful, spongy texture, while the button mushrooms are more brittle.
- For dry shiitake mushrooms: Soak them in hot water for 30 minutes to soften them.
- Snow peas are your regular peas/matar, except that the pod is still very flat and the seeds (peas) are not mature yet. Since in India, the best, fresh peas are found in winter; you can substitute snow peas with regular snap peas (matar with the pod).
- Substitute chicken stock – Nestle/Maggi cubes work too – instead of beef stock.
- Always dissolve the cornflour – there should be no lumps – in cold water.
- Cooking egg noodles: These days, egg noodles are available at most local green grocers and come in pre-packaged bundles. Till I read Charmaine Solomon’s tip, I always overcooked the noodles. Charmaine suggests soaking the bundles in hot water (10 minutes) to allow the strands to separate and cook evenly. The noodles should be cooked immediately after softening. To avoid the water from boiling over, add a teaspoon of oil. Once the water boils, fine noodles should be cooked for 2-3 minutes, wide noodles 3-4 minutes. She adds, “Once cooked, drain noodles immediately in a large colander/ sieve and cold, then run cold water through the noodles to rinse off excess starch and cool the noodles so they don’t continue to cook in their own heat. Drain thoroughly. To reheat, pour boiling water through noodles in a colander.”
- Cut the lean meat into fine shreds. Sprinkle with soy and salt, mix and marinate for 30 minutes.
- Trim the stems off the mushrooms and slice the caps into thin strips.
- String snow peas and blanch for 2 minutes in lightly salted boiling water.
- Heat 2 TBS oil in a wok; once the oil is very hot, add beef/meat and stir fry over high heat until the meat changes colour. Remove to a dish and wipe out the wok.
- Heat remaining 1 TBS oil, add mushrooms and spring onions; fry 1 minute.
- Add wine/sherry, sugar and stock. Bring to boil, add cornflour blended smoothly with cold water, stir until it clears and thickens.
- Return beef/meat and snow peas to wok, stir and heat through and serve immediately with rice or noodles.
Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing (April 15, 2006)
 Light soy sauce: Lighter in color, and also sweeter than dark soy sauce.
 Snow peas: They are most used in stir fry dishes associated with American Chinese cuisine but less used in China.
 Ching’s Secret Dark Soy Sauce: This Indian-style soy sauce is made from a mixture of soya beans, chillies, sugar and water, which is then fermented.
 Shiitake mushrooms
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