Food Talk
Delightful Chinese

Chinese cuisine is very versatile. Pushpesh Pant describes an all-time favourite food with people of all ages.

Our Foreign Minister, who is fond of reliving his youth in the Nehruvian era, recently reminded the nation that this is the golden jubilee year of the signing of the Panchsheel agreement that is associated in popular mind with the slogan Hindi-Chini bhai bhai. No one, of course, needs reminders about Hindi Chini khai khai. Chinese food is the national favourite. When the palate is jaded with mughalai, the chorus is ‘Aaj Chinese ho jaye!

It is easy to understand why Chinese fare is so popular — it is fast to cook, filling, varied, clean, even at a street side stall where it is cooked in front of you. One can select the venue from the corner kiosk run by the Nepalese masquerading as Tibetan — if not Chinese — to the extravagantly expensive Houses of Ming, Tai-Pans, Sampans, Nankings and the walls and Gardens of China. Chances are that in any corner of our lip-smacking land, you will find a Chinese joint wherever you site a tandoor or udupi outlet.

There are as many regional variations of this genre as there are culinary zones in the subcontinent — Punjabi, Gujarati, Madrasi Chinese, all have die-hard loyalists. The purists may throw up their nose in disapproval but this to us only smacks of snobbishness. No one bats an eyelid about Singapore or Hong Kong Chinese. If the qualifying condition is the presence of a Chinese immigrant community, then Kolkata’s claim cannot be disputed. And, what about chop suey, an unabashedly American concoction?

If food lore is to be believed, spaghetti was cloned from the noodles that Marco Polo had introduced to his compatriots. Our own sevian (vermicelli) are also in all probability an import that may have reached the Malabar coast, along with fishing nets. It is a pity that despite such long acquaintance with this cuisine, most of us confine ourselves to a messy bowl of assorted noodles.

Quite a few insist on ordering sweet corn or hot and sour soups, mostly before the main course as if we are partaking of a western meal. Others are persuaded that that the best way to enjoy Chinese is to douse everything with generous spoonfuls of soya and chilli sauces.

As a matter of fact there is not one Chinese cuisine but many — Schezuan, Cantonese, Peking and so on. About the Chinese, it is said they consume everything that walks, crawls, swims or flies. Indians are not so adventurous but still the Chinese repertoire is rich enough to please the most demanding epicurean. You can choose from steamed, boiled or deep-fried delicacies. There is a wonderful array of colours,
textures, flavours that can be enjoyed in the Chinese menu.