Indian Chinese Food is Fucking Awesome!
Peter Tatara - May 21, 2008
A month ago, my girlfriend picked up a book -- The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee. The book is a odyssey recounting the spread of Chinese cuisine around the globe and its myriad of regional adaptations, innovations, and inventions. It should come as no shock to anyone that the "Chinese food" you can get at your local take out place ain't exactly authentic. What may be news to you, though, is just how absolutely un-authentic it all is. The menu at your neighborhood Chinese food place is a collection of dishes cultivated right here in the USA to satisfy the American palate. (There was a General Tso in China, but there's no General Tso's Chicken, Fortune Cookies are a Japanese invention, and Chop Suey is essentially Chinese for "Table Scraps".) Whenever my girlfriend takes me to a "real" Chinese restaurant down on Canal Street, I can't help but notice nothing on the menu even remotely resembles the stuff at our local take out place, with all the sweet and sour sauces and fried thing replaced with organ meats and chicken feet.
What I didn't know until I read the The Fortune Cookie Chronicles was that, just as American Chinese food is an invention of Chinese cooks in the US, each and every country that's seen Chinese immigration has developed its own Chinese food to appeal to local tastes. The book described, too, Earth's perhaps most colorful and inventive regional Chinese food transformation -- Indian Chinese food, an amalgam of both Indian and Chinese ingredients and spices that may have spawned some of the most exotic and out-there tastes on the planet. And, add onto this, according to Jennifer 8. Lee, the fact that with large numbers of Indian immigrants now coming into the US, you're able to find a handful of Indian-owned Chinese restaurants open in cities like New York and LA.
The moment I read this, I knew I had to find an Indian-owned Chinese place in Manhattan, and a little research led me to a half dozen restaurants on Lexington just above and below 30th St. I went to one -- Indo Munch -- this weekend with my girlfriend and friend and voice actress Corinne Orr. None of us really knew what to expect and no one other than me was excited in the least. Looking at the menu, everything was completely foreign, looking and sounding like nothing else on the globe. My girlfriend and Corinne let out small sighs but I only grinned. Our meal consisted of dishes like Gobi Pakora, Hakka Lo Mein, and Vegetable Ball Manchurian. I want to describe the stuff to you, but I can't. The food was just so unique that I just don't have the gastronomical dexterity to recount the tastes and textures and fragrances. But I can say it was damn good, and I want more.
The moment the meal was over, I was already plotting my next trip back. I've had a lot of "fusion" food, and my problem with most of it is that it either seems forced or is a (tasty) byproduct of 19th Century imperialism. Indian Chinese, though, is neither, and it's unearthly delicious. I'm sitting at home now, still going over each and every bite of my Indo Munch dinner and trying to decipher its ingredients, spices, and aromas and also figure out how something so fucking awesome is so fucking unknown. I don't get it. What I do get is that there's a small online population absolutely in love with the stuff.
And this radical foodie cabal let me in on in a little secret. The best Indian Chinese place in New York City is called Tangra (named after Calcutta's Chinatown) in Sunnyside, Queens. The stalkers among you will no doubt recall I live in Sunnyside, and while I've lived in there for three years now, I've never once noticed Tangra. The place, though, is four blocks away from my apartment, and it's taking every ounce of strength not to step out there right now for a late night snack.