(Beware of the parentheses (speed) humps)
Getting introduced to ‘Chinese’ was an important landmark in my life! As kids, we were very scared and wary of Chinese food. A famous Chinese restaurant had a mysterious looking sump at the rear and we would peep into it on our way to and from the annual school drill display practices in a nearby stadium. The mystery grew each year as the sump became dirtier and murkier and our fears became more terrifying. We scandalously perpetuated the gory myths (?) that they served cockroaches, snakes, frogs and other unmentionables, as if the sump sheltered the Loch Ness monster under its green living scum…
So happy were we with our twice a year idly-dosa outings to Taj Mahal, the udipi restaurant and the occasional indulgence in the then new fangled Punjabi chholey bhatureys, that it took us a while to muster up enough courage to taste ‘Chinese’. My father was the first one to fall for Chinese and his attempts to describe the exotic cuisine to my mom (who incidentally is the greatest cook in the world according to me and many others) and her almost blindfolded attempts to recreate the dish (noodles) just from his description produced results that did little to inspire confidence in us. We did factor in that Baba was particularly bad at describing things and colours (he would typically describe a pair of brown trousers as 'my red pant').
But then, this much dreaded dragon entered our lives most innocuously one day at dinner in a Punjabi restaurant, when my father ordered fried rice. We had assumed it was some sort of a pulao. One bite and we were converted for life to (but realised years later that it needed a qualifier-Indo) Chinese!!
Much later in life, reading about the phenomenon of Indo-Chinese in foodie mags, on line and on restaurant menus added to our knowledge of how the Chinese migrants in
, mostly in Kolkota tweaked their cuisine to satisfy the Indian palate and made it so popular! India
But throughout those glorious teen years and the eventful year of courtship with a bigger foodie, Chinese continued to be my fav food. We wouldn't miss the soups to save appetite or cash, at least would have 'one by two' or 'two by three' - oh, those delicious bowls of sweetcorn, wonton, manchow, hot and sour, clear vegetable soups! and how we used to love to dabble a bit in this sauce and that, lift lids of curious little pots and sniff containers to see what mysteries they held (these beauties helped as montage fillers between courses).
And ooohhh, with the soup came the spring rolls... the ones made with real thin crepes stuffed, rolled and deep fried... the crispness on the outside tapering down layer by layer to mushy softness by the time we reached the innermost layer and then your teeth would hit the crunchy vegetables... this gradual softening of the pastry allowed you to bite into the spring roll with your incisors and not be left awkwardly to hurriedly push bits of the stuffing hanging from the precipices of your teeth back into your mouth as happens invariably with the extra crisp pastry of the spring rolls of today! and how we used to eye the end of the roll pieces- waiting to sneak one into our plates when others weren't looking.. why did it only have four end pieces? The chili-garlic and sweet and sour plum dipping sauce in those dainty little dishes would also be licked clean (literally - and of course, when the waiters weren't looking)!
Main courses were the 'at once crisp and gooey chopsueys', the hakka noodles (even if they seemed like rubber bands tossed with vegetables, they were tasty!) and chowmein, the vegetable manchuria and gobi manchuria(GOPI MANJURIA on the menu of a restuarant in Kerala!) BTW-is it manchuria or manchurian ? (who is to contest the printed word on those greasy menus!) and the sweet and sour vegetables we hungrily wolfed while attempting mental math calculating the bill and adding 10% of the amount for the tip....
In our post marriage years in the 80s and the 90s, the Middle East continued to support our sweet delusion with the Indian run restaurants like China Garden, Aladin's, Sinbad Restaurant, Shangri La and Grill House serving even better Chinese than their counter parts in India! But alas! Subsequent visits to other oriental destinations and down under broke our illusion (and hearts) that what we ate fondly as Chinese was qualified as Indo-Chinese, and that real Chinese-Chinese food was quite different…
Episode after disappointing episode of queasy, uneasy (oh- did I mention that I am vegetarian?) picking at Chinese-Chinese food and the inability of most Indian restaurants down under to dish up good Indo-Chinese that even remotely meets our nostalgic longing, leave me with the realisation that the best place downunder to get Indo-Chinese food is HOME!
And snob value notwithstanding, I can’t eat with chop sticks and like to use a tiny pinch of MSG at times!
Veg Fried Rice
4 cups cooled cooked rice- cooked with less water and grains separated (sona masoori is a good medium grain rice to use, but I often use basmati)1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cups finely chopped veges (carrot, beans, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mushrooms, corn, red/yellow/green bell peppers, snow peas)
1 cup chopped spring onions for garnish
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp red chilly paste (or more)
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp green chilly sauce
1 tsp tomato sauce (optional)
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp cumin powder (optional)
A pinch of Ajinomoto (MSG-optional)
½ tsp black/white pepper powder (or more)
3-4 tbsp oil (you can add some sesame oil, too)
Salt to taste
Heat a wok and pour the oil in it. When the oil is really hot, add the onions, garlic and ginger and sauté on very high flame for a minute. Add the ajinomoto (MSG) and vinegar to retain the crispness of the vegetables and add all the vegetables as per their cooking time. Add the sauces and chili paste and cumin and pepper powder while constantly working the vegetables. Add salt and rice and mix well. Adjust the taste. Work all the time on very high flame so that the vegetables retain their crispness and the rice gets a smoky flavour. Add a tablespoon of sesame oil (optional) for an additional note of flavour.
Serve hot garnished with finely chopped spring onion.