Rumor has it, that Chinese food is the only cuisine that’s available on all seven continents, including Antarctica. So widespread is Chinese food that most regions have adopted a version of it and made it their own. And India is no different. We didn’t stop at adding our known spice blends into traditional Chinese dishes, we even went as far as turning Indian dishes into Chinese…or some semblance of it anyway. Hah!
Here’s a look at some Chinese dishes that you can only find in India.
A variation of chop suey-meets-bhel puri, the Chinese bhel is a widely popular tea-time snack in Indian colleges and hostels. Some go as far as serving it in newspaper cones to pay homage to its namesake. But simply put, Chinese bhel is crunchy noodles tossed with julienned vegetables and “schezwan” or hot garlic sauce to taste. This schezwan sauce varies from chef to chef, from hostel to hostel, in its composition. Some use caramelised onions, some hot red peppers and some a mixture of everything but the kitchen sink. The finished product tastes neither Chinese (the real kind) nor like bhel, but there’s something that just makes us keep going back for more. Maybe it’s the Ajinomoto!
In the same vein as the Chinese bhel, this dish can be best described as chowmein-meets-samosa. Replace the crunchy noodles from the Chinese bhel with al-dente ones and stuff it in a samosa casing and tada! You have yet another broke college student favourite. While technically, samosa isn’t Indian either, but considering the integral role it plays in the country’s cuisine, it would be a sin to consider it not, we think. Chinese samosas have a non-descript sauce—recipes suggest a mixture of tomato ketchup, soy sauce, white vinegar, red chili sauce, and green chili sauce—coated the noodle and vegetable mixture as the filling and are deep-fried till the dough is golden brown. Deep-fried dough filled with goodies, there really is no way to go wrong with this!
When we say Manchurian, we mean fried vegetable balls dunked in sauce and not the people who come from northeastern China. Although considering the ubiquitous popularity of this dish in India, we doubt anyone would make that mistake. But here’s a controversial opinion for you: Manchurian is just kofta with cap-loads of soy sauce and corn flour. This crowd pleaser perfectly tends to the Indian vegetarians’ (yes, we’re looking at you) need to be culinary aficionados while at the same time, not straying too far from ghar-ki-sabzi. But hey, we don’t judge! Truth be told, we’d probably sit down with a bowl of gobi manchurian over fried rice any day of the week, albeit never admit it.
Scroll back up to where we said that deep-fried dough with stuff can’t go wrong, and know that we stand by it. The original spring rolls, or chÅ«n juÇn, are actually Cantonese-style dumplings in a thin casing that are usually eaten for welcoming the spring. Here, they’re something a little more…voluptuous. Mostly stuffed with julienned vegetables and deep-fried, you’ll sometimes find spring rolls filled with the aforementioned Chinese bhel served with a side of the aforementioned “schezwan” sauce. But hey, what a leftover casserole is to Americans, a Chinese sauce is to us (we’re only partially kidding).
While Chilly Chicken could probably have made this list as well, we thought the paneer variant would be more in character. While the chicken version in China is usually made with offal and definitely not dunked in a mixture of ginger, garlic, and chili, the paneer version is probably unheard of in the country. Pan-fried paneer is usually dunked in the chilly chicken sauce and served as the vegetarian option. It’s the Indian way of making sure you don’t miss out on flavour profiles just because you don’t eat meat. Just like Shahi paneer is paneer in butter chicken gravy. But we’re no chefs, just fans of food (also read as chicken).
This just goes to show that Indian Chinese isn’t restricted to any particular region. Dosas, in fact, come in a variety of Chinese flavours, if we may. There’s hot garlic dosas, schezwan (there it is again) dosas, and probably the fanciest variant, spring dosas. It’s a dosa, filled with the Chinese samosa filling, and served with spring roll sides along with sambar and chutney. If there’s an Arabian Nights of Indian Chinese dishes, this is probably it.