I was first introduced to Indian Chinese food a few years ago in Hong Kong, at a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui whose name now escapes me. My first thought was, "This is Chinese food?" My second thought was, "How ironic." The cuisine of China, brought over to India by Chinese immigrants many generations ago and given an Indian make-over, is now in the 21st century being brought to a special administrative region of China by Indian immigrants.
Chinese food developed in India the way it does around the world: by immigrants using techniques from home to cook their new world ingredients. They begin by feeding themselves, then perhaps open a restaurant to earn a living, thus adapting the food even more to suit local palettes.
Indian-Chinese cuisine incorporates not only Chinese ingredients like soy sauce and and ginger, but also cumin, turmeric, and hot chilis. Neither beef nor pork, the de facto meat of China, are used, because of India's large Hindu and Muslim populations. That leaves chicken, lamb, and vegetables as the mainstays.
And even the vegetables used in Indian-Chinese cooking may seem foreign to the Chinese. Gobi Manchurian, one of the dishes I had in HK many years ago, is cauliflower fritters covered in a sweet-sour-spicy sauce. ("Gobi" is cauliflower in Punjabi; "Manchurian", the name for any sweet and sour sauce, has no basis in the historical Chinese region.)
The technique for making gobi Manchurian is not unlike those for other overseas Chinese dishes, such as sweet and sour pork and sesame chicken. (We immigrants sure love our deep-fried food.) You marinate the main protein or vegetable, coat it, fry it, and make a sauce coating. Here, however, instead of plain cornstarch these cauliflower florets take a dip in a batter laced with cayenne and chili garlic paste. And the sauce, which incorporates caramelized onions, chili peppers, and ketchup, is a nice balance of sweet, tangy, and spicy.
Update: Related Indian-Chinese Recipe: Chicken Lollipops
Gobi Manchurian - Indian-Chinese Cauliflower Fritters Adapted from Saveur
Serves 4 as an appetizer or part of a multi-course meal
10 to 12 cloves garlic 1 piece ginger, peeled and sliced into coins, + 1 teaspoon julienned ginger 1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets 2⁄3 cup cornstarch 2⁄3 cup flour 1 tsp. cayenne pepper 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper 2 tsp. plus 3 tbsp. soy sauce Peanut oil 2 small onions, chopped 8 to 10 fresh bird's eye chilis, thinly sliced 3/4 cup ketchup 2 teaspoons sesame oil Cilantro leaves for garnish
1. In a blender, purée garlic, ginger slices, and 1⁄3 cup water. Set aside.
2. In a a pot of salted water, cook cauliflower until tender, about 5 to minutes. Drain, pat dry with a clean towel, and set aside.
2. In a small bowl, mix together cornstarch, flour, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Stir in half the garlic paste, 2 tsp. soy sauce, and 3⁄4 cup water to form a batter.
3. Heat about 1 inch of oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Working in batches, dip cauliflower in batter, then fry until golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer fritters with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.
4. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of oil. Sauté onions until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add chilis and remaining garlic paste and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add ketchup, remaining 3 tablespoons soy sauce, sesame oil, and 1⁄3 cup water; simmer until sauce is thickened, about 1–2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Return drained cauliflour to the wok and toss to coat. Transfer to serving plate(s), garnish with julienned ginger and cilantro, and serve as an appetizer or with rice as a main entree.