The History of Gobi Manchurian, a vegetarian option.
As landscapes and languages change, cuisine morphs and evolves. Chicken tikka becomes chicken tikka masala and khichdi becomes kedgeree, one representative of British and the other of Anglo-Indian cuisine. Now named Britain’s national dish, chicken tikka masala was first created by Pakistani-Scottish chef Ali Ahmed Aslam when one of his customers remarked that the original chicken tikka felt very dry. So, the chef added tomato gravy to it. Kedgeree, which uses rice, haddock and eggs, evolved as a British take on khichdi (a comforting Indian dish made with mashed rice and lentils).
Sometimes influenced by geography and sometimes by culture, food practices have always been an essential factor in telling the story of a place. However, what happens when food from one place is combined with the food of another? It may be seen as either bastardisation or the birth of a new cuisine.
Immigrants often bring their food habits with them to countries that are not their home, resulting in the formation of richer cuisines. These new cuisines born out of fusion might not be as widespread as their parent cuisines, but they certainly have their own place within the food culture of different countries.
Indian-Chinese food is an example of a cuisine formed with the flavours of two otherwise distinct cuisines. Ingredients native to both India and China make up dishes that are part of Indian-Chinese cuisine, whether it’s Indian spices like red chilli or Chinese condiments like soy sauce and vinegar. A dish that brings these flavours together beautifully is gobi manchurian. Made by coating batter-fried cauliflower florets in a sweet, spicy, tangy and salty sauce, gobi manchurian first originated at street stalls in India.
Manchurian was initially associated with chicken, when Nelson Wang—a restaurateur of Chinese descent who was born in Kolkata—opened the China Garden restaurant in Mumbai. The dish evolved to include cauliflower when people began to demand a vegetarian version. Diced onions and a reddish-brown sauce are characteristic of gobi manchurian, which can be eaten on its own, with noodles or fried rice, or as 3 Leaves in Dublin serves it: with Malabar paratha, a buttery, flaky type of flatbread.
Wang, the restaurateur, used to cook at the Cricket Club of India. When a patron requested a dish that was different from what was being offered on the menu, chicken manchurian was born. Soy sauce replaced garam masala, and ketchup and vinegar made their way into the dish.
Other Chinese immigrants besides Wang also settled in Kolkata, making the city a hub for the Indian-Chinese community. The community is smaller today and then it was back then, but its legacy carries forward in the form of its cuisine. Not only is Indian-Chinese food served at most Chinese restaurants worth their salt in India, it has also travelled to other countries and Dublin alone has a few restaurants that make it, including 3 Leaves in Blackrock and Delhi Rasoi in Dun Laoghaire.
Written by Vritti Bansal