Yin and I were out on a quest for Indianized Chinese food in Hyderabad. We wanted the totally fake, totally bastardized deal where every dish had been modified to meet the standards of a crowd that's grown up on dals and curries.
Born in Beijing, fluent in Mandarin, and a pro at cooking with hardcore Chinese ingredients like duck and wild mushrooms and red bean paste, Yin brought credible Chinese clout to the lunch table.
Not born in Beijing, not fluent in Mandarin, and a frequenter of the Golden Dragon in Dubai with its lip-smacking sweet corn chicken soup and american chopsuey that the (most likely) Indian-run kitchen dished out, I brought authentic Indo-Chinese authority to the table.
Dare I say, we were a veritable force to contend with on the subject of Indian Chinese food. My role would be to direct us to the wannabe Chinese but Indian at heart dishes, and Yin's role would be to attest to their fakeness. Let's be clear, our goal was to have as inauthentic an experience as possible, because that's what Indians expect of their noodles. And when in India, do as the Indians do.
I did a ton of research beforehand, trying to find a place that the locals loved, but that wasn't so local and hole-in-the-wall where we'd walk out with upset tummies. Plus, the place had to be all out Indo-Chinese, it couldn't attempt to be more authentic like some of the newer upscale places aspire to be. We wanted a place where the chefs had chosen to stay true to their Indian roots, dishing out noodles and rice with the same curry-stained hands that had grown up potentially never touching chopsticks until their entry into the Indo-Chinese culinary trade. And even then it was questionable.
My cousin - who ironically once ran a place called Yo! China in the city - directed me to Mainland China. We had almost stepped foot into the more modest-looking Bowl of China (notice the pun? cute.), but quickly turned around at the doorstep when my uncle intercepted our entry with a timely phone call, recounting his last pathetic and overly-spicey experience at this eaterie run by the founders of Hyderabad House, a chain of restaurants serving up honest and true-to-goodness Hyderabadi fare.
So we reach Mainland China, and we're both quite surprised by how spacious and semi-upscale the place looks. Totally different feel from the more shack-like Bowl of China.
Yin's first reaction as we take our seats: no chopsticks on table?! That's a good sign as far as I was concerned - chopsticks on the table would have looked too authentic, diluting the fake experience we were looking for.
Dim sum on the menu - exciting! Yin appropriately scowled at the mismatch of names and descriptions, and didn't let me order the Sui Mai since the non-existent pork stuffing was totally offensive to her Chinese sensibilities. So instead, we ended up ordering the steamed prawn dumplings, which didn't aspire to sound like anything more exotic than just that, steamed prawn dumplings.
I quite liked the brownish-greenish leafy 'Hong Kong dipping sauce' that came with the dumplings. Yin had never tasted it before and had no clue what went into it. Perfect 10-on-10 on the genuinely fake scoreboard.
True to habits formed at Dubai's Golden Dragon, I had to order 'drums of heaven' - chicken legs or 'lollipops' battered up and cooked à la heaven - i.e. deep-fried. These were a bit different than what I've tasted before. They didn't have the thick battered crust, and were instead coated with manchurian sauce.
Manchurian sauce is this universally-loved (in India) sweet-sour-spicy sauce made of tons of soya sauce, ajinomoto, pepper, salt, cornstarch and sugar (I love how google pulls up every Indian recipe for manchurian on the first page of a 'manchurian recipe' search. I don't remember seeing any Chinese-authored recipes. Does manchurian sauce even exist in China? Yin thinks not.) The trick is to make the sauce, and throw in whatever deep-fried thing suits your fancy - cauliflower, chicken, whatever. Wonderfully salty, crispy and oleaginous (Yin, there. I finally used the word. Everyone else, Oleaginous = oily.)
I was craving a gooey sweet-and-sour seafood dish, and begged the server to make a special off-the-menu sweet and sour jumbo prawns. Gigantic fleshy prawns (Yin: whoa! what the heck are those???), glistening orange gravy, and tons of sticky sweet and sour flavor lazily coursing its way through every spoonful of this dish. Love it.
Yin's order of eggplant casserole was a mixed bag - we loved the deep-fried crispy eggplant strips, though the hot bubbling sauce had somewhat of a strange bland aftertaste (which Yin eventually redeemed with a generous sprinkling of black pepper.)
These guys were good with the whole
fake fusion thing. I remember Yin grimacing at the bowl of perfectly separated basmati rice grains - very different from the sticky white rice which Yin's chopstick trained fingers were accustomed to scooping up in China.
In retrospect, maybe we should have tried something from their special, limited-time, stir-fried menu. Just looked a bit gimmicky to me though with the Confucius-toned "He who eats stir fry, lives long" tagline. I wasn't looking for health food - I wanted my Indo China, served up saucey, gooey and deep-fried, just the way the Indians love it.
I was disappointed that the meal ended without a fortune cookie, though Yin rightly claimed that fortune cookies are more a product of Chinese restaurants in America. At least other countries are responsible for imposter Chinese culinary creations too.
Our joint Indo-Chinese jury had reached a verdict: Mainland China was guilty of serving up first-degree, genuinely fake Chinese food. It had successfully won Yin's scathing criticisms for their complete disregard for authentic Chinese cuisine - and my full favor for staying true to the sweet, sour, soya-sauce drenched, deep-fried experience that I'd grown up loving in Dubai.
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