At the popular Ashland restaurant Chennai Woodlands, which specializes in South Indian dishes, manager Parthi Ramanujam says that there is a lot of demand for Indian-Chinese food. Indian-Chinese cuisine emerged as a result of the migration of Chinese to the Indian subcontinent many decades ago. Most came from the Indo-China border for, among other reasons, employment and political refuge.
As with Indian cooking, Chinese cooking is provincial and the staple is rice. Some regions use more spices than others, and the types of dishes vary. But when Indians went to Chinese restaurants in India, they were looking for spicy Chinese food. What emerged was a cuisine that merged Indian spices, which suited the local tastes, with classic Chinese recipes and cooking techniques. In addition, dishes evolved that suited the large Indian vegetarian population. And so Indian-Chinese food -- Indian spices and seasonings overlaid with Chinese techniques -- was added to the other culinary traditions.
Some popular dishes include dumplings in a hot, sweet, and sour sauce; Chinese fried rice, a spicier and more Indian-like version of the classic dish; chili cauliflower, marinated in hot peppers and garlic and deep-fried; and Hakka noodles.
The noodle dish that takes its name from the Chinese province of Hakka is one of the more popular Indian-Chinese dishes. Narrow and flat, almost square in shape, Hakka noodles are made with durum wheat, with or without eggs. The vegan variety is still rich in flavor, but light. (Look for the noodles at Indian specialty stores or at www.patelbrothersusa.com.
Hakka noodles, usually served as a main course, are stir-fried with cabbage, carrots, red bell peppers, and snow peas. They're not especially saucy in the pan, but a hot, vinegar-based sauce and soy sauce accompany them at the table. And though Indians eat their cuisine with their fingers or, in more formal settings, a fork, the Indo-Chinese continue, as always, to use chopsticks.