I wouldn’t blame you if you thought this post is about the Gobi Desert in Mongolia or a lesson in politics on the disputed Sino-Soviet region of Manchuria. Its none of the above ….it’s about the fusion of Indian and Chinese cuisine, where the slogan “Hindi Chinny Bhai Bhai” (Indian Chinese Brotherhood) is revealed in a new and tastier light.
Let me start at the beginning….the Indian Chinese community that settled in the Indian city of Kolkata over a century ago, developed a range of Chinese vegetarian options to suit the Indian palate, using local vegetables like cauliflower, potatoes and the Indian staple Paneer (cottage Cheese). These veges or paneer are batter fried and served in spicy, tangy gravies that may resemble Chinese gravies but are clearly favoured and flavoured for the Indian palate. These gravies are an amalgamation of soya sauce, chilly sauce, a good dose of tomato ketchup, ginger, garlic and chilly and some more chilly.
From Kolkata to Mumbai and Ahmedabad to Allahabad , every city and small town in India caters to the Chinese food craze. From Chopsuey to Hakka noodles to Chilli fry to Spring rolls, its all there on the menu of street stalls and fancy restaurants. Chefs dish out their versions of Teriyaki, Manchirian, Cantonese, Thai and the general population is lapping it up and licking their bowls clean. They refuse to stop there…..as if embracing the Chinese cuisine and making it your own wasn’t enough now Indian fast food, Bhel and Dosas have a Chinese version as well. The humble Bhel ( a mix of puffed rice, crispy puries, onions, sev and tangy, sweet chutneys) has a Chinese brother (or sis), the Chinese Bhel – a concoction of crispy fried noodles, capsicum, onions, soya sauce and a red hot sauce that passes off as Schezwan. Any self respecting Chinese cook would commit suicide before he pronounced the dish as Chinese.
To get back to Gobi (cauliflower) Manchurian, I can say it’s a consolation prize for the vegetarian population who would otherwise miss out on the taste of China with a large helping of desi-ness. The cauli florets are batter fried to a crisp much like chicken or beef and then rolled in this very delectable, finger–licking sweet and sour gravy. Served with fried rice or noodles it ticks all the right boxes.
We Indians love to take a thing Phoren (foreign) and give it a Desi kiss and make it our own. Look, how we got the Big Mac to serve potato burgers and Paneer Wraps in India and see how the British are eating Chicken Tikka Masala (albeit their Anglicised version) by the ton. I am confident that in the light of the contribution made by the Indian Chefs to their rich heritage, the Chinese will soon declare Gobi Manchurian as their National Dish.
For the Crispy fried Cauliflower
1 medium Cauliflower (approx 400 grmas)
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup cornflour
Salt to taste
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon chilly flakes (optional)
1 egg white
Oil for deep frying
For the gravy
5 cloves garlic chopped (coarsely ground)
1’ piece of ginger chopped
1 fresh/ dried red chilly cut into 4 pieces
1 tablespoon oil
2-3 tblspoons dark soya sauce
1 tblspoon chilli sauce
3-4 tblspoons tomato ketchup
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon cornflour mixed in a tablespoon of water
finely chopped coriander and green onions to garnish
- For the crispy fried Cauliflower: Wash and break the cauliflower into large florets. Sprinkle salt and keep aside.
- In a deep bowl mix the flour, salt, chilly flakes and egg white with a whisk. Add water to make it into a thick coatable batter (almost like cream).
- Heat oil in a deep pot. Lower the heat to medium. Dip the florets in the batter to coat evenly and fry them in oil to a golden brown. Once fried, let them drain on kitchen papers to absorb the excess oil.
- For the gravy: measure out all the sauces, sugar and vinegar in a bowl, stir to dissolve the sugar. Add 3 tblspoons water
- In a shallow pan heat a tablespoon of oil. Fry the ginger garlic and chilly on low heat for a few seconds. Add in the sauces and bring to a boil. Put off the heat.
- Just before you serve, reheat and toss the florets in a non-stick pan to crisp them up a little bit. This will help to get rid of excess oil. Re-heat the sauce and add in the cornflour paste to thicken. If the sauce is thick without the paste eliminate the use of cornflour.
- Add the cauliflower, stir to coat. Sprinkle with finely chopped green onions and chopped coriander.
- Serve with fried rice.
- If you like more gravy feel free to double the gravy ingredients.