The Home Cooked Flavours of Hakka Noodles
When families walk into a Chinese restaurant in India they order dishes that bear no resemblance to anything they would find in mainland China. Over the years Indian-Chinese food has become a brand by itself, and it has gained so much in popularity that no matter where one goes in India it is possible to tuck into a tasty concoction of traditional noodles and fiery Indian flavours.
The first Chinese arrived on the shores of Kolkata centuries ago. They worked hard and went on to thrive and prosper in the city. They also brought their cuisine with them, and they went on to open several Chinese restaurants in the city which over the years became immensely popular. This city on the east coast of India is still one of the few places where it is possible to get authentic Chinese food, the way it was originally designed by the masters on the mainland.
But everywhere else in the country, the traditional dishes have been infused with distinct Indian flavours, and one is hard pressed to understand at times whether they are eating Indian food or Chinese food. But diners all over the country are not complaining. They love this culinary fusion of two cultures, and they want more and more of it. No longer is this type of cuisine restricted to niche restaurants. It can be found in every street corner, every neighbourhood dhaba, and every local hangout. Even the traditional South Indian restaurants of Mumbai have noodles and fried rice on their menu card. This blend of Indian-Chinese has become so popular that people routinely eat it for lunch and dinner without giving it a second thought. It has become an integral part of the national culinary landscape.
As families look through the menu card of any restaurant they walk into in the country they find the name Hakka noodles written prominently on it. As they order the dish, and the waiter brings it over they find that this dish has no similarity to its cousin in Shanghai or Beijing. It is tinged with a fiery local sauce that gives it a taste similar to an Indian curry. There is no meat in the dish, but it is filled with paneer instead.
There is a liberal sprinkling of curry leaves and herbs in the mix that also contains healthy quantities of vegetables. This is a land of vegetarians and it is but natural that the cooks and restaurants here cater to this demand and turn every meat heavy cuisine into a vegetarian delight. Thus, the families also have the option of ordering paneer Manchurian and vegetable Manchurian to go with their dish.
But this blend of fusion food takes the need of meat lovers in mind as well. That is why it is possible to find chicken fried rice in plenty, which goes well with the chicken Manchurian and the Thai pot curry. It is not the cuisine of China that has found a local version, but increasingly the cuisine of Thailand and the food of Malaysia are also getting blended in this mix offering more varieties for the India diner.
This trend is also not limited to restaurants. Walk into any grocery store and you will see families buying huge packets of Hakka noodles to make and cook at home. They have learnt new recipes while watching cookery shows on television, and they have been reading the recipes section in magazines. They now want to try these dishes at home, and they have gotten inspired. They know that they have the option of making these dishes in a local way, and they do not have to stick to the original methods. So when the kids come home from school and the husband comes home from work, the wife and mother does not greet them with samosas and idli, but rather with Hakka noodles and fried rice.
The family eagerly tucks into the dishes as though they were eating home cooked food and not the cuisine of a foreign land. Hakka noodles has very much become an integral part of this country, and it has taken its place alongside parathas and dosas as a must have dish for the Indian diner.