Chinese Whispers

Chinese Whispers

Never argue with a Bengali bhodrolok on what he considers his monopoly – Satyajit Ray,Tagore and ilish machch.

Never argue with a Bengali bhodrolok on what he considers his monopoly – Satyajit Ray,Tagore and ilish machch. We could actually add Chinese food to the hallowed list,considering no other city has patronized chowmein (fondly called ‘chow’ by indulgent Bengalis) and chilly chicken like Kolkatans have. We are talking about pre-Barista days here,from a budget date to a post-Pujo shopping break,the city usually found itself heaping chilli sauce,a lurid version of tomato ketchup and shredded onions on platefuls of noodles fried till they resembled the police beacon. What we swallowed in a hurry,was essentially spoonfuls of comfort — that usually comes to us from the familiarity of the mouthful of fried-to-death noodles,burst of sauces,sting of raw onions and the occasional whiff of chicken. Unless you had a paranoid mother who warned you against the pumpkin pulp that she thought is generally passed off as ‘tomato sauce’,you were only too happy to empty the sauce bottles that came for ‘free’ with the noodles. Chinese food in Kolkata,for generations,has been synonymous with eating out. So,not a lot of thought in general had been expended on its authenticity. “Chinese cuisine,like its Indian counterpart,has an inexhaustible variety. The food from different regions has distinctly distinct flavours. But we in Kolkata seem to have embraced a masala version of Schezwan cuisine which uses a fair bit of chillies and pepper,” laughs chef Sujan Mukherjee of Taj Bengal. The hotel has organized a food festival to commemorate the twenty years that it’s Chinese restaurant Chinoiserie has been around. “We dug out old menus by Chinese chefs who have served in the restaurant kitchen. Chef Brando,for example,was from Honk Kong and had a distinct old world feel about his cooking. He was not too fond of experimenting and was a stickler for subtle flavours,” says Mukherjee. While Brando,has long returned to Hong Kong ,his cuisine survives in the present menu in the form of Kai Lachew (chicken legs tossed with dry chillies and crushed black pepper) or the Cantonese steamed trout. Nearly a decade after Chinoiserie opened,Chef Tong and Chef Hubart took charge of its kitchen. While Tong’s trademark was a style that remained true to cuisine in the Chinese countryside,Hubart was more familiar with contemporary fusion. “You could try Tong’s crispy rice cake pepper salt and minced lamb with green beans in a hot bean sauce,” says Mukherjee.

Chef Lian Yun Lei,who has been with the restaurant for the last four years believes in tweaking original recipes here and there to suit the local palate. “The fried prawn with sesame seed,Hubart’s brainchild,wasn’t originally served with shredded onions. But I decided to serve it with onions because people here seem to like raw onions in their salads,with their starters mostly,” says Lian.

What walks away with the cake in this mind-boggling variety of Chinese cuisine,is probably the desserts. It’s not the routine darsan with vanilla ice-cream that you are left to pick on at the end of the meal. Try the Litchi pancake. Strange as it may sound,it leaves you totally stunned with the subtle sweetness of the litchi pepping up the otherwise simple pancake.

The festival is on till October 31. A meal for two would cost Rs 2000 (plus taxes) approximately.