The intermingling of cultures has led to a variety of fusion cuisines being formed in the process. One such culinary gem is the ‘Indianised Chinese’ food. For those untouched by the phenomenon, the basis of popularity of Chinese cuisine in the country is the inclusion of Indian flavours in the foreign dishes. Given the historical traces of the cuisine, it is often directed towards eastern parts of the country like West Bengal. Kolkata is known to be one of the precursors for bringing Chinese fare to the Indian plate and interestingly, that’s what Chef Ram Bahadur Budhathoki believes too. The head chef at a popular restaurant chain in Kolkata, Chowman, Chef Budhathoki recalls the origins of this cuisine along with the vision behind the expansion of this chain of restaurants. 

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Driven by the Bengali-Chinese fare that is popular in Kolkata, Chef Budhathoki aims at introducing the unique flavours of this Chinese cuisine to other parts of the country. With two recently opened outlets of South Delhi and Noida, the chef presents the Chinese flavours from the land of its birth to Delhi-NCR. From mustard chilli prawns to schezwan prawns and chicken sui mai, the wide-ranging menu offers several delights. Chef Budhathoki throws some light on the cuisine and special delicacies like Kolkata-style chilli chicken, in an exclusive chat with Slurrp. Excerpts. 

Q1.  What makes Bengali Chinese different from regular Chinese food?

Chinese food in Bengal has a very interesting record because it directly relates to the political history of Bengal. And this deserves a mention of the Chinese community settlement in Bengal at a time period when Bangladesh was also a part of Bengal. It is the Chinese settlers that influenced the birth of Chinese food in Bengal. And later when Bangladesh and Bengal bifurcated, a slight demarcation was seen in the conception and appropriation of Chinese food. When it comes to Bengali Chinese, even 10 years back, it was more about spices to make it palatable for the Bengalis.  

Source: Chowman

It is intended to be tossed with more sauces and salt. Moreover, pork, and lamb is a very recent inclusion. Even today, many Bengali Chinese are all about quick preparation and pork or lamb fat is seldom used a popular meat choice. The choices are rather basic and simple being either vegetarian, chicken or mixed. In addition, Bengali Chinese mostly mandates black pepper as a dominant flavour. If you taste Chinese and its mostly black pepper, what you are experiencing is purely Bengali Chinese. Another thing is corn-starch. If your soup is not intensely thick to the extent of making you feel way too full, then it ain’t Bengali Chinese.

Q2.  Is there any special way in which the Kolkata-style chilli chicken is prepared?  

There is one interesting fact that revolves around the chilli chicken. If you go around Bengal, you will find everyone, from a posh restaurant to a street vendor selling Chinese, serving you boneless chilli chicken batter fried, tossed and cooked using sauces and spices. While this is a more appropriate form, the actual chilli chicken followed a slightly different method. If you trace back to the origin of Chinese food in Bengal in modern-day Tangra, Bowbazaar and Tiretti, the Bengali-style Chilli chicken is supposed to be small, with bone pieces. However, considering the affordability of a large section of middle class, catering to the taste buds, Chinese has been appropriated, both in style, raw materials and ingredients by eliminating potatoes, substituting paneer with tofu, using specific sauces, and utilising a low-cost boneless chicken as the typical form of Bengali Chinese. 

Q3. Can you tell us about some classic Bengali Chinese dishes? 

There’s chowmein, hakka noodles (because, Bengali Chinese was actually conceived by the Haka community), fried rice, chilli chicken, and sweet corn soup. You visit any street shop and these are the commons everywhere. 

Source: Chowman 

Q4.  We loved the Kolkata-style chilli chicken. Can you share the recipe?  

Kolkata-style Chilli Chicken is one of the signature dishes of Chowman. 

Ingredients: 

    250 gm chicken (with bone)  

    30 gm corn flour  

    10 gm maida 

    2 pieces egg  

    70 ml refined oil  

    15 m green chilli  

    10 ml ketchup  

    3 gm sugar  

    15 ml dark soya  

    5 ml light soya  

    5 gm spring onion  

Source: Chowman

Method:  

1.    Take the chicken pieces and thoroughly clean them under cold water, then marinate them using cornflour, maida, and egg. 

2.    Heat a pan and add some refined oil. Once heated, add the pieces in the pan and fry them a little. 

3.    Now in the same pan, add more oil if necessary, add green chilli. 

4.    Now add dark and light soya, tomato ketchup, salt and black pepper, a little bit of sugar, and broth powder. Add in the fried pieces and toss them. 

5.    Once done, place them on a plate and garnish using spring onion and freshly chopped green chillies. Your Kolkata Style Chilli Chicken is ready to be savoured.