Wait, What? Chicken Manchurian Isn't Chinese
Image Credit: The thick manchurian gravy with those crunchy balls are perfectly paired with chowmein.

First things first. Our favourite Chinese cuisine is not what Chinese eat back home. In fact, their food is extremely bland with negligible use of spices. What we’ve been eating for years now is the desi version of this Chinese fare, popularly called desi Chinese or Indian Chinese. The deep-fried meat dipped in spicy schezwan sauce is an alien concept for most Chinese natives. 

If we take a dig into the past, we would apprised with the fact that Chinese food was brought to India by some immigrants who settled in Calcutta (present-day Kolkata) and setup their leather tanneries in the city during the period of colonialism. Naturally, they brought with them their food, which was later adapted to suit the Indian tastes. A host of spices and local ingredients like chilies replaced the Sichuan peppercorns in their dishes, as a result of which this hybrid cuisine was given shape. 

The two China towns of Kolkata, Tangra and Tirretta, which are functional till date, offer this unique blend of Indian and Chinese flavours at small shacks as well as fine-dining restaurants. These palatable tastes were quick to spread to Mumbai with the establishment of the first fine-dining Chinese restaurant at the Taj. The style of Chinese food was predominantly Hakka and Cantonese, given the background of these settlers. However, there was a twist in the story in the year 1970. 

Does Manchurian Have A Connection With The Chinese City Of Manchuria? 

My staple order at any Chinese street side stall is a bowl of hakka noodles with a side of chicken manchurian. Basic yet delicious and the best part, you’ll find these two on every restaurant’s and street stall’s menu guaranteed. That’s the craze for our chowmein (colloquial term for noodles) and manchurian. Now, there have been speculations about the origins of various dishes of this hybrid cuisine, especially manchurian. Some passed it off as a Chinese dish, simply because it resonates with the name of a Chinese city called Manchuria. Well, guess what? It is far from the truth. 

Legend has it that a man of Chinese origin named Nelson Wang was headed to Bombay (present-day Mumbai) to be employed as a chef’s assistant at a Taj restaurant called Frederick’s. Later, he went on to open his own little Chinese venture in Kemps Corner. In addition to this, his career flourished when he acquired the Cricket Club’s catering in the city. That’s when the accidental creation of chicken manchurian took place. A club member requested for a spicy dish and Wang got thinking. He took the fried chicken pieces (much like pakoras) and pumped them up with soy and vinegar along with onions, green chilies and garlic. The result was a delicious chicken manchurian that has become an indispensable part of the Indian-Chinese fare today. 

Now, if you are craving manchurian then we’ve got some lip-smacking recipes for you. 

1. Gobhi Manchurian 

If you are looking to spruce up your cauliflower, try this gobhi manchurian recipe. Fried florets of cauliflower in a thick and saucy gravy taste delicious with fried rice. 

2.  Veg Manchurian 

If you are a vegetarian, then opt for this veg manchurian recipe where cabbage, onions, carrots and a host of vegetables are rolled up into balls and thrown in a spicy gravy. 

3.    Soya Manchurian

Soya is a good option to substitute chicken. The chunky pieces of soya with a garlic-onion flavoured red sauce is a great Chinese main dish.