With a large number of ethnic Chinese living in India, the fabulous, spicy fusion cuisine known as Indian-Chinese has caught on, blending typical Indian staples such as ginger, garlic, and spicy chilis with Chinese ingredients such as soy sauce, scallions, and cornstarch, along with a variety of sweet and tangy sauces. Hakka noodles and Chicken Manchurian are two of this cuisine’s popular signature dishes. (Click on the links to see sample recipes.) It used to be hard to find Indian-Chinese food outside big metro areas in India, but nowadays, such restaurants are cropping up all over the world, with at least a few dozen in New Jersey alone. Traditional Indian restaurants are now adding these popular dishes to their regular menus. (Ever seen Chicken 65 on an Indian menu? That’s supposedly a Chinese dish.)
How did this fusion take place? After the Jews, the Chinese and Indians are the next two largest diasporas. Naturally, as they hail from two of the world’s largest nations. But as neighboring countries, one democratic, the other communist, they also share a long, uneasy border. In some areas, near Tibet for instance, they have long-standing disputes over contested territory. In 1962, they fought a war against each other (the Sino-Indian War). Like the Japanese in the States during the world wars, the Chinese in North India were interred in prison camps for a time during the 1960s. It took many years before either country allowed immigrants from the other to be eligible for citizenship in their new homelands.
But today, that’s changing. A good number of ethnic Chinese live in India, and from what I can tell on my visits, they straddle all walks of life. Many run beauty parlors or work at restaurants. Calcutta boasts the country’s only real Chinatown, with many ethnic Chinese working as carpenters and shoe-shop owners. What’s more, Indian Chinese occupy nearly every profession and are visible in politics and the entertainment industry.
In East Asia, particularly Malaysia, and to a lesser extent Singapore and Hong Kong, intermarriage between overseas Chinese and Indians is fairly common – in some areas, roughly one in 10 of all marriages. Their Chinese-Indian offspring are commonly known as Chindian; according to the stats, they typically have Indian fathers and Chinese mothers.
I have a fascinating book, Sons of the Yellow Emperor, which traces the Chinese diaspora throughout history and to most parts of the world. Oddly, this exhaustive tome leaves out its Indian connections. Not sure why, but someday, when they eventually update this exciting, colorful history, food will have to be a major footnote.