Indian-Chinese food has long enjoyed its status as comfort food in both India and its diaspora. Chili chicken, Hakka noodles, and gobi manchurian, to name just a few, can be found on many Indian restaurant menus and as street cart staples. However, these dishes are not simply products of fusion food trends—rather, they are edible relics of India’s history of inhabitants and food culture.
The fusion version of Chinese food in India is very different from dishes actually found in China. Just as India has rich and varied culinary traditions, China has regional cuisines as well. When one refers to Indian-Chinese food then, knowingly or unknowingly, one is referencing dishes of Hakka and Cantonese influence with an East Indian adaptation.
Kolkata, West Bengal was the easiest entry point to India from China by land. By the late 1700s well into the 20th century, a large number of Chinese immigrants, particularly from the Hakka region, settled in Kolkata looking for more enterprising work opportunities. Eventually, a very vibrant and bustling Chinatown emerged and it was here that restaurateurs gave birth to the fusion cuisine.
By the 20th century, the Chinese restaurateurs were aptly exposed to local Bengali flavors and married this to their own flavor profiles of soy, garlic, Sichuan pepper, and stir fry, wok-style cooking drawing a large customer base of both Chinese and Indian patrons. The fusion cuisine once only found in Kolkata’s Chinatown is now found in metropolitan cities the world over, from New York City to Mumbai! You can create it in your kitchen, too, with the easy recipe for dry chili chicken found below.
Dry Chili Chicken
- 1 pound chopped boneless skinless chicken thigh
- tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
- dry red chilies
- 2 green chilies, minced (remove seeds to decrease spiciness)
- 2 heaping tablespoons grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 3/4 cup diced green bell pepper (about small pepper)
- 1/2 cup diced onions (about 1 small onion)
- tablespoons good quality, low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons chili sauce
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 2 green onion springs, cut on a bias
Combine chicken, cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Heat oil in a wok over high heat. Drop chicken-cornstarch mix in oil and cook uncovered about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Remove chicken from oil with a slotted spoon and reserve. Leave the oil in the wok over medium heat.
Add dry red chili, green chili, ginger, and garlic to wok. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring frequently. Add bell pepper and onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add soy sauce, chili sauce, and vinegar and cook for another 2 minutes.
Add reserved chicken to wok. Increase heat to high and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure chicken is coated.
Remove from heat and transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with spring onions.