Inspired by my last posting on ethnic-cosmopolitan food, I’m going to put up a few entries on recent (non-local) examples of cross-cultural culinary interpretations that can be found in Singapore. This is quite aside from our own well-established forms of hybrid cusines, for example Straits Chinese/ nonya cooking, as well as Eurasian food, which reveal diverse influences adapted over centuries of settlement in Malaya.
Although I know quite a few Singaporean and Malaysian individuals who are of mixed Indian and Chinese background (not to mention prominent personalities singer Jacintha Abishiganadan, comedian Gurmit Singh, and former national sprinter Mona Kunalan) or Chindian for short, Chinese-Indian cuisine is something quite different. It is Chinese food adapted by the Chinese community in India to suit Indian tastes. The Indian Wok restaurant serves this kind of food.
Interestingly, now we even get Chindian food (which originates in India) adapted for Singaporean tastebuds. I take it this means that Singaporeans, of whatever ethnic background (including Indian), have developed distinctive likes & dislikes. There’s a rich story of about the layering & meeting of diasporas – historical and contemporary – from different parts of world (with a strong dash of colonial influence) in there.
Here’s a Straits Times review article on Chindian food in Singapore, which lists various restaurants and has some photos. And below is a restaurant review from TODAY.
17 Oct 06
CLASSY CHINESE WITH AN INDIAN TOUCH
From Kolkata, a centuries-old cross-cultural marriage takes root at Indian Wok
Where: 699 East Coast Road
Telephone: 6448 2003
Opening Hours: 11am to 3pm; 6pm to 10.30pm Daily
When I first heard about the newly opened Indian Wok restaurant in East Coast, I was curious to find out what it has to offer. Despite its name,Indian Wok doesn’t actually serve Indian fare but Chinese food adapted to the Indian palate.
This elegant restaurant is owned by Kobian, the same folk behind Bombay
Cafe, a trendy vegetarian cafe in Katong. Restaurant director Prabhakar,
who was originally from Bangalore, was an executive chef at the Singapore
Expo for about six years before he joined hands with Kobian’s owners to
start Indian Wok.
For the menu, Prabhakar teamed up with chef Binod Rai, previously from
Kolkata’s The Oberoi, to recreate a host of Indian-Chinese dishes that are
extremely popular in India.
According to Prabhakar, Indian-Chinese cuisine originated from Kolkata
after a group of Hakka people left China and settled in eastern India,
where they set up small Chinese restaurants hundreds of years ago.
This group of ethnic Han Chinese grew to enjoy the local Indian spices and
eventually incorporated these ingredients into their traditional Chinese
The menu features a good selection of seafood, chicken, noodles and rice
dishes. A fitting start to the meal is the fried crab claws ($15), which
are cooked in sweet chilli sauce and herbs, and served with a piquant lime
and chilli dip. The shell is removed, making it a lot easier to eat.
Another lip-smacking starter is the salt-and-pepper prawns ($20): Prawns
stir-fried in an aromatic combination of capsicum, garlic, freshly-ground
black pepper and spring onions.
A recommended speciality is the pomfret Havoli ($18), a simple dish of
fresh fish slices cooked with oyster sauce.
Other than seafood, the five-spiced chicken ($12) is also deliciously
addictive. Pieces of diced chicken are marinated with five spices,
battered and deep-fried till crispy.
I also loved the dry Gobi Manchurian ($10), or crispy cauliflower
fritters, tossed with chilli, garlic and spring onions.
The classic Chinese hot-and-sour soup ($8) is available, too. This version
is flavoured with chilli oil, vinegar and light soya sauce, and brimming
with chicken, mushrooms, bamboo shoot and spring onions.
If you need your regular dose of carbs, the Szechuan fried rice ($8) is
fragrant and nicely enlivened with Szechuan chilli sauce. For something
less spicy, aim for Hakka noodles ($8) tossed with capsicum, spring onions
and bean sprouts.
Round off your meal with the “sizzling brownie” ($12), a dessert that is
neither Chinese nor Indian. The chocolate treat with walnuts is served on
a hot plate with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice-cream. Children will love
this, but I personally root for the velvety masala-tea ice-cream ($8).
Overall, the meal was highly commendable, although a couple of dishes were
slightly over-salted. If that’s the case, do let the chefs know so the lev
el of spiciness and saltiness can be adjusted according to your
Indian Wok also offers a fine selection of wines to complement your meal.
Don’t forget to try the famous Thumbs Up, a fizzy soft drink that is a
perennial favourite in India.