Fusion cuisine, in which ingredients and techniques from two different cultures are combined, is a major culinary trend. While high end restaurants serve some odd and occasionally pretentious dishes in the name of fusion, authentic blends of flavors often spring up anywhere cultures intermingle. Think Vietnamese sandwiches on crusty French bread or British curry fries.
Indian style Chinese food is one of the world’s tastiest multicultural combo meals. Born in Tangra, the Calcutta neighborhood that is India’s only Chinatown, the cuisine has spread throughout the sub continent and beyond.
In Queens, adventurous eaters and South Asians looking for familiar flavors can enjoy a growing number of Indo Chinese restaurants.
Menu staples include corn soup, which is similar to egg drop; manchow soup, a spicy sweet and sour soup with plenty of black pepper; and fish, chicken, beef and vegetable dishes with chili, Szechwan or Manchurian sauces.
Indo Chinese food is not nearly as sugary sweet as Americanized Chinese food. It also uses a broader array of spices and packs a much hotter punch, thanks to copious hot peppers.
Joseph Liu, chef and owner of Chopstick in Elmhurst, explained that Szechwan food is the spiciest of China’s cuisines and is a perfect match for the Indian palate (note that the heat of any dish can be adjusted to order at most restaurants).
Indian dishes like pakoras (deep fried fritters) and Thai style soups and noodles are also common. Halal meats cater to Muslims and most menus also offer vegetarian options, such as chili string beans and spicy Manchurian tofu.
Liu, who is Chinese but grew up in Simla in Northern India, learned to cook in Chinese restaurants around the subcontinent. He described his menu as “all Chinese, but we add ginger, garlic and curry to get the flavors of India.”
The majority of Queens’ Indo Chinese restaurants are Chinese owned and run, and largely patronized by Indians, Pakistanis and other South Asians. Indian owned Biryani House (43 45 43rd St., Sunnyside) is the exception. The Indian and Bangladeshi restaurant serves Indo Chinese cuisine on weekends only. Employee Minu Paramanik explained that cooks are trained by Chinese chefs in India.
Although Indo Chinese cuisine is a globe trotting transplant, it is particularly well suited to the American palate. Lollipop chicken, a popular menu item, is such a great update on chicken wings you’d swear the food scientists at a Chili’s or Applebee’s concocted the recipe. Deep fried in a batter studded with green onions, lollipop chicken is a chicken wing that has had all the meat detached from one end and gathered into a delicious bundle at the other. At Tangra Masala, the wings are served with a creamy, spicy dipping sauce spiked with cilantro and ginger.
Most of the menus are extensive, but lack enough description to help first timers choose widely. Your best option is to bring a crowd and share several dishes. Between India and China, you’ve got a lot of ground to cover.
INDO CHINESE PICKS
87 09 Grand Ave.
(718) 803 2298
39 23 Queens Blvd.
(718) 786 8181
Royal Indian Oasis
184 22 Horace Harding Expwy.
(718) 353 3804