The first reason lies in the psyche of the Chinese themselves. They seek to please. They won’t give you what they themselves eat: if you don’t like it, they’ll lose face. It’s safer for them to give you what you like, so what if it isn’t in the least bit familiar to them. You want Chicken Manchurian? They’ll cook it.
The second is the diametrically opposite directions in which the two races approach food. The Chinese eat everything. We, on the other hand, don’t eat beef or pork. Many of us don’t touch chicken, fish or any other type of seafood. As for dried seafood – yuck! And the vegetarians among us won’t even consider ordering aubergines when we dine out. The prime cooking medium in China is pork fat, and the chief braising stock is seafood stock in South China and Hong Kong. Yet, when chefs from these regions arrive in India, that’s the first thing they’re told not to use.
The third thing is ingredients and their availability. Are Sichuan peppers easily available in India? Nyet. Have you ever seen wood ears and black fungus being sold in shops here? Non. Would we consider patronizing a restaurant that serves shark’s fin and bird’s nest? Most assuredly not.
The fourth reason is that delicacies in China are met with expressions of distaste here. Care for frog’s throats, pigs’ ears or oxtail? In China, all these are highly prized because of their texture. Soft and crunchy (pig’s ears), hard and rubbery (abalone), gelatinous and crunchy (duck’s feet) – when a guy can’t cook the delicacies of his cuisine, he’s reduced to catering to the lowest common denominator.
The fifth: If you’ve been to a yum cha place in Hong Kong or the mainland, you’ve probably wondered why dimsum made in India aren’t even remotely similar. Any restaurateur who wants to serve Hong Kong quality dimsum has to import everything from the flours to the fillings. It’s only rice, potato and wheat flours from South China that can turn out perfect dimsum.
The sixth reason is that we’ve never learned how to eat Chinese food. We need lashings of rice, preferably fried, and/or noodles, also fried. The Chinese get their starch fix at home: when they dine out; they seldom or never ask for rice. Noodles form a separate meal in itself, as in noodle soup.
The seventh reason is our love of gravy. Not surprising, because we have loads of it in our own cuisine. We love curry so much that we need it even when we’re over at our neighbourhood Chinese joint. We need to see it, or at the very least, a bowl or three of hot garlic sauce to moisten our rice with.
The last reason is about dessert. We come from gulab jamun land, and so expect to meet the same level of sweetness in a Chinese restaurant. Cold soups with white fungus, taro balls with sweet bean paste and barely sweet gelatinous water chestnut morsels don’t count as dessert. No wonder date pancakes with chocolate ice-cream have been invented for us.