The infamous cuisine known variously as Indian-Chinese or Sino-Ludhianvi is not alone in the world. It is but part of a continuum that extends all over the world, except in China itself. Chinese cuisine is not only the most popular choice worldwide, but has the inbuilt capacity to adapt itself to local tastes. Don’t believe me? Just take a walk around Yawarat, Bangkok’s China Town. You’ll see roast ducks being served with cilantro leaves and sweet chilli sauce. In China Town, Kuala Lumpur, unpretentious Chinese eateries serve rice and roast pork with slices of tomato and cucumber. Is it any wonder that we have devised our Gobhi Manchurian?
Not even Singapore itself has been spared the localization of Chinese food, although the island-state was the last place on the planet where I expected it. But I soon discovered that national dishes like Hainanese Chicken Rice were made for the Singaporeans by the Singaporeans. Around 70 percent of the population of Singapore consists of Chinese settlers who came from Fukkien, Hainan and Teochow Provinces of South China. Appropriately enough, 70 percent of the food of Singapore is Chinese from these three provinces, the rest being made up of Malaysian food and a variant of South Indian food that bears little resemblance to anything we know.
Because of the glorious spread of three cuisines from South China, augmented by dishes that have evolved recently, Singaporean food is as close as Chinese food gets to the Indian palate. None of the subtleties of Cantonese food plague this style of in-your-face cooking, exemplified by the fearsomely spicy Singapore Chilli Crab or the explicitly named Pig Organ Soup.
It was a master-stroke by Hotel MBD Radisson to choose a chef from Singapore: other hotels get in chefs from Hong Kong and Guangdong (formerly Canton) and begin dumbing down (or jazzing up, depending on your perspective) their cuisine from Day One, as complaints about bland food begin pouring in to the kitchen. Chef Raymond Sim, on the other hand, drives his restaurant solely on the strength of his cooking. Pork Ribs with Coffee Sauce, Chicken with Marmite, Prawns in – hold your breath – Milk Powder. The assertive tastes and novel combinations are a winning formula, and customers, mostly from the Noida hinterland, fight to get a table at RED. The management of MBD Radisson have conclusively proved to the competition that it is possible to have an authentic Chinese restaurant that does well.
Chef Sim can teach us a thing or three about jugaad: he does his version of Thai and Malaysian food as well as a perfectly acceptable platter of sushi and Korean bulgogi too.
After the resounding success of the recently concluded Singapore Food Festival, one thing is amply clear. It is better to hire a chef from a location where the food conforms to the Indian palate, than to dilute the purity of a cuisine with a bottle of chilli sauce.
Last word: Singaporean Malaysian favourites consist of laksa, asam fish curry and beef rendang. Indian classics include Roti Pratha and Roti Canai.