Thursday, August 10, 2006

Fifth Season, Race Course Road

Tibetan Momos

I had a random conversation the other night with some Indians who had proudly boasted that Indian Chinese food was better than Chinese food itself. All the same, I'd also heard of mainland Chinese folks who had gone to India and screamed bloody murder upon seeing their culture's dishes being morphed into something unrecognizable. With something so controversial (not to mention an interesting discussion that ensued recently about localization), I knew that I had to come here to see for myself. Tonight, I made my way down to Fifth Season in Little India (28 Race Course Road, 6293-4842), a rather small yet decently-decorated place carrying the tagline: "A Dedicated Indian Chinese Cuisine."

Reading the first page of the menu was a bit educational too, as it explained how a big Chinese population developed in the Tangra section of Calcutta, and had localized some of their "bland Cantonese sauces" for the local Bengalis. Then a second phase started when Tibetans migrated to India and found jobs as Chinese cooks. The last words of the narrative were exactly what I wanted to see: "Just order and explore...Your quest for [the] best Chinese cuisine ends here." I had already planned to do the first part, but the verdict on the second part was yet to come.

ThukpaI started with a couple things that were apparently more Tibetan than Chinese: the momos and the thukpa. The former was actually a set of dumplings that were quite tender and tasty, and yet were paired with a hot sauce that was far from the usual Chinese garlicky stuff...in a good way. I gobbled those up pretty quickly. The thukpa soup noodles were interesting too as they technically weren't even on the menu, and yet the staff was happy to make some for me, with a warning that it was "spicy." When I got this bowl, it turned out not spicy at all, but the taste was very clean and savory, and in fact reminded me a bit of Burmese food. OK those worked for me. What's next?

The dishes then moved to the Chinese side of the spectrum, starting with the "Chilly Chicken" (and that's chili - as in peppers - rather than chilly - as in cold). They gave an option of a dry or gravy version. I really wanted to push this food to see how far it could go, so I intentionally ordered what sounded less appetizing to me: the gravy version. Fortunately, this turned out better than I thought it would. The dark brown colored gravy wasn't too bad and was still decently spicy and savory enough to be pretty tasty. But it wasn't anything that I would want to order again, as it actually reminded me a bit of American Chinese food. I guess I was hoping to see what Chinese food would taste like with a heavy dose of Indian spices (or something like that), but this tasted more American than anything.

White Gravy Chow MeinI was still a bit hungry, so I grabbed a couple more items, such as a chicken sweet corn soup, and a white gravy chow mein. They didn't sound like anything interesting enough that I would order on my own, but my co-worker from Calcutta told me that those are things that he ordered all the time back home (I asked him to recommend dishes that "Indians consider to be Chinese food, not what Chinese people consider to be Chinese food"). The corn soup was light, and I didn't mind it at all, but the corn-starchy egg-drop-laden stuff did remind me again of some Chinese food that I could get back in the US (nor did it seem very localized to India from what I could see). And the chow mein in the end was definitely different. The noodles that sat underneath this clear gooey topping were hardly even scorched by the pan (i.e., there was no chow in the mein!). This was my least favorite, and now I can see why I had heard about mainland Chinese screaming about this stuff.

In the end, I liked the more Tibetan-inclined dishes than Chinese. The "Chinese" dishes really seemed frighteningly like American Chinese food (which I guess makes sense to some degree if they were both Cantonese in origin), especially with the way that they loaded up common veggies across several of the dishes (American Chinese food oftentimes has senseless amounts of sliced carrots across the dishes, more so for the sake of giving the dish some color and mass than anything else). In fact, they also listed "American Chop Suey" as well as "Chinese Chop Suey" on the menu here (and no, I don't know what the difference is). Still, I found these Indian Chinese dishes to be a step up from those American atrocities like Panda Express and Mr. Chau's...at least these guys took a little more care in preparing the ingredients than those crudely cut veggie chunks at those fast-food American places. Well, if I come back, it will be more for the Tibetan stuff, and it won't be anytime soon. Maybe I'll go next door to their sister restaurant Mustard, which specializes in Bengali food.

14 comments:

bellydancer said...

Hey you should try Bombat Cafe at Upper East Coast Rd. They have good 'Indo-Chinese' food. Cool blog (",)

bellydancer said...

Oops Bombay Cafe! ; )

bma said...

Do you mean these guys?

Tym said...

I happened to watch this documentary on Chinse restaurants around the world, and a Hakka restaurant owner in Bombay (I think it was) was showing off chilli chicken as one of their specialties. So perhaps that is truly an authentic Indian-Chinese dish.

Kathy said...

I don't know if anyone remembers the "drumlettes" Macdonald's in Singapore used to serve long ago, where the meat on a chicken wing was pushed to the end of the bone, and one of the bone gets removed.

When I went to India, I saw something similar and it was called Chicken Lollipop. It was a cool way to eat chicken wings.

bma said...

Ah yes - the chicken lollipop! I noticed that on the menu there. I was tempted to try it but had ordered too much already. That will be one to earmark for the future then, should luck ever bring me past Indian Chinese food again.

anika_williams@hotmail.com said...

I went to this same place sometime back and the food is of really low quality and the waiters talk amongst themselves more than they wanted to serve me especially one bengali looking woman who kept opening the front door some 5 times since I was there... she kept walking in and out and really spoiled my appetite as well. dont know if she is the owner but she was talking on her handphone..

Sahana said...

Here is the dish that Indians consider as Chinese but the Chinese have never seen! Vegetable Manchurian or Chicken Manchurian. Try this out either at Fifth Season or anywhere else. I love the dish but it is not for those who are trying to shed kilos.

Sahana said...

Went to Fifth Season again today. It's definitely a place I'd like to visit again and again. The thukpa was delicious! Ordered Chilly Fish today and that was great too.

Sanchita said...

Hearing so much from few of my friends , went to fifth season on Sunday. The restaurant was packed still the environment was so homely and soothing. The food was excellent. Dont remember when I had better in last five years. I tried their Prawn pepper salt , chow chow rice and manchow soup.
I think I am gonna get addicted...

Abhay said...

While searching for their I found this blog. Interesting!
I have entertained my clients couple of times there... I feel they have done a good job. Food versus price is really worth eating there.Their momo and chicken mushroom onion fried rice are two I would repeat every time. Being food lover I have tried all the items in thier menu except permanently marked as 'NA' on few...honestly, I am impressed ...Suggest !! Eat there as much before they too join the hoard making quick bucks...

Francis said...

What man??? So much about Chindian food? Tried the noodles but it wasn't spicy? Even curry leaves missing too.. The food was more Chinese food than Indian flavor...
Dont go there if you want Naan, Dosai or chicken Tikka !!! You will be really disappointed... But if you want Tibetan stuff and a different version of Chinese food you may venture this place. Rightly said 'Chinese cuisine with Global touch ( not Indian)'.

Sanchita said...

Indian Chinese food is about Chinese food but slightly tossed more than the way Chinese food. It cannot have exchange of spices ... Imagine how curry leaves would smell in soya sauce?
Indian Chinese means eliminating the pungentness and spice it up to suit everybody's platter. Food and music is very personal choice but this restaurant does offer the difference. I find the place is too small but perfect dine in option for families outing and shopping around Little India.Weekends... call to book a seat.

Anonymous said...

I cook chinese at home using Ching's secret ingredients.
Ching's has hakka noodles available off the shelf. i also buy Manchurian sauce mix- cut cauliflower florets, add paneer or tofu pieces, cook. it is ready to eat in around 5-7 minutes. accompaniment is Ching's veg sweet corn soup and diet pepsi for me :)