Indian Chinese has followed the mainstream Indian expatriate community as they have spread across the world, providing expatriate Indians with a taste of authentic Indian Chinese.
The cuisine is believed to have originated with the Chinese of Calcutta and Chinese food is still popular there. At present, the Chinese population in Calcutta constitute about odd 20,000. People of Chinese origin mostly live in India's only Chinatown located around Tereti Bazar and Bowbazar area which has since been relocated to Tangra, Calcutta. Most of these immigrants were Cantonese and Hakka. Chinatown in India still boasts a number of Chinese restaurants specializing in Hakka cuisine and Indian Chinese variants.
Foods tend to be flavoured with spices such as cumin, coriander, and turmeric, which are traditionally not associated with genuine Chinese cuisine. Hot chilli, ginger, garlic and yoghurt are also frequently used in dishes. This makes Indian Chinese food similar in taste to many ethnic dishes in Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, which have strong Chinese and Indian cultural influences.
Non-staple dishes are by default served with generous helpings of gravy, although they can also be ordered "dry" or "without gravy". Culinary styles often seen in Indian Chinese fare include chilli (implying hot and batter-fried), Manchurian (implying a sweet and salty brown sauce), and Szechwan ( Sichuan, implying a spicy red sauce). These correspond loosely, if at all, with authentic Chinese food preparation.
Scallions and soy sauce are used in plenty to add a "Chinese touch" to the food. Beef and pork, taboo to Hindus and Muslims respectively, are rarely served. As a result, non-vegetarian dishes are left with chicken, mutton, fish and prawns, of which chicken is the most widely available option. Also, primary ingredients not often seen in authentic Chinese cuisine, such as paneer, is used in Indian Chinese cooking, mainly to cater to the proportionately large population of vegetarians in India. MSG (ajinomoto) is used in generous quantities to give the food "authentic Chinese" flavour. It is considered the salt of Chinese cooking by many Indian Chinese chefs.
Soups like Manchow soup and sweet corn soup, again available in vegetarian and meat form, are commonly available, as are starters such as chicken lollipops, spring rolls and wontons.
Rice and noodles
Staple base options for an Indian Chinese meal include chicken, shrimp or vegetable variants of Hakka or Szechwan/Sichuan noodles popularly referred to as chow mein; and regular or Szechwan/Sichuan fried rice. American chop suey and sweet and sour dishes can be found at many restaurants. Some South Indian restaurants have also come up with spring rolls and Szechwan dosas.
Popular Entrees (Main Courses)
Ubiquitous main course entrees include:
- Chilli Chicken/Prawn/Fish/Mutton/Beef/Vegetables/Paneer
- Garlic Chicken/Prawn/Fish/Mutton/Vegetables/Paneer
- Ginger Chicken/Prawn/Fish/Mutton/Vegetables/Paneer
- Manchurian Chicken/Prawn/Fish/Mutton/Vegetable/Paneer/Cauliflower
- Chowmein A popular dish combining noodles, vegetables, scrambled egg, ginger and garlic, soy sauce, green chili sauce, red chili sauce and vinegar
- Hong Kong Chicken
- Lemon Chicken/Prawn/Fish
- Sweet and Sour Chicken (Different from the American Version of Sweet and Sour, but similar to General Tso's Chicken)
- Momos Mostly from the Nepalis
- Gobi Manchurian A very popular dish combining scallion, ginger, hot pepper, soy sauce, together with cauliflower
Often the nomenclature is such that the main ingredient is mentioned first, followed by the entree style such as "Chicken Chilli" .
Indian Chinese dessert options include ice cream on honey-fried noodles or date pancakes.
Indian Chinese food is readily available in major metropolitan areas of India such as Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore, Ahmedabad. It is also available in a number of towns and on dhabas (roadside stalls) adjacent to major Indian roads and highways. Many restaurants have a Chinese section in their menus, and some are even dedicated to serving Indian Chinese food. It can also be found in the mobile kitchen carts that ply the streets of cities, prepared in woks over a portable gas burner. Manchurian sauce, Szechwan sauce, soy sauce and Hakka noodles are available in many stores in cities across. National franchises like Yo! China, Mainland China, Hakka etc. are also making an entry into the more sanitized segment of the market.
Many overseas Indian restaurants in the West and the Middle East also cater to the overseas Indians' nostalgic taste for Indian Chinese food. The cuisine is also branching out into the mainstream in major metropolitan areas of North America such as Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, Toronto, and Atlanta. Chinese food in Nairobi, Kenya also tends to be of this style. In many of these places, the restaurants are labelled as Hakka Chinese, when in fact the cuisine itself has very little resemblance to authentic Hakka cuisine. "Hakka" label in these restaurants are usually referring to the owner's origins, and many Chinese restaurant owners in India were indeed of Hakka origin.
As of 2007, Chinese cuisine ranks India's most favorite cuisine (after local food), growing at 9% annually. It is the most favoured option when young people go out to eat and the second favorite (after south Indian cuisine ) when families dine out.