During our short stay in India, we’ve been fortunate to try a number of different “fusion” Indian cuisines. As I’ve always loved Indian Chinese food since I discovered it at Tangra Masala, an Indian Chinese restaurant that was just a five-minute walk from my old Elmhurst apartment, I knew that Indian Chinese food would be high on the list of things to try while in India. Back in the 1700s, the Chinese had been visiting India in search of Buddhist teachings, and so many Chinese people settled in India and established businesses of their own. The Chinese assimilated the Indian ways of living and beliefs.They even embraced the Indian spices and masalas, and created their own version of the cuisine. This gave birth to things like chow mein with Indian spices, “Sichuan style” dosas, and vegetable Manchurian, which is usually some vegetable coated in corn flour, fried, then tossed in a reddish-brown sauce that has a base of onions, green chillies, garlic, vinegar, and soy. The rumored epicenter of what was the beginning of Indo-Chinese food was Kolkata.
In addition to Indian-Chinese food, we also enjoyed Goan-Portuguese food (an incredible Goan-Portuguese fish fry with a fish called rawas, which is considered Indian salmon – this is probably one of the biggest highlights in terms of individual bites I had on this entire trip); Muslim Indian food in the form of these delicious grilled mutton and lamb kebabs; and finally, the most surprising for me was the Burmese-Tamilian noodles and lentil soup. Before we arrived in Chennai, I had no idea that this type of fusion food had existed. But based on what I read, the Tamil-Indian population in what was Burma was quite large during the British rule in the 19th century, as Indians were considered the backbone of civil administration and were very influential in Burmese society. But during the civil unrest that occurred during the ’60s, many Indians were forced to leave the country. When the Tamilians came back to India, they came in droves to Chennai, and some of them brought back the foods that they made on the streets in Burma and set up shop here.
The dish that I read the most about was atho, which is a Burmese-style stir-fried noodle made with cabbage, tamarind-based gravy, fried onions, spices, and other vegetables. Just the sheer thought of Burmese-Indian cuisine had my mouth watering, so I insisted to Chris that we go to one of these places on Saturday night.
We arrived at what I thought would be a restaurant, but was actually a food stall off the street. A man was standing, stir-frying noodles to order, while another man was dishing out bowls of hot, spicy lentil soup to patrons. We ordered the large chicken atho, and although it didn’t look particularly impressive, after the first bite, it was pure love. It was spicy, salty, sweet, sour, tangy, and amazing. I was sad when the last forkful was done. It’s probably high on the list of favorite bites of this trip next to the Goan-Portuguese fish fry we enjoyed in Mumbai. It came with a bowl of the spicy lentil soup, which was also incredibly fragrant and flavorful.
These types of fusion foods are always so exciting to discover and eat. I wish we could have access to Burmese-Tamilian food back in New York.