India is one breathtakingly amazing country with a distinctive street food culture. It is unique because though many of the roadside foods are extremely popular and symbolic of India, they aren’t generally prepared at home. And yet, as willing as people are to eat simple home-cooked meals, they’re equally enthusiastic to party at a local vendor’s stall that sells Samosas, or Jalebis or Chaat items, Chana Jor Garam, or Indo-Chinese Noodles or Bread with Omlette or cool summer drinks. When out on Indian roads, people don’t just travel, they relish the time and the occasion. And if not for anything else, most would stop by at least for a cup of Chai at a Chai Wallah’s. That is how it is! You cannot imagine India without it’s street food — and the later contributes significantly to the former’s cityscapes! Anyone there, would have more fun hanging out with friends at local roadside eateries than he would, say in a park. Tis most amusing to eat out of a hawker’s portable stall. There’s nothing in the world quite like it. Every region and each prominent city is an epitome of a popular roadside food — be it Delhi’s Dahi-bhalle and Chole-Bhature, Amritsari Lassi, Lucknowi Chaats and Kebabs, Mangalore’s Goli Bajji and Sweet Buns, Kolkata’s Phuchka, Chennai’s roadside Idly-Vada and Dosai, Mumbai’s Pav-Bhaji, Batata vadas and Vada-Pav, Kerala’s Banana Bonda.
India’s roadside food enthusiasm and how food is celebrated on the streets is something I probably miss the most in this part of the world. God bless the Chinese in Kolkata’s more than a century old China Town, to have invented and introduced the hugely popular Indo-Chinese cuisine. It beautifully blends the Chinese flavors and style of cooking with Indian palate. In fact, it is so immensely popular, that in India, if you say you are eating Chinese, you’ll most certainly bump into these spicy, stir fried, sometimes saucy, fiery hot fusion foods which most non-India based Chinese would shy away from! And the stalls selling these are ones that are the most thronged. Many Indian restaurants have a “Chinese section” in their menu cards and under that you’ll see not Chinese, but Indo-Chinese items listed. It’s one of the most preferred “eat-out” foods in India and an integral part of India’s street food philosophy. Culinary scenes involving these delicacies are abuzz with the young and old, this being their most favored part of menu.
There was a time in India, when probably nobody would believe you if you were to tell them that the “real Chinese food” was not spicy (not even half as close), hot, or mostly stir-fried or so intensely garlic-y. Such was the charm of the half-Indian half-Chinese culinary hybrids, before India’s Free Trade Agreements opened the flood gates to globalization and most people saw and knew the other-worldly things better (including authentic foreign cuisines and food ingredients, once being available to them). Indo-Chinese cuisine is still the most popular highway or roadside fast food in India……and “Chow Mein” is a forerunner in this category. They are such common household favorites today!
When we think of “Chow Mein” we think of “Chinese Noodles cooked with vegetables and sometimes egg or chicken”. The word literally means stir-fried Noodles. “Chow” is fried and “Mein” means Noodles in Taishanese. Moreover, the word is often synonymously used with “Hakka Noodles“. A few months ago, I was reading a book online and had to look up something on wiki. One thing led to the other and I landed on a small piece of info on “Hakka” group of people. Wikipedia claims that the Hakka cuisine we find in India, is actually the Indian Taiwanese cuisine, sold as “Hakka” by the restaurant owners, who mostly were Han Chinese, from the Hakka-speaking provinces in China. We’re all fond of the noodles that are tagged “Hakka“. But what I didn’t know was that the authentic “real Hakka cuisine” is largely unknown in India. In fact, true Hakka cuisine is often not known outside a Hakka home.
Countries inhabited by Taiwanese communities serve Hakka cuisine due to the large population and influence of Hakka people within those groups. Facts being facts, don’t matter when it is about our most favorite “naughty food”! What indeed matters is our undying love for roadside Indian style Chinese Hakka Noodles.
Bless wherever they came from. Bless whoever got them for us in India. The fame and demand of Indo-Chinese cuisine has since been ever-evolving and it has seen a widespread acceptability among several countries like Malaysia and Singapore which have a strong Indian cultural influence. Other than the Southeast Asian countries, you’ll find that this cuisine is now eventually flourishing in many Western countries.
Today, with this Noodle-recipe here, I am trying to revisit the nostalgia of this roadside fast food. This is precisely how you’d find them doing it in the counters and stalls selling “Chinese Chow Mein” in India. I tried to work as closely and as much with their ingredients and style of cooking, particularly using less veggies and focusing more on spicing it up and the tossing in high-heat part. And yes, I must admit that I am also very specific about my vegetables cuts. Some people do use some shredded cabbage, sliced green bell peppers (capsicum) and thin long slices of french beans — however, I prefer minimal veggies here and rather pay more attention on getting the textures and flavors right. An overload of veggies of too many types, dilutes the lovely smoky flavor that these noodles obtain when stir fried on high heat. I do these Noodles often to rid me and my Mr. Man of the frequent craving for Indian street fast food. These taste great and makes a wholesome soulful meal!! I very much hope you’ll love it too!
- About 21 oz or 600 gms regular Hakka Noodles (I generally use Ching’s Egg or Vegetable Noodles for this dish)
- 1 Medium Onion
- 1 Small-Medium Carrot
- 4 large Garlic cloves or 1 tbsp full garlic paste (fresh sliced garlic gives a great taste)
- 3 Eggs
- 2-3 tbsp Dark Soy Sauce
- 1/2 tsp White Vinegar
- 1/2 tsp Ginger powder or paste
- 2-3 tbsp Sweet Chilli Tomato sauce (I use Maggi’s hot & sweet Ketchup that I get from the Indian stores)
- 1 tbsp green Chilly Sauce (I use Ching’s)
- A few pinches of Monosodium Glutamate (Optional)
- 2 Indian hot green Chilies (use less or more to suite your taste)
- 1/2 tsp Black Pepper powder (or more, to taste)
- 1 cup of any other or mixed veggies of your choice (shredded cabbage, sliced french beans, chopped green bell peppers, etc.) — Optional (I didn’t use them in mine)
- 4-6 tbsp or more of Light Olive oil (for frying)
- Salt (per taste)
- Peel, wash and slice the onions circularly and then cut the “circles” into halves (as in the pic). If you are short of time, slice your onion length-wise.
- Trim, wash and cut out carrot juliennes or fine thin slices (first divide the carrot into 3-4 cylindrical pieces. Then slice each ‘cylinder length-wise to get little rectangular boards. Slice these length-wise to get your juliennes, as in the pic!).
- Peel, wash and slice the garlic cloves thin and circular (as you see in the picture).
- Cut off the green chilly stems. Wash and slice them at a slant angle, as shown in the picture here.
- Cook the noodles per package instructions and cook them al dante.
- Strain noodles in a colander and run lots of cold water, to separate out the noodle threads and to not let them stick together. (I do not use oil on my noodles in this step, and never had a “sticky noodle” problem!)
- In a deep frying pan over medium-high heat, add the garlic pieces. Stir and saute them quickly for few seconds (take care not to over fry or burn them).
- Add the onions, carrots and green chili slices together and saute them for just about 1-2 minutes on high heat with short, quick stirs. Do not fry the veggies all through till done, because we don’t want wilted, mushy and softened vegetables in our noodles here. (If you’d like other veggies, add them at this stage and stir-fry on high heat for another minute or so, tilled slightly fried and still crunchy.)
- Turn stove to medium heat. Move the veggies to one side of the pan. Add a little oil if needed. And crack the eggs and add them to the pan.
- Scramble the eggs and fry them till they are done. Stir the veggies and eggs once to mix them together.
- Now add the noodles, the sauces, vinegar, monosodium glutamate, ginger powder, pepper and salt.
- Turn the stove to high heat and toss to mix the pan contents. You need short, brisk and very frequent stirs here, else you’ll run into a risk of burning them. Add a little oil if you find the noodles or veggies sticking to the pan. Use pasta tongs, or large serving forks to pick up and toss and turn to mix the noodles. It should take just a couple minutes. You would be done when the noodles are dry and are evenly coated with the sauces, spice and seem nicely fried.
- Serve, share and eat to your heart’s content!
- These noodles can be made into scrumptious Chicken ChowMein. You would have to use about 0.5 cup of boneless chicken cubes or shredded chicken. Fry them till done and keep aside. Add them to your pan during the time you add noodles and mix them all nicely together!
- If you do not eat eggs, this can be a lovely Vegetable ChowMein if you omit adding the eggs.