Every part of India now seems to have its own version of Chinese cuisine from Triple Schezwan to Idli Manchurain
8/12/2015 4:16:50 PM
|written By : Vir Sanghvi|
Many decades ago, I coined the phrase ‘Sino-Ludhianvi’ to describe the Punjabified ‘Chinese’ food we got in India.
Somewhat to my surprise, the phrase caught on. When Rajiv Gandhi went to China, his trip attracted global attention because he was the first Indian Prime Minister in something like 25 years to visit the People’s Republic.
But, for me, the highlight of the trip was this exchange between a Chinese official and Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was then not as famous as he is today but was a Joint Secretary in Rajiv’s PMO.
Chinese official: “Do you have any Chinese food in India?”
Aiyar, “Oh yes. We do!”
Chinese official: “Oh really? Cantonese? Hakka? What region is the Chinese food in India from?”
Aiyar: “Oh it’s something you’ve never heard of. It’s called Sino-Ludhianvi. And it’s from the Ludhiana region.”
There is no record of what the Chinese official said in reply. But according to Mani, he looked completely befuddled. (The Chinese did not know what to make of Aiyar who then went on to congratulate them on their achievement in genetic engineering when the menu at the official banquet included “Prawn Balls”. That, he said, was the one part of the prawn we did not eat in India.)
As time went on, I began to routinely use the phrase “Sino-Ludhianvi” because it seemed to me to sum up what we had done to Chinese cuisine in India. And eventually, I decided it wasn’t an insult but a compliment. We had created our own school of Chinese cuisine; not quite Sichuan or Hunan, but proud to be Sino-Ludhianvi.
There was just one problem: I had never ever been to Ludhiana!
Oh yes, I’d been to Punjab (well, Chandigarh). And later I went to Amritsar. But my reference to Ludhiana was based on nothing more than my experience of Punjabis in other parts of India. (Including Delhi, which could well be regarded as the unofficial capital of Punjab.)
So imagine my elation when, a week ago, I finally found myself shooting a TV show in – yes! – Ludhiana. Many decades after I had first appropriated the name of this fair city for my little joke about Punjabi-Chinese food, I was here!
My first thought was that I should find out if my accolade had been undeserved. I asked people on Twitter to suggest the most famous Sino-Ludhianvi dishes. A surprisingly large number of people picked a dish I had never heard of: Triple Schezwan Rice. Others just called it “Triple Schezwan”. And some people left it at “Triple”.
So here was my test: I would check if anyone in Ludhiana knew what this dish was. If they did not, then perhaps I had been wrong to term the whole cuisine ‘Sino-Ludhianvi’.