Saturday, June 30, 2007

An Indian Restaurant in Shanghai

Today I visited the Indian Kitchen, an Indian Restaurant in Shanghai. To get the road direction, I called them up and some Chinese girls greeted me. As expected, the conversation with them was futile; they called up an Indian to carry on. Getting the tone of an Indian in a foreign land is like a song of a bird in the morning. I wished to carry on the conversation a little more, but it was a short-lived one. I got the road-map.

In the evening, I started for Indian Kitchen. Before that, I took the address from the internet and a Chinese transcript of the same from a colleague. The Chinese transcript proved to be the key to reach the restaurant. I could dare to ask the road direction (at least a few silent gestures and hand-directions) from the pedestrians. Contrary to the culture in India, whomever I asked was at least able to approximately tell us where the location is, despite the fact that it is not a famous place to visit. In India, most of the people on the roads of a busy city do not know about the surroundings at all. Soon, I entered he small roads from the broader ones. Astonishingly, even those smaller roads are equipped with pedestrian signals and cemented pavements. And the roadside were full of small restaurants, small shops and massage centers. The houses in the backyard are mostly like Indian houses (resembles saltlake in Kolkata or Jubilee Hills area in Hyderabad). Each one is an entity separated by tall wall surrounding it. The flat culture is thriving in Shanghai with skyscrapers all around yet these small houses do exists. They at least have a free sight of the sky and a few more trees than the flat-dwellers.

The entry to the restaurant was decorated in an Indian style, with garlands and portraits of Hindu gods. I entered and felt the deviation from my expectation at the first sight. The first and the most striking difference was the scarcity of Indians inside. Most of the customers, as well as the waiters were Chinese. However, after a close look, I saw that the kitchen cooks were all Indians – south Indians in particular. The Indian boy, with whom I talked to, met us with a smile. He’s Ambrose from Tamilnadu. I saw that he was communicating with other Chinese waiters at ease – of course in Chinese. Soon, I became familiar with another Indian boy. They came to Shanghai three years back, and can speak in Chinese. I did not ask him more questions, although I think I should have.

Although the waiters are mostly Chinese and as usual are very poor to communicate in English, they were dressed up in traditional Indian dresses. Men were dressed up in golden color Kurta-Sherwani and women in pink Salwar-Kameez, with golden color embroidery on it. The interior is decorated with Tanpuras and Tablas, to conjure up an Indian image. One can match the experience with a Chinese coming to India and having food at a so-called Chinese restaurant. The men and women are dressed up in Chinese traditional dresses and the people who come to eat are all Indians.

There were Chinese couples coming to experience Indian food for the first time. The waiter (Indian one), was explaining Indian course sequence to him – kebabs first, biriyani-curry next and gulab-jamun at the end. To simplify the choices, they have what we call an Indian aggregate meal that we call a thali in India, consisting of one item each from the all three sections. Besides, there were Indian versions of the Chinese foods as well. The couple ordered one such thali. Soon, the kebabs reached them and they were really happy with the food. We had a normal dinner with a lamb kebab and a curry-bread combination. The cost was 130 Rmb, with 6 Rmb tips. In Shanghai standard, I cannot call it costly.

Yesterday, while searching in the net, I found many Indian restaurants around. I was a little bit skeptic of how really an Indian restaurant is defined, since I know that Indians are not present in high numbers here. The entire concept of Indian restaurant abroad, serving NRIs a home-like food, has been trashed in Shanghai. There are Indian restaurants serving the local population, with the customized menus those suit the locals.

Tomorrow, I am planning to visit a nearby Uighur restaurant named Shanghai Xinjiang Fengwei Fandian. The Uighur-community is from the western-most province of China, named Xinjiang. They are mostly Muslims and have a strong cultural tie with Central Asia. After all, China is a big country. If Tibet is the link between India and China, then Xinjiang can be termed as the link between China and the Central-Asia, up to the Middle-East. Same can be said for the food as well. The special item they produce is the juicy lamb-roast (kao quanyang), costs around 40 Rmb. The item is so popular, that it is advised to call them up before to confirm the availability. The other speciality is a square-shaped noodle, named miantiao. The Uighur cuisine includes laohu cai (salads with cucumbers, onions and tomato slices), da pan-ji (chicken with spices) and Xinjiang-pijiu (Xinjiang black beer).The restaurant also has a dance program starting from 7:30 in the evening and I have no idea how it will be. Chinese culture may not be as diverse as the Indian one, but there is no reason to think that it is a monolithic one.

From the above description we can easily identify the similarity between Uighur cuisine and the typical Indian Mughlai cuisine. After all, the Indian culture is an ecosystem of several cultures. And that helps us survive more smoothly inside a different culture with higher adaptability.

India, China, Shanghai, Travel

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