Any food with soy sauce, vinegar, chilli sauce, ginger and garlic is considered “Chinese” food in India. This combination of ingredients has given rise to a whole genre of food in the Indian subcontinent called “Indo-Chinese” food. Needless to say, the People’s Republic of China have never heard of most of the things that fall into the “Indo-Chinese” category of food. So, what I’m trying to say is that it is a made up style of “Chinese” food in India much like the made up “Indian” food here in England except for the teeny-tiny fact that the former is actually quite tasty (pa dam pum tshhhh!).
While Indo-Chinese food is a pretend food, it is very very popular in streets and restaurants all over India. In Bangalore, where I grew up, it is not unusual to see a guy vending these yummy delights out of the back of a covered auto-rickshaw or tuk-tuk. He usually has an array of finely chopped vegetables all neatly arranged in boxes and a huge wok on a portable stove in which he cooks them. Funnily enough, they tend to be exclusively vegetarian, with only the most adventurous ones treading into the fungus world by sporting mushrooms alongside the array of vegetables. (Note: Some orthodox Hindu members of my mum’s extended family will not eat mushrooms as they think its neither a vegetable nor an animal so best to stay away from it.)
Coming back to the main story, these street vendors and several established restaurants have the following popular Indo-chinese dishes on their menu – Gobi Manchurian (cauliflower from Manchuria clearly), Paneer Manchurian (cottage cheese instead of cauliflower), Vegetable Manchurian, Babycorn manchurian, Vegetable friend rice, Vegetable fried noodles and so on. My fondest memories of Indo-Chinese food are from the months of the monsoon rains in Bangalore. Family friends of ours would pick up some of these saucy, spicy delights and bring them over to our house to share. We’d spend the evening in the warm indoors getting even warmer with every little bite of spicy, “Chinese” vegetable.
Paneer is one of the very few cheeses made in India. It a fresh cheese and is the Indian form of cottage cheese. The main difference is that paneer is drained to remove much of its moisture content and is compacted into a hard block that can be cut into cubes and added into various curries.
Chilli paneer is an Indo-Chinese dish and I use the name interchangeably with Paneer Machurian. It is cubes of paneer sauteed (or fried) in oil and then tossed in a stirfry made with soy, vinegar, tomato sauce, ginger, garlic, chillies, capsicum (green peppers) and onions. It can be enjoyed on its own as an evening snack with your favourite pint or shot of spirits. Alternatively, it can be consumed with any form of flat bread. If you add water to it to make it more liquid-y, it can even be eaten with rice.
Here is my take on Chilli Paneer/Dry Paneer Manchurian. Remember – the spicier, the better. Hope you like it!