Left: Gobi Manchurian from Mumbai Xpress; Right: Masala 2 Wok’s version.
This week’s battle of the dishes pits two different renditions of the Indo-Chinese classic gobi (cauliflower) Manchurian against each other. The restaurants, Mumbai Xpress and Masala 2 Wok, are right next to each other.
Indian-Chinese food is beloved in India, the most popular kind of restaurant cuisine after Indian food itself. It’s the creation of Indian-Chinese restaurateurs cooking to local taste–heavy on the chiles, scallions, ginger and soy, some sugar, and sometimes MSG (not knocking it), plus lots of frying. The Chinese community in India is one of the oldest in the world. The story goes that the man who started it all was Young Atchew, the first known Chinese native to settle in India. He came to Kolkata in 1782 to work as a trader, and founded Kolkata’s Chinatown, one of the first outside of China. Achipur, a town south of Kolkata, is named after him.
Now, in all the major Indian cities you’ll find Indo-Chinese restaurants serving inventions like chilli chicken, “Szechwan” paneer, Chicken lollipops, chow mein, and vegetable Manchurian. Mostly, these dishes have nothing to do with traditional Chinese food. It can be hard to find good Indian-Chinese food in the U.S., and on top of that, some Americans find it too heavy or sweet-spicy for their taste. But many Indian immigrants are nostalgic for Indo-Chinese, so the cuisine is becoming more available here. Chinese Mirch (“mirch” is “chile” in Hindi) is touch-and-go. Best to go out to Floral Park, Queens for your fix.
A good Manchurian sauce should be very spicy and a little sweet, with scallions and ginger. Usually, it gets its sweetness from ketchup. The cauliflower should be fried and crispy, soaking up the sauce.
In this corner: Mumbai Xpress
This small restaurant can hardly do any wrong. Their long list of authentic Mumbai street foods and snacks does not have an equal in the five boroughs. Where else can you get a chikoo milkshake and misal pav? The restaurant also has a list of dishes it calls “Mumbai Chinese.” The gobi Manchurian here is on the wetter side, and the cauliflower is battered and fried. Unlike Mumbai Xpress’ excellent pakoras, though, the gobi in the Manchurian is not quite crisp. The sauce is sweet and a little sour, but could be spicier. It’s livened up with a good amount of scallions and ginger.
In this corner: Masala 2 Wok
This newcomer is singly dedicated to Indo-Chinese cooking, with just a handful of Thai dishes thrown in for the heck of it (but it’s Indian-owned). The restaurant offers everything from chicken lollipops (here dubbed “drums of heaven”) to chilli paneer and “Szechwan” shrimp. For the gobi Manchurian, the cauliflower is thinly battered and fried until it is quite golden and crisp, and served in a dryer style, lightly damp with a spicy sauce, plus bits of scallion. It also comes with a green chile vinegar on the side, which sends it into the stratosphere.
As wonderful as Mumbai Xpress is, in this match-up it was just edged out by the specialist, Masala 2 Wok, which offers the best gobi Manchurian we’ve had in a while.
Masala 2 Wok
25601 Hillside Avenue, Floral Park, Queens
25605 Hillside Avenue, Floral Park, Queens
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 22, 2009