The future of Idli Manchurian
The Idli Manchurian made its appearance in Indian Chinese restaurants. For Manchuria, it was the last straw
We have no choice," said the Manchurian National Security Advisor. "This is a deliberate act of war. By annexing Manchuria to an Idli, India has breached every protocol known to international politics."
There was silence in the conference room. Though the world was well into the 21st century and global warming was everywhere, the temperature outside had not changed; it remained –26°C. The heating system was yet to be installed so it was shivering cold inside as well. The only one unaffected seemed to be the shaggy donkey on which the Premier had arrived; it now stood in a corner of the room, attacking fodder while snorting and farting by turns. Other than the Premier, there were also his three military chiefs, his Press Advisor and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who had built up the case against India.
At the far end of the table, leering openly, sat the Indian delegate, MLA Ram Lakhan of the Hindu majority party. He drew himself up to his feet, emitted some paan into his portable paandaan, and spoke up now in his country's defense.
"This is nothing but a small misunderstanding, Your Honor," he said. "We do not have Chinese cuisine anywhere in India." "A complete fabrication!" said the Minister for Foreign Affairs. "Let the Indian delegate explain how I have seen the so-called Idli Manchurian being served in Udipi restaurants in Matunga?"
As Exhibits A, B and C, the minister now placed some quite cold and congealed specimens of Idli Manchurian gathered from restaurants in Matunga, Ludhiana and Kolkata's Chinatown. In response, the Indian delegate presented Exhibit D, a map of China and Russia. "Let it be noted that there isn't even a province called Manchuria in China. How can we disrespect the cuisine of a country that doesn't even exist?" The Minister for Foreign Affairs pointed to the Premier's ass. "That's a Manchurian jackass. If he exists, Manchuria does too."
"Well, jackasses may exist in Manchuria, but Chinese restaurants don't in India," said the Indian delegate. "We just call them Chinese, but they are actually Punjabi Mughlai restaurants specialising in South Indian cuisine, including Idli Manchurian. They serve such historical delicacies such as Mattar Paneer, Chicken Makhani and Maharani Dal, in any combination with Masala Dosa, Cheese Uthappam, Medu Vada and of course Idli Manchurian. Nothing Chinese about any of them."
In response, the Manchurian Minister withdrew Exhibit E, the signboard of a multi-cuisine restaurant in Girgaum, Mumbai, called simply Buckingham Palace. All kinds of Mughlai, South Indian, Punjabi and Chinese food are available.
"And what is this, my dear sir?" he asked snarkily. "Another grave error," giggled the Indian delegate. "We say Chinese so that our customers may know that the waiters are chinky-looking. We recruit them from Darjeeling." "Lies!" shouted the minister. "And nothing Chinese about anything else in our restaurants either," continued the MLA equably. "We may call it Prawn Sichuan but it is garnished with black mustard seeds and curry leaves, so that our Mangalorean clients don't find the taste too alien. We also add a little garam masala to our Roast Lamb Hunan Style so that our clients from the film industry feel at home. In fact, in Chennai, a little sambar powder and coconut are added to all chowmeins so that local sensibilities are not offended."
There was a silence. "Then why bring Manchuria into it?" asked the Premier gently. "The dish in question has never been called Idli Manchurian, but Idli Man Churaya," explained the MLA. "In Uttar Pradesh, from where most of India's leaders emerge, this is a phrase meaning steal one's heart away. Idli Man Churaya refers, simply, to an Idli that can steal your heart away. In fact," the MLA said, suppressing a snigger, "we were not even aware that a country called Manchuria existed till we got your letter." The Manchurians rose to their feet at this gross insult and rejection of their sovereign wilderness. "In that case, Mr Ram Pal, we have no choice," said the Premier. "It is war. You have defiled our cuisine, now we must desecrate yours." Historians will note that in the last few years the ancient tribes of Inner Mongolia have been avenging themselves by launching Sambar Cantonese (featuring hoisin sauce instead of tamarind and five-spice powder instead of chaunk); the Beijing Baingan Bahar (in which the aubergines are buried for six years before being cooked and eaten), the Soy Bean Masala Lassi; and finally the Ming Biriyani, cooked in the purged stomach of a Chinese running dog of capitalism for five hours.
The Indian MLA, history has it, went back and victoriously reported to the ruling party that Indian cuisine had once again expanded its frontiers and invaded a non-existent country called Manchuria as well.
Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org Send your feedback to email@example.com
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