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The future of Gobi Manchurian February 18, 2007

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food.
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It turns out Manchuria had been unaware that its name had been appended to the phool gobi

“WE HAVE NO CHOICE,” said the Manchurian National Security Advisor. “This must be considered an act of war. By annexing Manchuria to a cauliflower, India has breached every protocol known to international politics.”

There was silence in the conference room. Though the new millennium was well under way, 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 horse on which the Manchurian 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. 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 Gobi Manchurian served only at labeled Chinese restaurants all over India?” As Exhibits A, B and C, the Minister now placed some quite cold and congealed specimens of Gobi Manchurian gathered from restaurants in Tangra (Calcutta), Colaba (Mumbai) and Ludhiana (Punjab).

“The Honorable Minister is in error,” said the Indian delegate mildly. “Those are not Chinese restaurants. Those are actually Punjabi Mughlai restaurants which specialise in South Indian cuisine. Within them, you can get such historical delicacies as Mattar Paneer, Methi Chaman Bahar, Chicken Makhani and Maharani Dal, in any combination with Masala Dosa, Cheese Uthappam, Medu Vada and Kanjeevaram Idli. There is nothing Chinese about any of them.”

The Minister for Foreign Affairs withdrew Exhibit D, the signboard of a shop that had recently come up in Girgaum, Mumbai, for a multi-cuisine restaurant called simply Buckingham Palace. All kinds of Mughlai, South Indian, Punjabi and Chinese food available.

“Another grave error,” said the Indian delegate, sniggering. “We say Chinese so that our customers may know that the waiters are Chinky-looking. We recruit them from Darjeeling, the Kumaon hills and so on. Gives the place an international feel.”

“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 is added to all chow meins so that the 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 Gobi Manchurian, but Gobi 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. Gobi Man Churaya refers, simply, to a cauliflower dish 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 note that in the decades that followed Manchuria avenged 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 his masters that Indian cuisine had once again expanded its frontiers and invaded Manchuria as well.

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