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Contrary to Lazy Proclamations, Indo-Chinese Food in London Is Not New

The Evening Standard and Just Eat have declared “Chindian” cuisine to be new. In fact, it’s been in town for years

Bombay Wok in Hounslow has been open for seven years
Bombay Wok [Official Photo]

It’s only Wednesday lunchtime but it’s already been a bumper week for the food media misrepresenting the food culture of people of colour. Monday saw the New York Times profile ‘kitchari’ through the lens of a white person in the business of promoting ‘wellness’, in the process completely erasing the one important aspect of khichdi/khichri (that the rice and dal must be cooked and mixed together) and by extension the culture from where it came.

A lesser but no less annoying erasure came on Tuesday as the Evening Standard, in tandem with Just Eat, declared “Chindian” to be London’s latest food trend. “Chindian”, apparently, is a fusion food created by bored Londoners mixing Chinese and Indian takeaways to make something never seen before. Oxford University professor Charles Spence goes as far to predict “we are going to see more hybrid dishes such as a fusion of Indian and Chinese” and pronounces it “really exciting”.

Cue the sound of one billion confused Indians pointing out a hundred years worth of Desi-Chinese (or Indo-Chinese/Hakka-Chinese) food, one of the richest of all the diasporic Chinese cuisines. Created by the Chinese migrants who came to Calcutta in the early 1900s, it sought to recreate the taste of home, using local ingredients and the heavy spicing of the Indian larder, soon spreading across the rest of the country.

The Guardian picked up the story with a tongue-in-cheek take-off alluding to the popularity of Desi-Chinese food in India but might have inadvertently compounded the issue when facetiously stating “now it’s in London, so it’s real.” Because, of course, Desi-Chinese food has actually been in London for as long as there have been enough Indians here to make it economically viable in a restaurant context, pioneered mainly through chef Steven Lee who has assisted in the opening of no less than five Indo-Chinese restaurants in the capital.

Eater’s forthcoming and comprehensive guide on where to eat Desi-Chinese food in London has been hastened by the publication of this codswallop. But, in the meantime, Harrow and Hounslow are good places to start (represented by Hakkaland, Mumbai Junction and Bombay Wok) as well as Dalchini in Wimbledon and Spice N Ice in Croydon. Dishes such as manchow soup, Manchurian chicken or chilli paneer represent a much truer and more interesting collision of two cuisines than putting curry on egg fried rice.

This is not the first instance of the Evening Standard pronouncing a food to be the latest London trend while ignoring the restaurants outside Zones 1 and 2 that cater mainly to immigrant communities, most of which have been quietly serving that same food for years. This unwelcome and lazy trope is not limited to that paper, and like with the New York Times article, could be remedied quite simply: by hiring more people of colour and allowing them to write about their culture.