Friday, March 21, 2014

Indian-Style Chinese Corn Soup

If you are not aware of the concept of "Indian-Chinese" food, you are in for a small shock and a treat to follow.

Chinese immigrants migrated from the Hakka region to Calcutta in the 19th-century when it was the de-facto economic capital of India under the British Raj. The laborers were the dark underbelly of the opium trade. Like all immigrants, the path to not being bonded laborers was to open food eateries. (It's the same today right now in modern-day New York!)

They brought with them their techniques but rapidly discovered that neither pork ("Muslim") nor beef ("Hindu") was going to work in the new situation. Additionally, the population wanted a different set of spices than what the immigrants were used to. However, adaptability is the name of the game as you might guess from the entirely analogous fact that there's no such Cantonese dish as "Chop-Suey" — it's a Chinese-American idea catering to vague Chinese ideas about American tastes in the 19th century from whence it spread nation-wide and thence world-wide.

And in the same vein, "Indian-Chinese" fusion cuisine was born.

It was a blockbuster hit from day one because the one fact about human nature that never changes is that we crave novelty.

Money makes the world go round so when the economic capital of India moved from Calcutta to Mumbai, the immigrants and the dishes followed. Now they are ubiquitous all over India.

This is a classic corn soup.

Corn is not Chinese, of course. Nor Indian. It's New World. Its global nature originates from the Spanish conquest of the New World after which it made its way to Europe and eventually along the Silk Road to most of Asia. There are multiple layers of fusion hooked up in this single dish.

It's emphatically not a high-falutin' dish. It's pretty low-brow.

The CC has wondered for the longest time how they got the tangy flavor in the vegetarian versions that they make?  How was it that you could get a superior version in any crap town in India than what he was making at home?

It took a while but it finally struck like the biggest "DUH!" of all times.

"Of course! They are using MSG."

We can now add Japanese 20th-century science to the fusion. Just to recap, we are now talking about Pan-American corn, Spanish conquest, Chinese immigrants and adaptation, Indian flavors and techniques, and Japanese food technology in a single dish.

It's umami that is making all the difference. So by substituting the MSG with the functionally-equivalent dashi, we have a winner with the exact same taste. BINGO!

Why does the recipe work in the first place? What makes it successful?

It's corn soup that's nutritious with a "hit-me-again" umami taste that's off the charts. You can add any protein to it. It's cheap, easy to make, and easy to sell. It reheats well. You can make it ahead of time. It's basically street food is what it is. The only thing stopping it from being street food is the fact that it's a soup — too hard to serve on the street.

So as the CC unambiguously pointed out above, it's low-brow but he means that in the best non-pejorative sense of the word. This dish is simply awesome.

There are a few standard variants — you can add shredded chicken or shredded crab or prawns; and/or a beaten egg.

If you have never had this, you are totally missing out.



1/2" ginger
3 cloves garlic
4 green chillies
2 scallions (both white and green parts)

1 can "cream-style" corn
1 cup fresh corn (frozen is fine)

5-6 cups dashi

1 cup carrots (diced fine)
1 cup green beans (cut into very thin rounds)

1 tbsp. corn starch
6 tbsp. ice water

white pepper

To Serve

1 scallion (diced into fine rounds)

cilantro (finely chopped)

3 green chillies (diced into fine rounds)
1/2 cup vinegar

soy sauce


The recipe is straightforward. It's the side servings that require a little explanation.

There are four conventional ones — soy sauce, finely diced cilantro and scallions are self-explanatory. The last is the super-spicy chillies plonked in a neutral vinegar (rice vinegar works!)

You can add as much of each as you like including the fact that you can just add the vinegar minus the chillies.

First prepare the paste. Just use a food processor to grind the ginger, garlic, green chillies, and scallions together.

Heat up some oil. Fry the paste languidly for about 6 minutes. Add the carrots and beans and let it fry for 3 minutes. Add the creamed corn and the dashi. Add salt and white pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil. You can skim off the fat if you like. Let it cook for 10 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, add the corn starch to the ice water and let it mix. It will not "dissolve". You are making a suspension. Whip well and add to the mixture.

Serve with the fixin's!

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