As pan-Asian restaurants open up in the city, each one more innovative than the last and good ol’ Nanking and Haiking get big spaces in the newer quarter of town, MetroPlus wonders if the evolution of Chinese food in Hyderabad is a marker of the rising cosmopolitanism of a city rooted in tradition

But even as popular restaurants are sticking to traditional recipes, new players in the market are doing their best to widen their scope and mix up their ingredients. “We wanted to serve contemporary Asian cuisine,” explains Chef Pradeep of Ohm, Avasa. “It is essentially the same food but with a fusion of ingredients across cuisines. We have the Wasabi fried prawns which is essentially a Chinese dish but with wasabi, a staple ingredient of Japanese cuisine.” Mekong at Marigold, Green Park spreads the net wide, as far as the river itself. The restaurant offers Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Japanese cuisines. Sushi too has gained popularity over the last few years.

Like Chetan, who has travelled to Thailand and Vietnam and is familiar with the culinary traditions of these places, many foodies know and even appreciate the distinction between authentic and Indianised cuisines. “I really enjoy the food at Nanking, Park lane and can’t wait to try out the food at Haiking but if I was in the mood for actual Chinese or Japanese food, I would go to Urban Asia or Syn,” he adds.

Chef Pradeep informs that his clientele consists of people who have been exposed to new cuisines through travel or friends. And while he still has people coming in and asking for the usual Manchurian dishes and Crispy corn kernels, he thinks that at least ten percent of the market is very open to experimenting with tastes.

Pan-asian food in India can mean a variety of things depending on who you’re talking to, what time of the day it is, how adventurous you’re feeling and of course, how much money you have to spare. Ranging from the classic Indo-Chinese to the roadside chinese bandis to the contemporary pan-Asian fine-dining restaurants, you have a wide variety of choice. We asked around to find out more about Hyderabad’s tastes.

Keeping it classic

What we love most about our Chinese is the familiarity. Some restaurants in the city, hence, provide just that. Their food is authentic without being too experimental. Golden Dragon at Taj Krishna has a reputation for serving up traditional delicacies. With an in house expert in Cantonese cuisine, the restaurant is a popular choice for those who enjoy Chinese fine-dining. Restaurant manager Sudipto will inform you that Golden Dragon’s success lies in traditional Chinese cuisine, including their Dimsums, Macadamia nuts and the signature Peking duck. “While some sauces maybe a little too gentle for the Hyderabadi palate, the spicy dishes from the Shezwan province of China are a favourite among clients,” he says. Lovers of the cuisine also recommend stand alone places like Aromas of China and Mainland China.

The ubiquitous Chinese bandi

Just when you thought Chinese food could not get more Indian, the chef at the bandi will nonchalantly add a generous helping of Indian chilli powder, garam masala and even a sprinkling of chat masala and MSG as he tosses the noodles, eggs, cabbage, carrots, beans and onions. The surprise here is that though it seems like every bandi uses the same recipe, each boasts of its own unique taste and have regular customers who swear by it. Chinese specialties can also include their own brand of fusion; Shezwan dosas are a hit. The bandi, with its questionable standards of hygiene and bright red serving of ‘hakka noodles’, is of course, not for the faint of stomach.

Comfort food

“What Paradise is to Hyderabadi biryani, Nanking and Haiking are to Chinese food,” says Shankar, who runs several successful restaurants in the city. “These two places have been around for so long that many Hyderabadis have grown up associating Chinese food with the brand and at least 99 per cent of the crowd would pick these two places over any other place in town, even though it’s not authentic Chinese.” While Haiking and Nanking are the brand ambassadors of ‘Indo- chinese’ in the city, there are innumerable places in the city that serve the cuisine. “I am a huge fan of Thai and Japanese cuisine but my weekend is never complete without my fix of Chilli chicken and fried rice from the nearby take-away joint,” says Chetan K., a young professional.