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Bringing China to Mumbai on a plate

Nelson Wang began a career by making a living in the restaurant business. Today, he owns eateries in Mumbai, Delhi and Kathmandu, writes Jharna Thakkar.

india Updated: Nov 23, 2006 04:57 IST

Dear Mr President, may we present to you, third generation, Indian-born Chinese chef and restaurateur extraordinaire, Nelson Wang.

He, like countless other gents from his bracket, began a career in the early ’70s by making a living in the restaurant business.

He arrived in Mumbai, young and naïve, via Calcutta in 1974. A decade of endless jobs in varied Mumbai’s kitchens catapulted him to his current status of master chef. Wang is credited with having introduced Mumbai and India to a fusion, Indian Chinese fare.

“I found India knew next to nothing of Chinese fare,” says Wang. He says our comprehension of his native country’s food was limited to Cantonese and Hakka styled fare and it was being passed off to discerning diners as all that the Chinese kitchen had to offer. This was before the advent of five-star hotels and their import chefs all presenting region-wise authentic fare.

“With the launch of China Garden in 1984, I introduced flavours from Schezwan, Hunnan, Shanghai and Beijing,” he recalls. An even if they weren’t authentic, trial and error led to a new evolved fusion fare that a Mumbaikar can swear by.

From countless streetside stalls that serve Wang’s chicken manchurian with a side of triple schezwan fried rice to the local neighbourhood vegan eatery that features a stir-fried paneer (tofu) cooked in a dry chili Yunnan style, there is no taking away from the fact that Wang marked Chinese (Indianised nonetheless) food to what it is today.

Wang’s know-how rendered him as the right chef at the right time, “Call it luck.”

On being asked about his title he says, “I still study and experiment with flavours. I have discovered that each state or region in India likes the same preparation differently.”

He would know, considering the list of eateries he owns and runs across the country. “Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and even a franchise in Kathmandu, Nepal,” he says. Hence it’s no wonder that the fusion title isn’t something that bothers him. “People have made an genre of it. I started my fusing my own recipes in 1984.”

And just in case you visit us again soon, Mr President, he says, “You can look forward to a newer menu that draws influences from Malay, Singaporean and Vietnamese fare.”

Email Jharna Thakkar: jharna.thakkar@hindustantimes.com