China Garden: Orchids with the odd thorn

Nelson Wang became a food personality in India before leisure reporting became popular in India. He is one of the original legends of the world of Indian food.

He is from the Chinatown in Kolkata. According to Vir Sanghvi's book, "Rude Food", Wang came to Mumbai as his father didn't allow Wang to marry a Bengali girl he was going around with. His rebellious outburst gave Bombay one of its most famous Chinese Joints, 'The China Garden'.

The wife and I are big fans of China Garden we used to go there occasionally earlier as it was slightly expensive for us our hungry stomach, empty wallet state in those days. We were particularly fond of their pork dishes and Hakka noodles.

China Garden is located in South Bombay. The wife and I were thrilled to find out that they had opened in the neighbouring suburb of Khar recently. After one aborted method (they were shut that day) we made it there recently to celebrate the wife's two Adfest Bronzes.

The ambience was very eighti'sh kitsch. It reminded us of the Park Street restaurants of Calcutta - heavy wood tables, gloomy lighting, and red velvet everywhere, white marble floors. I think their stance was that they knew that served great food so they did not bother with frill. This is fine actually.

We ordered something called Shanghai Pork. It was excellent - thin succulent slices of pork, in a brownish paste, dry (the way we like it). We had a mixed meat hakka noodles with it. The noodles were very well flavoured. In fact the noodles could be had by itself, it was so tasty. This was in contrast to the noodles in other Chinese restaurants in Bombay which tend to be bland and limp.

Unfortunately I have no photos. I was carrying my new Sony…but the wife felt a bit squeamish about it. And you can’t argue with the person who is buying the dinner.

I then felt like having a Thai red curry. I felt that they would make it well. However, the captain tentatively warned me against it and said it doesn’t taste like the regular Thai red curry and doesn’t have coconut milk.

So we ordered the Thai green curry with prawns…and learnt an important lesson which I’ll pass on to my grandchildren some day – Confucius says don’t order Thai curry in a restaurant run by the Chinese.

It was god awful. The gravy was a green, sour gloop. I have had Thai curries in Bangkok, Pattaya, KL and Bandra (Mumbai)…and they taste nothing like this. Mr Wang you can be creative but you can’t serve bilge. I couldn’t eat it which was sad as it was the most expensive dish that we ordered at Rs 450 (10-12 USD).

So we packed it and took it home. Next day I took out the prawns and stir fried it with a bit of chopped onions, fish oil, soy sauce and ketchup. Tasted pretty good though a bit salty.

So the verdict: Go to China Garden for mind blowing Chinese food but stay clear of the Thai curries.

One more thing, they don’t serve alcohol.

Trivia: According to Vir Sanghvi’s book Nelson Wang has invented the famous Indian ‘Chinese’ dish – Manchurian Chicken. He made this coriander based side dish to cater to Indian tastes. It is as alien to China as the Chicken Tikka Sandwich of England was to India!