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!


Scarlett said…
Chicken Manchurian is indeed Nelson Wang's creation. Vir Sanghvi used to do a show on Travel & Living on food in India, and he did one whole episode on food in Calcutta. There was an interview with Nelson Wang where he said that it was he who came up with the concept of Chicken Manchurian.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
I 'unfortunately' saw the episode. this was after I'd read hise book earlier. The book, Rude food, is a decent read...though Chitrita banerjee's eating india is miles ahead. Why 'unfortunately'...because unlike the book I found Sanghvi's TV programme to be too fake, hoity toity and pretentious. His sing song voice gets on my nerves. I think he lost me when in the first episode which was on tea he referred to tourists at Darjeeling as 'down market middle class tourists'. What's there to be so snobbish about? Yes, they might not be well off but they had not flown in on Jet airlines on tickets paid by Jet and then stayed in a hotel for gratis which Sanghvi did and then endorsed. I think he needs a lesson from the likes of ian Wright and Tony Bourdain on food reporting which comes from the heart. It's a pity that Indian food reviewers on is Vir Sanghvi for all his trappings.
In the same episode he looked down on the 'masala chai' which is the staple of the average Indian and called it CTC rubbish.
The joke was I later saw a gourmet Brit Chef on Discovery T&L teaching people how to recreate the Indian masala chai in a very swank kitchen in London
It's a pity that we need foreigners to sell our concepts while we are busy running them down.
To sum up...I don't like Vir Sanghvi's food programme
PS he also runs down Calcutta's rolls and luchis in his books and its mishti in his programme. Need I say more
Scarlett said…
U dont like Vir Sanghvi's food program. I dont like Vir Sanghvi. Period. I happened to watch that episode accidentally. He's snobbish, ur right, and he's also completely right-wing & conservative - which i cant stand. He was the editor of hindustan times...his editorials smacked of right-wing agenda.
Anyone who runs down the rolls of Cal or Bengali sweets is strictly avoidable in my diet plan :)