July 16, 2009

Gopi Manchuria – An Indian In China? (Cauliflower Indian-Chinese Style)

Gopi is a common name in some parts of India even though I personally do not know anyone called Gopi. Recently however, I met my first Gopi, Gopi Manchuria to be more precise, but let me start at the beginning.

A couple of months back, we were driving down to Cochin from Goa. It had been a long drive and we were tired. It was after sunset and we never drive after sundown if we can avoid it. We had reached the town of Kasarkod and decided to find a place to stay for the night. Being new to the town, it took us a while to find a place that had reasonably comfortable rooms and served food too.

After a shower, we went down to the restaurant only to find that the menu had very few vegetarian dishes on it. It was late, we were tired and just wanted to eat something quickly so we could turn in at the earliest.

It took us two minutes to decide on chapathis, some plain yogurt and one of the four vegetable dishes on the menu, only to have the waiter tell us that "vegetarian is finished"! Apparently, some large group of people had just been in to eat and almost cleaned out their kitchen.
Further discussion with the waiter revealed that they could make us a "Gopi Manchuria", if we were willing to wait a bit. Maybe the long journey had taken a toll on our brains, but it took us five minutes to figure out he was offering us "Gobi Manchurian" and not a one way ticket to the outer reaches of China.
He was talking about Gobi Manchurian, a dish of deep-fried marinated cauliflower dumplings in a soya sauce based gravy, which is synonymous with Chinese food in India. To deconstruct the name, "Gobi" means cauliflower (in Hindi) and the "Manchurian" part of the name is to tell you that this dish is supposedly of Chinese origin!
Any restaurant, no matter how small or unimportant, will have Gobi Manchurian (you might sometimes not recognize it by the spelling) on their menu if they say they are serving Chinese food too.

In fact, my first introduction to this dish was in Palakkad, which was then just about as far away from Chinese influence as possible. My cousin and her husband had taken us out to dinner and this preparation appeared at our table under the name of Gobi Manjuri! I remember our being rather hesitant about trying out what looked like brown coloured lumps in a rather gluey looking sauce, even though we were assured it was good.

Now Gobi Manchurian is as Chinese as I am Martian. I am sure if this was served to anyone from China; they might look askance wondering what funny looking Indian food they were being served.
I don't mean this in a bad way. After all, "Curry" has become so famous in the U.K. that it is no longer thought of as Indian food but British, yet this very curry does not exist in India! There is a lot to be said about fusion cooking and adapting other cuisines to suit one's own palate.

My first attempt at indoor artificial light photography!

The truth is that Gobi Manchurian is the invention of Nelson Wang, an Indian chef of Chinese origin, the man behind the famous Mumbai restaurant, Chinese Garden.

I remember watching Nelson Wang being interviewed by Vir Sangvi, quite a while ago, and saying he invented the Chicken Manchurian (and the Gobi Manchurian, along the same lines, for his vegetarian customers) because he thought the regulars at his restaurant would more receptive to Chinese food if it was spicy and deep fried. The result was deep fried batter coated chicken pieces (or cauliflower florets) in a hot and sweet sauce. Nelson Wang came up with many such "Indianised" Chinese dishes and has pioneered an Indo-Chinese cuisine that is like none other in the world.

All I can say is that Nelson Wang knew his customers pretty well and this is one dish that has become representative of Indo-Chinese (may also be spelt "Chinees", "Chainis" or "Chainijj" depending on where you're reading your menu) cuisine all the way from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

Gobi Manchurian (or a Vegetable Manchurian which is another version of the same) can be a quite a tasty preparation if made well. Akshaya really likes this very much with noodles. I still remember her asking for it one evening and my searching for a recipe to try out at home.

I found a recipe in one of my oldest cookbooks, The Vegetarian Menu Book by Vasantha Moorthy. A look at the list of ingredients (this recipe uses tomato ketchup!) might make one wonder if cooking this is really worth the while.
I leave that decision to you, but remember this is a dish that has taken over the Indian Chinese dining experience and is a favourite with many. So, if you would like the recipe I use, here it is.


1 medium sized cauliflower (broken into medium-sized florets)

oil for deep frying

2 tbsp chopped spring onion greens, for garnishing

For the marinade:

3 tbsps soya sauce

1/2 tsp freshly crushed pepper

1/2 tsp garlic, minced (or paste)

1/2 tsp ginger, minced (or paste)

salt to taste

For the batter:

1 small onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup corn starch

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

about 3/4 cup water

For the sauce:

1/2 cup tomato ketchup

1/2 tsp red chilli sauce*


Mix together all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl. Put the cauliflower florets in the bowl, and mix well so they're well coated with the marinade. Let them soak in the marinade for about 20 minutes.

In the meanwhile, mix together all the ingredients for the batter in another bowl. Add the water carefully so that batter has a reasonably thick coating consistency.

Heat the oil for deep frying.
Remove 3 – 4 florets (at a time) from the marinade, with a spoon. Drain off the excess marinade from the florets; dip them in the batter so they're well coated with the batter. Carefully drop the batter coated florets, as one "lump" into the hot oil. You can deep fry about 5 or 6 such "lumps at a time. Fry the cauliflower fritters, over medium heat, till they're crisp and a nice brown in colour. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Do this frying no more than about half an hour before serving, as these cauliflower fritters tend to lose their crispness after a while.

For making the sauce:

*I sometimes have a bottle of "hot and sweet chilli sauce" on hand. If I have that, then I use about 1 1/2 tbsp of this (it's not as spicy as red chilli sauce) instead of red chilli sauce.

Pour the chilli sauce and the tomato ketchup into remaining marinade (after the cauliflower florets have all been fried). Mix well with a spoon and pour into a pan. Heat the sauce just till it starts bubbling. Take the pan off the heat.

This sauce should be a bit on the thicker side. If you feel it is too thick, you may add a couple of spoons of water to thin it down slightly, before taking the sauce off the stove.
I have seen "Manchurian" dishes where the sauce is thick and just coats the dumplings and some where the sauce is a little thinner and more like gravy.

To serve:

Place the fried cauliflower dumplings in a serving bowl and pour the sauce over the dumplings evenly covering them completely. Garnish with chopped spring onion greens and serve warm, with noodles or rice.
This recipe serves 4.

If you would like a slightly different take on the Gobi Manchurian, I can recommend two fellow food bloggers' recipes, because I have personally tried them out. Both the recipes are much lower in calories too.

1. Nandita makes a Steamed Vegetable Manchurian in Gravy which involves no deep frying at all and is much healthier on the whole.

2. A&N, two relucutant chefs have their own version which they call Pseudo Gobi Manchurian, where the cauliflower is stir-fried rather than deep-fried.

P.S. This post is just a humourous take on some incidents in my life and not intended to poke fun at or hurt any sentiments.


Chitra said...

I love gobi manchurian like anything...u made me drool;)Nice post!!

Prathibha said...

I just love this..one of my favorite indianised chinese item..

Raaga said...

I quite like it... but my mom loves it. Yours looks divine... I made this once: http://chefatwork.blogspot.com/2008/02/cauliflower-and-baby-corn-manchurian.html

Looks a little pale in comparison to yours :)

There was a time when we weren't on talking terms (while I was living with them) and I made this as part of a Chinese meal... and she couldn't be upset with me anymore :) because she had to eat what I was making!

sangi said...

Sounds very delicious...nice presentation too!

Divya Kudua said...

Hahaha..I could totally identify with your experience.I have come across some funnier names when it came to serving so-called-chinese food in our good ol' Kerala.Gopi manjoori is the one I've heard the most!!

Even though my non-veg friends feel Gobi manchurian is the only veg dish I can order,I am only too happy that I dont have to share it with anyone.

I make a similar version using ketchup but have resorted to no-fry gobi manchurian these days..all in the name of calories..;)

Ria said...

LOL! SO well written Aparna!! Even I have had my share of it... Gopi Manjuri!! :P Your's look really yum and the indoor lighting is fine :)

jayasree said...

Well written post. Have captured almost all the different ways we encounter these so-called chinese recipes.

Your version of manjuria looks very tempting. Nice click too.

jayasri said...

hi aparna, lovely post, enjoyed reading & had some sweet memories too.., I love Gobi manchurian, i keep doing this often as my kids love it, I don't use the chinese flavour enhancer, I just wanted to remind you that i had written a mail to you, i still am looking forward to ur mail, i just want to know if it has reached u or not, i would greatly appreciate if you would help me out please...

Aparna said...

Most people I know like Manchurian. :) Thanks for the nice words, especially about the picture.

I saw your version, Raaga. It looked good to me.
What a way to get back into your Mum's good books. Now that's a story. :)

Divya, I laughed so much (I was tired) at the Gopi Manchuria, that I knew I had to post this. :)

Jayasri, have got your mail. Will do my best, just give me a couple of days.

♥Rosie♥ said...

Hi Aparna, this dish looks and sounds truly amazing! I am licking my lips reading all the ingredients :09

Vidya said...

Loved your post Aparna. I've had 'Gobi Manchuri' in Kerala too. This dish in fact was one of my early cooking trials during college days using a recipe from Vanitha mag - one that ended up too garlicky, needless to say a total disaster. The whole kitchen smelt so garlicky that drove my poor thatha and paatti crazy for the next 2-3 days.

Thanks for the info on Nelson Wang - it was new to me.

Ramya Kiran said...

My all time fav. Looks delicious!

Hannah said...

I've never heard of this dish before, but it sounds fantastic! Pretty easy to make, too. :)

Mints! said...

I remember seeing a board in Bangalore gobi Manjuri and laughing so loudly with a cousin. It still make me smile whenever I see 'gobi manchurian' on the menu.

you recipe is drool worthy :D

Soma said...

This is a very favorite dish in my home, tho not known as Gopi.. LOL that was really funny..

i was not aware of the origin! thanks for sharing that.

Vani said...

"gopi manchuria" - haha! Did not know it was Nelson Wang who introduced it. Your version looks great, btw :)

Cilantro said...

Looks nice and I love the Indo chinese dishes. I recently posted the Indo Chinese Fried Rice and this would compliment it well.

I have heard the Manchurian dish never exists in China. we do not get them in the US too so over the years we can call it Manchurian curry.

LG said...

Atlast you found who gopi was!! lovely post Aparna. It was nice to know about Nelson Wang.

Priya Narasimhan said...

This is the best manchurian recipe I have seen in blogs..Adding to my favourites..

Manggy said...

I am all for not having a strict, closed palate :) And this looks very delicious, the recipe looks really good too! :)

Parita said...

I am not fond of manchurian becoz of the amount if garlic used..oh well i am allergic to garlic :( without i could finish off that bowl, nice click!

Madam Chow said...

A shark! And here I thought you were a vegetarian!;) Seriously, though, these look delicious!

Simran said...

Hey! Your manchurian seems to be just as perfect as any Indo-Chinese place I've eaten it at. And I agree, no one would eat Chinese food in India if they didn't have manchurian.

We should go eat at Nelson Wang's CG83 next time you are in Mumbai.

Mishmash ! said...

LOL :D that was funny...:)))

I missed so many of ur posts....u seem to be one a roll, cooking up all delicacies....but all i want now is those mangoes :)

Aparna said...

Another type of Indian (and a bit Chinese) curry, Rosie. :)

Thanks, Vidya. Garlic isn't traditionally used in our family, so I don't use it much in my cooking. When I have to, I resort to using the paste in just enough quantity to bring out the flavour.

Hannah, I think this is something that only Indians would know about. :)

No Cilantro, this doesn't exist outside India as far as I know!

Yes, LG.;)

Madam Chow, well, you know........... :D

Thanks for that offer. I'll take you up on that, Simran. ;)

Come to India. You'll get the mangoes, provided you hop on the next plane. :)

My comfort food network said...

Gobi Manjuri really cracked me up! I am a big fan of this dish. I never knew that Nelson Wang was the one who invented this dish. I remember eating in China Garden when I was a kid and absolutely loved their delicious food. Your Gobi Manchurian looks yum!

Curry Leaf said...

I missed this post and several Aparna.The manjurian looks delish and one of my favourites as well.I did not know it was Nelson wang who invented it.

As for the Gopi story,its not just this dish,but I have seen Gopi ki Maa (Gobi Keema) as well.I am always tempted to tell those people to leave not just Gopi but his mom also alone.But I always keep quiet thinking of the consequences.Nice read and can't stop laughing