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.
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.