I went to Chinese Mirch last Saturday with my cousins who were in town from Chicago. The concept of Indian-Chinese food in America was exciting, since its tastes vary so dramatically from regular Chinese food in America- food that to the Indian palate often seems to be overwhelming in sweetness and syrup. Indian-Chinese draws on other tastes more familiar to Indian cuisine- spiciness from green chilies, sweetness from onions instead of sugar, and full-bodied curry flavors.
In Bombay, my masi and cousins’ favorite Chinese restaurant is China Garden (which I think has a new location at the Crossroads Mall). There, we always order the same thing: thick sweet corn soup, piles of greasy scallion pancakes, and then crispy green beans, some veg. dish (I don’t remember), and always, the vegetable hakka noodles. The décor is palatial—giant round white tables and Chinese decorations hanging from the walls.
Chinese Mirch, located in Little India/Curry Hill/Murray Hill, at 28th and Lexington, has a recognizable sign- a big red chili substitutes for the letter “i” in Chinese. (My friend Allison, who lives in Curry Hill and walks by the restaurant every day, assumed that Chinese Mirch sold “”Chinese Merchandise” and that the owners had misspelled “”merch” as “mirch.”) Inside is airy and full of sunlight; two tables are downstairs and the majority are upstairs, where we sat. We had a sizable group- six of us: my cousin from Bombay who is studying at Cornell and who recommended the restaurant; my high-school aged cousins from Chicago, and their parents, my masi and masa. We started by ordering soups- my cousins from Chicago got the Sweet Corn Soup and the Hot and Sour Soup, both of which I did not try. I did hear my masi say that the hot and sour soup was not hot at all, so she added a bunch of hot chilies in vinegar to it. My cousin from Cornell and I shared the Spicy Lemon Coriander Soup, which was a clear tangy soup with shitake mushrooms. Although it was spicy and the lemon and coriander tastes were present, I thought there could have been more mushrooms floating around in the soup- then, perhaps I would have tasted them more?
For an appetizer, we got the Crispy Okra, which was basically okra tempura.
I really dislike okra but this was my first experience enjoying it- it wasn’t slimy like it usually is, nor was it burnt almost to a crisp (both are Indian ways of preparing okra). Instead it was fried like tempura, in a light golden batter, so that it looked almost delicate, and sprinkled with what the menu calls “smoky chili powder” but what I think was chaat masala. Eating that okra opened up a whole world of okra enjoyment! You could fry the okra like that, sprinkle it with chaat masala, and then mix it with onions and tomatoes for a real chat-pat experience. Yum! So the okra was a highlight.
For the main course, we ordered Chili Paneer, Vegetable Hakka Noodles, and the house specialty, Chinese Mirch Potatoes.
The menu describes the potatoes as “home fries fiery Szechwan style” but instead they were disappointingly bland and glistened disconcertingly on the plate.
The Paneer looked okay, and the sauce was tasty if not fantastic- garlic and tomatoes and some scallions- but the paneer itself had a bizarre texture- it definitely wasn’t fresh and soft-creamy, and it wasn’t rubbery like the typical paneer in Indian restaurants. Instead it was a slightly crumbly on the inside and looked as though it had been frozen, thawed, and refrozen.
The noodles were good, standard noodly fair.
Oh, and we also got the American Chop Suey- a name evocative of my days at Fay when American Chop Suey meant a huge pot filled to the brim with a messy and strong-smelling meat that I then had to scrape off of peoples’ plates on the days I was a waiter. In Chinese Mirch, American Chop Suey was a nest of fried noodles top with this orange, syrupy-sweet sauce. While I definitely did not enjoy it, I think my cousins from Chicago did!