Dish With A Difference

We’re talking about: Hakka cuisine

Indo-Chinese hotspot Fatt Pundit celebrated the Hindu festival of colours, Holi, this month with a spicy South Asian momo special joining their northeast Indian-inspired menu 

16 March 2020
asianbreadchineseindianrestaurantsstreet food
  • The Dish: Momo dumplings
  • The Place: 77 Berwick St, Soho, London W1F 8TH
  • The Chef: Huzefa Sajawal

What?

Fatt Pundit launched last summer in Soho, with chef and restauranteur brothers Huzefa and Hamza Sajawal championing regional Hakka cuisine from Tangra (a region in India’s East Kolkata) in the West End.

Hakka food is a fascinating blend of Chinese techniques (and ingredients) and north-western Indian and is said to have originated in Kolkata when the Hakka people travelled from the Chinese province of Canton to India.

This month, the restaurant unleashed their momo special in time for Holi, also known as the Hindu festival of colours, with these momos cooked traditionally in steel steamers in the open kitchen. Said to mark the start of meals in Tangra, these steamed dumplings take influence from Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet and parts of India.

Fatt Pundit offers four different types: a mixed vegetable (with spinach, mushroom, courgette and tofu), a chicken (with soy, garlic and spring onions), a beef (with leeks, red chilli and coriander) and a kid goat (with garam masala, cardamom, ginger and garlic).

Where?

Soho’s Berwick Street is one of the area’s best known, with the Cantonese dim sum mainstay Yauatcha one of several notable neighbours of Fatt Pundit’s.

Beyond the momos, the menu has a host of interesting, lesser-known dishes for the UK diner to get to grips with. These include the Malabar grilled monkfish curry with saffron butter and fresh coconut; the shredded chilli venison (said to have been made famous at the Leopold café in Mumbai) with a sweet chilli reduction and regional mantou bread; and charred lamb chops with a stone flower masala rub.

Even the rice, which comes littered with burnt ginger, goes beyond the everyday, with bing (a wheat flour-based Chinese bread) and traditional vegetable hakka noodles (a popular Indian street food) found as sides.

Why?

The UK is developing a taste for the exciting and complex, with regional cuisines from Asia and the Middle East particularly gathering traction in the capital.  

As part of the rise of regional, Food Spark has seen the start of a wider exploration of Chinese cuisines in the UK, a spotlight on lesser known Italian dishes, and countries such as Iraq and Iran emerging from the culinary shadow of their more illustrious and well-eaten Middle Eastern neighbours.

And, according to chef and food consultant Nitisha Patel, Indian and wider South Asian cuisines are starting to move beyond the niche.

“As a British-born chef of Indian heritage, I am so thankful for the new wave of restaurants sweeping the nation offering new and exciting options on much wider scale than previous years,” Patel tells Food Spark.

“I've always been aware of a select few 'hidden gem' restaurants in predominantly South Asian British towns and areas such as Leicester, Wembley, Southall and Birmingham offering an Indo Chinese menu, and I've always been blown away by what these sorts of restaurants had to offer.

“I also remember, however, that these restaurants were mainly aimed at a South Asian market, to fill an 'unidentified' gap in the market, almost as if to resemble the restaurants from 'back home' for South Asian diners.”

Monkfish curry at Fatt Pundit

Patel says that ‘Indian cuisine’ as a whole doesn’t actually exist, with India’s culinary landscape being so drastically varied.

“One of the new and exciting trends we are experiencing here in the UK is the rise and love of Indo Chinese cuisine, the result of Chinese migrants in India for almost a millennia - a hybrid cuisine steeped in generations of foodie history,” continues Patel.

“One of the largest group of Chinese migrants in India dates back to the late 1700s in Kolkata, West Bengal. Whilst quickly opening up businesses across various industries, it was the restaurants where the Chinese migrants really flourished. It appeared that the Indians and Chinese had one thing common when it came to food: a love for fiery spice, depth of flavour and cooking in flavour enhanced hot oil.

“The Chinese introduced the Indians to Sichuan peppercorns and soy sauce, and the Indians shared their abundance of spice powders, cooking techniques and developing flavours in stages. 

“It wasn't long before dishes like noodles, stir fries, chow mein, chop suey and chilli chicken were exploding onto the bustling streets of Kolkata. To keep up with the demand, Indian restaurants started altering their offering too, introducing dishes like Hakka noodles, Manchurian and momos.”

And these momos, says Patel, could start to make themselves at home in the UK.  

“The humble momo is the new 'must experience' dish - a steamed dumpling originating in Nepal with Chinese influence. Like steamed buns (baos), the fillings vary, but the beauty of the Momo is that anything goes... literally.”

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