I was first introduced to Calcutta Chinese by my Aunt and cousin who live in New Jersey. My cousin had initially stopped by, thinking it was a fast food Chinese take-out place, but when he sat down he was greeted in Hindi by the owner, Kuang Hou (left). Kuang handed him an interesting menu of Chinese-Indian food including dishes like paneer and broccoli Manchurian and Calcutta sweet and sour soup, all made fresh and homemade and modestly priced.
My cousin was so smitten, he returned the next day with my Aunt, and everyone in our family have been big fans ever since. We are not the only ones though — Calcutta Chinese brings in a wide variety of patrons across all ethnicities and backgrounds in addition to a bustling take-out and delivery business.
Kuang refers to his food as Hakka Desi, which blends his Hakka roots from China with his upbringing in Calcutta, India where his family has lived for four generations. The Hakka people are originally a nomadic group that settled in southern China, but many have emigrated to regions worldwide, with a large population settling in a region of east Calcutta called Tangra.
As a result, cuisine in the Tangra district is known for its use of both Indian ingredients and traditional Hakka Chinese cooking, which is characterized by its savory and rich flavorings. Kuang has been working in the restaurant business most of his life and learned much of his cooking from his mother-in-law, who owns and has been the head chef of a restaurant in Tangra for the past 25 years.
Clockwise from top: Manchurian soup, Calcutta hot and sour soup, and vegetarian Tom Yum soup.
Fittingly, Kuang’s menu at Calcutta Chinese has a mix of pure Hakka and Indian fusion, including some influences from Thai cooking, which he picked up from the Thai chefs that used to work at his cousin’s deli in Manhattan. For instance, his Tom Yum soup is full of flavor with fresh vegetables, lemongrass, ginger, and Thai chilis. His selection of soups is wide but each one has real depth such as the Manchurian soup (which has a Chinese base and bold hints of ginger, garlic, cilantro, and fresh green chili) and the Calcutta hot and sour, which is a delicious mix of tofu and fresh veggies punctuated by red Szechuan peppers.
The vegetable pakoras are some of the best I have every tasted with grated fresh vegetables and a hint of soy, fried up crisp and served with cilantro chutney.
From left: Manchurian cauliflower and broccoli and paneer.
Manchurian cauliflower is our family’s favorite with cauliflower that is crunchy and breaded in texture, served with a full-flavored Manchurian soy sauce. The broccoli and paneer Manchurian dish is also superb and the paneer has a homemade and tangy flavor to it.
Hakka lomein noodles.
Not to miss are Kuang’s hakka lomein noodles, an authentic preparation of noodles and veggies lightly seasoned by soy and black pepper. Kuang’s family actually eats at the restaurant most nights and he named some of his favorite dishes from the menu: chili chicken, Manchurian fish and ginger chicken. He has employed the same three chefs, who are either close friends or family, since his restaurant opened in 2008 and believes strongly in providing a consistent level of quality to his customer, which is evident each time I have visited. Kuang is both a humble and modest host, but his cooking is truly exemplary and worth the visit.
If you are traveling from Manhattan, you can take NJ Transit to Metro Park and take a quick cab ride there. In August, he will be opening up another location in Iselin right in the heart of Little Indian on Oak Tree Road and Wood Ave., which is closer to Metro Park and to a host of other Indian shops.