Hakka, who live at the junction of Guangdong, Fujian, and Jiangxi provhinces in China, trace their roots back to the early 3rd century B.C., the era of the Qin dynasty. Fleeing natural disasters, they migrated from the northern provinces to the south—and the southerners coined the name Hakka, which means “guest families.” An ethnically diverse group, many Hakka migrated to various corners of the world, including Calcutta, after the onset of Kuomintang rule and the Second World War. Calcutta has one of the largest Chinese communities in India and has eagerly adopted the flavors and cuisines of the early settlers, artisans, and industrious business folks, some of whom (the Hakka) immigrated over 200 years ago. The sharp smell of the fermented soy-based ingredients that salted many of the immigrants’ dishes piqued the Indians’ curiosity. The aromas of stir-fried meats in hot woks further tempted the Calcuttans, and ropes of fresh noodles, ready to boil and toss into bowls, became a common sight. The immigrants, on the other hand, incorporated many of India’s spices and chiles into their cooking styles, creating an Indo-Chinese revolution within the depths of their woks. Fusion noodle dishes became insanely popular, and Hakka noodles came into being. Today they are found at street-corner stalls, on restaurant menus, and in home kitchens all over India.
That’s a lot of cilantro, but when you add it at two separate stages, the effect isn’t so extreme: half of it cooks with the vegetables and turns mellow, while the other batch is scattered over the noodles just before you serve them, to impart a sharper taste.
Total Timeunder 1 hour
OccasionCasual Dinner Party
Recipe Coursemain course
Taste and Texturegarlicky, herby, hot & spicy, savory, sweet
- 8 ounces fresh or dried fettuccini-type egg noodles (available in Asian markets)
- ¼ cup tomato ketchup
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon malt or cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons ground Kashmiri chiles; or ½ teaspoon cayenne (ground red pepper) mixed with 1½ teaspoons sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 4 ounces Doodh Paneer, cut into thin strips
- 1 cup cut-up cauliflower florets (2-inch florets)
- 1 large carrot, peeled, ends trimmed, thinly sliced crosswise
- 4 medium-size cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems (see Notes)
- 1 large tomato, cored and cut into ½-inch cubes
- 4 scallions (green tops and white bulbs), cut into 1-inch lengths
- 2 lengthwise slices fresh ginger (each 2½ inches long, 1 inch wide, and 1/8 inch thick), cut into matchstick-thin strips (julienne)
- 1 cup bean sprouts
Fill a large saucepan three-fourths full with water, and bring it to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Add the noodles and cook until they are tender but still firm to the teeth (al dente), following the package instructions.
While the noodles are cooking, whisk the ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, ground chiles, and salt together in a small bowl.
Drain the noodles into a colander and run cold water through them to cool them off and stop the cooking.
Preheat a wok or a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Drizzle the oil down the sides of the wok, and when it forms a shimmering pool at the bottom, add the paneer, cauliflower, carrot, garlic, and ¼ cup of the cilantro. Stir-fry until the cheese and vegetables are browned and crunchy-tender, 5 to 8 minutes.
Fill a large bowl with warm water and dunk the cooled noodles into it to loosen them (and to provide the moisture that helps to rewarm them quickly). Drain them again and immediately add them to the wok (a little dripping water is just fine). Cook, stirring, until the noodles are warmed though, 2 to 4 minutes.
Add the sauce and stir to coat the noodles and vegetables with its hot, salty, slightly sweet flavors. Stir in the tomato, scallions, and ginger. Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, to warm the tomato, 2 to 4 minutes.
Top with the bean sprouts and the remaining ¼ cup cilantro, and serve.
2008 Raghavan Iyer