For as long as Germans were in America, they ate sausages with mustard and sauerkraut bare, off a plate. Then, about a century ago, it occurred to someone in Brooklyn to put them on a matching roll, and the hot dog was born. America is where pizza became the thin-crusted, round pies known worldwide and where indigenous Mexican food morphed into today's two-pound burritos and double-decker tacos.
But this kind of cross-cultural adaptation has happened all over the world since the dawn of civilization. The dumplings Koreans call mandoo share a common ancestry with Afghani mantoo made thousands of miles to the west, and now that Genghis Khan's been dead for a while, Russians and Poles can thank the Mongol hordes for bringing the recipe along as they dig into pelmeni or pierogi. As for the origins of Greek coffee, Turkish delight, and the meats-on-a-spit variously known as gyros, shawarma, and doner, you may not want to ask a Greek, Turkish, or Lebanese acquaintance unless you've got the rest of the day free.
Which brings us to India's Chinese food. Just as it is here, Chinese takeout is popular in India's cities, and just like here, indigenous ingredients and tastes have given Indian Chinese food its own identity. So just like homesick New Yorkers looking for that bowl of noodles on the table, many of today's Indian expats and emigres hanker for their Chinese food.
South Florida's growing Indian and Pakistani communities have been giving rise to a wave of restaurants that reach beyond the standard curries and kormas into regional and specialty menus, and Sunrise's 3-month-old India Grill (8438 W. Oakland Park Blvd., Sunrise, 954-578-7775) taps into the trend. Though it's by no means sleek and hip, the place owned by veteran local restaurateur Sandeep Varma has largely succeeded in updating the idea of a neighborhood Indian restaurant with attractive presentation and a diverse menu that touches on India's North, South, and beyond.
The standbys are there, of course, including the likes of a tender, flavorful tandoori chicken, a well-made appetizer of pakoras, fritters of assorted vegetables including fresh cauliflower and creamy sweet potato, and India's answer to Frito Pie, chaat papdi, here a zingy, multitextured mishmash of chickpeas, onion, chopped-up samosa, tamarind chutney, and yogurt raita.
But it was ventures elsewhere in the subcontinent and beyond that highlighted the restaurant's strengths and some weaknesses. On two separate visits, we tried lamb Kandahari both hot and mild and were impressed by the way the cooks adjusted the flavors of the Central Asian-inflected dish; when the peppers were turned up, the pomegranate sweetness was turned down. Either way, the gravy begged to be scooped up with the house-special grilled-onion naan. Shrimp Malai curry paired disappointingly puny, probably frozen, pre-peeled shrimp in a good Thai-Malaysian coconut curry. A similar sauce was put to better use with Malai kofta, vegetarian potato-cheese croquettes.
Desserts we tried, all made in-house, included respectable if ordinary rose-scented gulab jamun, cylinders of decent pistachio kulfi (Indian ice cream), and a stellar, lightly sweet, soft halwah of carrots cooked slowly in milk for three hours and garnished with slivered pistachios.
And how about the "Indo-Chinese" (not to be confused with Indochinese) selections? Sharing the menu with chicken-and-corn soup (popular in Bangladesh) and fried (basmati) rice, the Indian Chinese fusion was in evidence in Chili Chicken. Lightly coated pieces of chicken fried in the manner of pakoras joined finely sliced peppers and onions in a well-balanced sweet-hot sauce closely related to American-Chinese "Szechuan" chili sauce without the gooey, sticky quality. The non-Manchurian gobi Manchurian was more straightforward to those of us weaned on American Chinese takeout: Flecked with fresh minced garlic and scallions, the similarly fried morsels were instantly recognizable as an invention so ingenious, we wondered why we'd never seen it anywhere else: General Tso's Cauliflower.
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