Yeah, I realize it seems like all I do here is post food related stuff every three months. And lately, I can see why you’d think that. I’ve had other things on my mind, including other things I’d like to write about. But putting virtual pen to virtual paper just hasn’t been a high priority, I guess. I don’t know why.
Anyhow, today I’m writing to tell you about…more food! That’s right. In particular, a food called “Manchow soup”. And like so many of my posts, there are a bunch of tangents where you may learn some interesting trivia.
First, let me tell you briefly about the soup. It’s an Indian Chinese dish, meaning it’s a food from India that is meant to imitate food from China. More on that later.
Because it’s popular in India, it’s usually vegetarian. It tastes something like American Chinese “hot and sour soup” but not quite. I discovered this soup when Beth and I were traveling around northern India for a month in December 2015. And since I like soup, I had it just about every time I saw it on a restaurant’s menu.
Let’s talk about the name. “Manchow” sounds like “man chow” in the same sense as “dog chow”. But really, Manchow refers to the idea that the soup is from Manchuria, a region of China. Now Manchuria the word has a weird history of its own, because it’s not a Chinese word at all. It’s an English version of a Dutch corruption of a Japanese word for the region in northeast China where people of a certain ethnicity lived in the 17th century.
According to the Indians – and when I use Indians here, I mean India Indians, of course, not Native Americans – Manchow soup is a dish from Manchuria. But it’s not really. “Although the soup is named after Manchuria it does not resemble any that is normally found in the cuisines of the region,” according to Wikipedia. “The origin of Manchow soup is Meghalaya.” (Meghalaya is a state in northeast India, just north of Bangladesh)
Now, let’s talk a little about Indian Chinese cuisine. You may already know that the “Chinese” food most of us Americans think about isn’t really Chinese food. American Chinese food is a cuisine that Chinese immigrants invented specifically for American tastes. It’s not what real people eat in China. Some dishes are close to real Chinese dishes, but most are total fabrications. Whenever you hear someone talk about a restaurant serving “authentic” General Tso’s chicken or crab rangoons or Mongolian beef, there’s really no such thing. Even the fortune cookie is an American invention, first served in California.
So, in the same way that American Chinese food like almond chicken is an American re-imagining of Chinese food, Indian Chinese (also called Indo-Chinese) food is an Indian re-imagining of Chinese food. And since Indians have different palates and ingredients than Americans, Indian Chinese food is very different than American Chinese food.
And so that brings me back to Manchow soup. In India, as in America, some restaurants serve “Chinese” food, and a popular dish is Manchow soup. I don’t know what it was that made this soup appeal to me when we were traveling around India, but something did. Maybe it was because it was different from the local Indian food and my taste buds wanted something different.
Anyhow, over the five years since I’ve been back, I’ve had a slowly growing craving for Manchow soup. But there’s a problem. How can I get some? “Indian” restaurants don’t serve it, because it’s not Indian food. “Chinese” restaurants don’t serve it, because it’s not Chinese food. After some internet sleuthing, I found that there are some restaurants in the USA that serve Manchow soup, but they’re all in areas that have more Indian immigrants than Denver.
So I kept looking. And then a couple months ago I found an Indian restaurant in the south part of the Denver metro area that had “Veg Hot & Sour” on the menu, with a description of “Soup made with Vegetables and other authentic spices in Indo Chinese style.” This is it! Indo Chinese hot & sour soup must mean Manchow soup. But since hardly anyone in America knows it by the name Manchow soup, they called it generically “hot & sour” soup on the menu, so I thought. So I ordered two orders of it to be delivered. This restaurant is several miles away, and some poor delivery guy spent something like an hour and a half of his life bringing me my long-sought-after soup.
I tipped him well. But there was a problem. Once it arrived, and I dove in, I realized two key things. First, the soup was so spicy as to be inedible, even for me. Second, it didn’t taste at all like the Manchow soup I had in India. What this stuff tasted like was if someone sauteed some veggies and then poured an entire jar of hot sauce into the saucepan, and called that “soup”. I was sad and disappointed, and threw all of both servings out, except for the three spoonfuls I choked down.
Back to the drawing board. I decided I’d just have to figure out how to make Manchow soup on my own. So I looked at a few recipes online, and finally settled on this one.
The ingredients and preparation felt right. And Dassana, the creator of the recipe, seemed legit. So I gathered all the ingredients, took a big chance, doubled everything in the recipe, and made a big pot of it. Fortunately, it came out great. I had to tweak the spices a little – it needed more salt and more vinegar – but it hit the spot. I didn’t make the fried noodles that you get in India, because they’re just empty calories and I’ve been trying to keep off the weight I lost last year.
My pot full of soup ended up being about 15 servings, so I’ve been eating it most days the past week, and just put the rest in the freezer to enjoy in the future since frankly I’m getting a little burned out on it now. It’s weird to go from craving this soup to having too much of this soup in the course of two weeks.
Anyhow, that’s the story of my Manchow soup. And here’s the photo (before adding chopped cilantro).