Ethnic City - Ethnic.city: Inchin’s Bamboo Garden
A taste of authentic Indian Chinese cuisine in Alpharetta
National cuisines tend to assimilate to the countries they are transplanted to. When dining in China, you won’t find lettuce wraps, sweet and sour shrimp, or fortune cookies. Much of the Chinese cuisine found in the United States is sweeter, thicker, and still somehow bland in comparison to the genuine article. Most countries invent their own versions of Chinese food based on local ingredients and taste preferences. In India, crab rangoon is replaced with chili crab, orange chicken with chicken Manchurian, and hunan tofu with hot garlic paneer. Green chilies and hot sauces reign in almost every dish.
In the late-18th century, a wave of Chinese immigrants found their way to Calcutta (now Kolkata), India. (Today, Kolkata’s Chinatown is still the most significant in India, despite its dwindling Chinese population in recent years.) They brought with them traditional Chinese fare like hot pot, dumplings, and Peking duck, and adapted it to local Indian palates by adding familiar Indian spices, heavier gravies, and more vegetarian options. For example, the Chinese immigrants coined a new dish, vegetable Manchurian: dumplings made with shredded cabbage, carrots, and onions in a zesty sauce of chili, garlic, ginger, soy, and lots of black pepper. Two of the world’s oldest civilizations gave birth to Indo-Chinese cuisine, referred to in India as Indian-Chinese or simply Chinese.
You can find the strong pungent flavors of authentic Indo-Chinese cuisine in metro Atlanta — if you know where to look. Tucked away in an assuming Alpharetta shopping center, Inchin’s Bamboo Garden is as close as it gets to dining at a Chinese restaurant in India.
Inchin’s first opened in Alpharetta seven years ago, and is now one of 10 locations across the country. As ethnic restaurants gained popularity in metro Atlanta in the mid-2000s, Inchin’s following grew, too, especially among nostalgic Indian transplants.
Expect powerful flavors in practically every dish. Ginger, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, and chili sauce are everywhere. Vegetables such as onions, bell peppers, scallions, and green chilies act as garnishes and thickening agents for gravies. Because India is home to more vegetarians than rest of the world combined — roughly a half-billion people — just about any Indian recipe can be made without meat, fish, or eggs. The menu has vegetarian and non-vegetarian sections, catering to a large Asian audience.
A rickshaw cart parked outside the restaurant sets the mood. Upon entering the heavy wooden doors, guests choose between Inchin’s or Tadka, Inchin’s sister Indian restaurant separated by a giant stone wall and two-way fireplace. Inchin’s in on the right. The dining room is handsome and sprawling. It has high, exposed ceilings, red and yellow walls, and long tables along one wall that seat 8-10 people, separated by wide screens made with bamboo sticks for a little privacy. The middle of the room is filled with a sea of four-tops.
There are a few popular Thai dishes such as Tom Yum soup ($5) and spicy basil fried rice ($10-12), but most of the offerings remain true to its Chinese roots. Soups, appetizers, main courses, rice, and noodles are the basic food groups to choose from. Non-vegetarian selections include chicken (with white or dark meat), beef, lamb, shrimp, and lobster. Steamed white rice or noodles are always ordered as accompaniments.
For starters, try the hearty and flavorful sweet corn soup ($4-$5), a Kolkata Chinatown mainstay. There are lightly fried spring rolls ($8) oozing with vegetables and Drums of Heaven chicken wings ($9) served with a stir-fried bell peppers and onions. The chili paneer ($8) is pan-fried cubes of fresh cheese coated with tons of ginger, garlic, and, you guessed it, chili. Pro tip: Note the red dots next to the dishes on the menu indicating the level of spiciness.
Chop suey, loosely translated as “assorted pieces” or “mixed bits,” is typically made with leftover meat and vegetables and served with rice. Inchin’s American Chop suey ($10-$12), though, has layers of deep-fried crunchy noodles, sautéed shredded cabbage slaw, fresh bean sprouts, and a sweet and sour sauce prepared by simmering tomato ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, and corn starch, and topped with a fried egg. Hakka noodles ($10-$12), which are thinner than Chinese lo mein, are flash-fried with oil, spices, and lots of sliced vegetables. Hakka noodles may be uncommon in this part of the world, but kids in India loves them.
As for the bar, Indian beers such as Kingfisher and Taj Mahal typically pair well with the fiery dishes. A decent selection of wine and a full bar are also available at Inchin’s. For non-alcoholic alternatives, try fresh lime soda — the Indian version of fresh squeezed lemonade made with soda water and a sprinkle of salt and ground black pepper. Or have a chilled coconut water, served in a whole coconut shell like you would get on the streets of India.
If you want to get a taste of Indo-China and are up for a trip to the suburbs, hop on GA-400 North and visit Inchin’s. It consistently delivers quality, authentic dishes in a casual, vibrant environment, and it’s a lot closer than flying 17 hours to Kolkata.