Last Friday, a friend and I went to Inchin’s Bamboo in downtown Sunnyvale. Fridays are my cheat days, not that I eat dietitian approved health concoctions on all other days, but I try. Fridays, I allow myself to eat without feeling too bad. Inchin is short for Indo-Chinese, and this restaurant specializes in Indo-Chinese cuisine. There are a few places in the bay area that try to emulate Indo-Chinese, a seemingly easy cuisine to put together, but do not always succeed. Having spent four years in Calcutta, and visiting the city at least once every year since birth, I know what Indo-Chinese is. Calcutta is its birth place, and we will remain ever so grateful to Calcutta’s Chinese folks for this.
The first recorded Chinese immigrant to Calcutta was a gentleman called Tong Achew who set up a sugar mill in Budge Budge, a place just outside the city. He brought along some workers with him, and they together made the first recorded Chinese settlement in Calcutta. After Mr. Achew’s death, they left behind a place newly renamed Achipur, a temple built in their late master’s memory, and moved to Calcutta. Calcutta’s Chinese still go there on the Chinese new year to offer prayers and pay homage to Mr. Achew’s tomb. Since then, the Chinese have contributed to Bengal’s economy in many ways, through not just sugar, but also carpentry, tanneries (in which Hindus did not want to work unless they belonged to the lowest of castes), opium (not illegal in India till 1947) and of course, food. They initially lived around Terreti Bazaar and Bow Bazaar, but most have now shifted to Tangra. Tangra, for the interested, can be a cultural trip for the food, bright dragons and Chinese temples. The Chinese speak fluent Bengali and English. They have a number of schools, where of course many non-Chinese come to study too. The Chinese population in Calcutta has dwindled over time and only 2,000 remain. Most of the settlers were of Hakka origin, as a result of which many restaurants in the city specialize in Hakka cuisine. However, a present day Hakkan would probably not find much similarity between what he eats at home and what is plated here.
We went to Inchin’s Bamboo at about 7:30 pm, after work. The restaurant is apparently very busy on weekends and hence I was advised to reserve a table. I called them, but they said their policy was not to hold tables, and that they were not too busy at the moment, meaning we could walk in. So, we did. Parking is not a problem, there are a number of parking lots nearby, so don’t fret if street parking is not available. The restaurant in itself is big, especially by bay area standards. On entering, to the left is the bar, which I would not be able to comment upon as I headed straight for the tables to the right. The lighting was a little garish for my liking, but not to bad. A lot of bamboo has been used in the interiors, lending to it an earthy feel. There was a hand pulled rickshaw in the corner, which looked fantastic and true to character, but it also had a printed A4 size paper stuck on it that said something along the lines of “Do not touch” or “Only for show”. That was an eyesore. My immediate thought was if they have so much bamboo everywhere (and I mean everywhere), why not take a few and create a barricade around the rickshaw, thus preventing kids from climbing on it or selfie addicts from posing on it.
The restaurant was full, and given how people seemed to be going there in hordes, I expected delight on my plate. The ambiance was nice, the air filled with friendly banter and happiness. We ordered Hakka noodles, along with gobi (cauliflower florets) manchurian. My friend, a vegetarian and someone who had dined there before, recommended the manchurian and I obliged. We asked for it with gravy as the noodles would be dry. The hostess had her drill on point, complete with the how are yous and what drinks can I get for yous. She smiled a lot and was good at her job. Service, though, was very slow. I understand that it was a busy evening for them, lots of orders, but yet. Coming to the food, the gobi came with a bowl of steamed rice. The gravy was not too thick, neither too watery. The quantity was good, but the flavour was bland. I am not a big fan of spice. However, I don’t think the spice quotient in Calcutta’s Indo-Chinese is too high either (and, yes that is my base for comparison, because, why not? The heat in the food back home is mostly from pepper. There was no heat in this food and no pepper shaker on my table). The gobi seemed a little stale, and I say “seemed” and “little” because stale food is a serious accusation and I am not a hundred percent sure if it was really stale. There was no taste of the cauliflower coming through, which was disappointing. As far as the noodles are concerned, I could see reds and greens in the dish, but absolutely no flavour from the vegetables. Thankfully, an assortment of sauces was placed on the table which saw our way through. After dinner, my stomach was full but my heart craved Calcutta even more.
More than the food, I think it is the nostalgia that draws people there. I cannot think of any other reason that could explain the crowds. Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s bay area branch delivers much more punch, but that is for another post.
Details:Address: 151 W Washington Ave
Sunnyvale, CA 94086, Phone: (408) 481-9350