The phrase “fusion cuisine” inspires dread in me — I’ve been served too many misconceived culinary mash-ups over the years, usually European sauces awkwardly force-fit onto Asian foundations, or vice-versa. Melding diverse traditional cuisines apparently requires some subtlety beyond the reach of many chefs. I think fusion works better when a chef takes his home cuisine to a new country and adapts it to local preferences and ingredients. “Desi Chinese” is a favorite example: Chinese food as prepared by Chinese chefs working in India. We now have enough South Asians living in Boston who are homesick for this unique cookery that it’s popping up on Indian menus here.
The chefs at Indian Dhaba hail from Mumbai; their extensive urban menu draws from all over the subcontinent. They do rich Punjabi legume stews like dal makhani ($9.95) and multi-layered biryanis like Pakistan’s vegetarian Sindhi biryani ($9.95). There are the expected curries ($8.95–$10.95), sour/hot Goan vindaloos ($8.95–$9.95), Anglo-Indian tikka masalas ($9.95), and clay-oven flatbreads ($2–$5.95). As a dhaba (roadside stand or truck stop), it also boasts an array of traditional street foods, including crisp spinach-onion pakoras ($2.95) and the crunchy snacks known as chaats, like bhel poori ($3.95), puffed rice with potatoes and onions that you drizzle with various chutneys. Sandwich options include pav bhaji ($5.95), potato curry on a kaiser-like roll, and the burrito-like kathi ($5.95–$7.95), which wraps paratha (a skillet flatbread) around such fillings as lamb kebabs topped with a chili-blazing, bright-green chutney.
As to fusion, the Indo-Chinese dishes look Chinese enough, but share some substitute ingredients (like sweet peas and celery) with American Chinese food, are spiced with an unmistakable Indian richness, and are served with soft, fragrant basmati. Hot-and-sour soup ($4.95), has the odd but tasty embellishment of sweet corn. Chili paneer ($10.95) has an oily, fiery, brick-red sauce, plus tomatoes, cilantro, fresh jalapeño slices, and cubes of farmer’s cheese doing a fair imitation of firm tofu. Hakka noodles ($10.95) are a bland stir-fry of wheat noodles, slices of chicken breast, and vegetables. The accompanying chili/garlic condiment adds needed piquancy. Drinks include yogurt-based lassi ($1.95) and Indian bottled juices ($1.25), such as mango and guava. With counter service and only 18 seats in a slightly dingy dining room, you won’t come to Indian Dhaba for the atmosphere, but for its fascinating access to byways of Indian cooking we still don’t see enough of in Boston.
Indian Dhaba, located at 180 Brighton Avenue, in Allston, is open daily, 11:30 am–11:30 pm. Call 617.787.5155.