Review: Mumbai Chopstix

Wok on the wild side
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  July 9, 2010
2.0 2.0 Stars

1009_mumbai_main
TRUE STORY: The Hakka Style Lamb is a perfect example of Indian-Chinese fusion, blending tender boneless lamb with a chili-studded sauce.

Mumbai Chopstix | 254 Newbury Street, Boston | 617.927.4444 | Open Daily, 11:30 am–10:45 pm | AE, MC, VI | Full Bar | No valet parking | Access to outdoor tables down one step from sidewalk level; indoor area down 10 steps and up one.
I first noticed Indian Chinese cuisine on South Asian diaspora recipe Web sites about 10 years ago. At first, I thought that some of this interest was because South Asians already had a "karahi," the subcontinental wok. But the story offered by Mumbai Chopstix is more historical than having the right pots and pans.

It seems that there are 20,000 overseas Chinese in Calcutta, and an actual century-old Chinatown, with Cantonese restaurants, as one might expect, and Hakka-style restaurants, which are not so common outside China. The Hakka ethnic group, speaking a northern dialect in the mountains of South China, have a reputation for simple dishes with exquisite texture and balance. So there has developed a fusion cuisine with Indian spices and Chinese techniques. Mumbai Chopstix aspires to the historical karma (beyond the similarity of tools), although it also does some more conventional Pacific-rim fusion food. And some dishes I tried leaned too heavily on a sweet-sour-hot sauce that reminded me of inferior Szechuan.

Not the new fried bhindi (okra) appetizer ($6), which is barely batter-fried, and comes out as a new and delicious green vegetable, with no slimy texture, and a scallion drizzle. "Salt and pepper squid" ($9.95) is supposed to be "tempura battered" but blessedly it is not. The frying is great, but the use of Chinese five-spice powder as the equivalent of garam masala is too much sweet spice for mild seafood. Peking duck samosas ($6) sounds like a possible idea, but only the chopped duck meat comes from the classic Chinese dish, leaving behind the flavors of hoisin, crispy skin, and scallions. The result is a vaguely pyramidal pasty filled with bland chopped meat, but covered with that sweet-sour-hot sauce as if it were a side project at the General Gau's chicken factory.

Testing the Hakka/Calcutta story, I went for Hakka Style Lamb ($17.95), and when asked about spicy, I said, "It's a hot night, I want it spicy." I got the same sauce, but with enough dried red chilies and little fresh green chilies to earn two or three silhouettes in a Thai restaurant. And the Hakka story is true about the little boneless pieces of lamb in this dish, done to a tender turn. The vegetable filler, plain onions and red and green bell peppers, was like Chinese-American food of the old days. But I did like those little green chilies. I was picking them out with chopsticks — by the way, they only give you chopsticks at Mumbai Chopstix if you ask — because the green bird peppers had a great flavor before the sheer heat came on.

The standard sauce is very edible on the excellent rice, which looks like large bowl of Chinese rice, but it is in fact basmati and strongly aromatic.

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