SHOMA A. CHATTERJI | 22 JUNE, 2020
What Chinese Restaurant Are These MPs Talking About?
Every cook in the subcontinent can dish out a plate of chow mien
Yesterday, on a regional television channel in Kolkata, an actor-turned-MP threatened the watching public that anyone eating Chinese food at a restaurant would have their legs broken and perhaps their house demolished.
The parliamentarian, who contested the last general election from Uluberia as the BJP candidate against TMC sitting MP Sajda Ahmed, was only toeing the line drawn by Union minister Ramdas Athawale the day before.
No one must go to Chinese restaurants or eat Chinese food, Athavale declared: “China is a country that betrays. India should boycott all products that are made in China. All restaurants and hotels that sell Chinese food in India should be closed down.”
How can our elected representatives make such public statements? Do they feel responsible for the financial distress, the livelihoods lost if restaurants selling Chinese food were forced to down their shutters?
Besides, most of these restaurants serve food more rightly called Chindian: the dishes are concocted keeping Indian taste buds and ingredients in mind. And it is mostly Indians’ livelihoods that would be threatened: there are around 2,000 exclusively Chinese restaurants in Kolkata alone, so one can imagine the total number countrywide.
Clearly, Indians love Chinese food and what we eat should remain a matter of choice. No one can force food censorship down our throats by diktat. And today this cuisine is an integral part of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi culinary fare.
There are many Indians whose ancestors moved from China to this country generations ago. And some 7,000 Chinese expatriates, according to a recent estimate, who work in India on two- or three-year contracts for the growing number of Chinese companies doing business here.
These MPs’ threats also threaten their safety and security.
To sketch out the economic impact – leaving out all the Chinese restaurants in starred hotels, restaurants that offer multi-cuisine fare, the streetside dhabas, the handcarts and the small tea houses and corner cafes across the city – and just taking the 2,000 exclusively Chinese restaurants in Kolkata, assume that each one employs a staff of 20 across designations. Shuttering them would deny 40,000 people their source of income, not to mention the many entrepreneurs who would lose their business entirely.
Most of these eating places are owned, run and managed by Bengalis and what they serve as “chow” or “chilli chicken” has been concocted for local palates. What will happen to these small entrepreneurs who are struggling to keep afloat?
What about the satellite industries that restaurants depend on: for the daily, weekly and monthly supply of equipment, maintenance, raw material, décor, cutlery, crockery, tableware, cookware, table linen, napkins, towels, extending to washrooms and so on?
The kitchen ingredients such as farming products, poultry, vegetables, meat products, specialised spices and specially cultured wines and liquors, corn flakes, noodles of all kinds, corn starch, cooking utensils all are sourced from suppliers dependent on these restaurants for income. What will happen to them?
Eventually the ostracism of China and everyone and everything “Chinese” will go away because many Indian businesses are almost entirely dependent on Chinese products, ranging from childrens’ toys through ceiling lights to chemicals used to make pharmaceutical products.
Every Indian housewife regardless of affluence or status knows how to cook a Chinese dish in her own way. Every cook in the subcontinent can dish out a plate of chow mien within minutes. All mothers of small kids were breaking their heads when a particular brand of noodles was banned.
So, what Chinese restaurant are we talking about? Can’t we expect a minimum degree of responsibility from elected representatives before they make hungry public statements without even understanding what they are saying?
Chinese food and Chinese restaurants are a necessity in India – because our taste buds demand it, and more importantly, to keep those jobs and businesses alive!
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