The Shocking Red Soup

The other evening, I took home a Chicken Hot and Sour Soup. I have been suffering from a bad cold and cough lately, and Chicken Soup is extremely comforting. Mom would make it for me once, along with all the other hot foods in her collection – khichdi and kadha. I was thinking about her as I unpacked the soup and got ready to slurp. The soup was hot – and I don’t just mean the temperature – and it was delicious. But when I went to rinse my mouth later, a shock awaited me. My lips and tongue looked bloodshot.

I inspected the packet the soup had come in and also checked my soup spoon. Yes, both red. The restaurant had added so much red food colouring into the soup that the colour was actually bleeding!

I have grown up in Delhi, the haunt of the “Indian-Chinese” street stalls. I know for a fact that the Chinese food we eat is a far cry from what they actually eat in China. But who’s complaining? I love the spices and the flavours of these scintillating dishes. And I never had problems with colour.

When I came to Pune, I spent some time hunting for Delhi-ish tastes here. In vain. There is no dearth of Chinese street-food stalls – there’s noodles, manchurian, momos, fried rice, chicken lollipops, you name it. But they are usually red. There seems to be an obsession with adding red colour to make these dishes look even spicier. One guy told me, “It’s just schezwan sauce, Madam. How can a Chinese dish be without that?”

Now, I have resigned to these facts of life. On days when I feel like eating authentic oriental cuisine, I go all fancy and visit Mainland China or Malaka Spice. The latter is this lovely restaurant in Koregaon Park that serves excellent South East Asian cuisine. My tongue has a feast and doesn’t emerge bloodshot from the experience.

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