04 February 2011

Dragon shares space with rabbit from today

Despite the lack of numbers, the Chinese community in Mumbai does not feel constrained by the blow-hot-blow-cold relationship that India and China share. Neither the chilly standoff over Arunachal and Ladakh nor the suspicion surrounding the Karmapa's links with that country have caused discomfort to those who have been living here since decades. As the 400-odd Chinese families in the city celebrate new year on Thursday, they will send up a prayer in peace and thanksgiving.

February 3 marks the advent of the Xin-Mao year or the lunar year of the rabbit, an animal that is associated with the moon and symbolises peace and fertility. "This year is especially auspicious for young girls and women,'' says dentist and restaurateur Tulun Chen who runs an informal meet-up group for the Chinese community in Mumbai.

The Chinese government released a special stamp on January 5 to mark the fortnight-long festival. Meanwhile if anything, the bilateral hiccups of the past have had a happy ending. "Earlier, if any of us even visited Thane we were required to report to the local police. Thankfully, that rule has been dispensed with,'' says Chen.

In another development, the extensive migration that saw many young Chinese leave India for greener pastures abroad has been partially stemmed owing to the global recession of 2008. "Now our children are discovering that jobs are tough to come by in the US and Canada while the Indian economy is booming. Not just that, 30-40 families have recently shifted base from Kolkata to Mumbai owing to better opportunities here,'' Chen adds.

Several Chinese arrived to participate in Wednesday's special midnight prayer at the Kwan Tai Shek shrine in Mazgaon. There were the families of Lorna Lin and Liu Shun Chin, both beauticians from Andheri, as well as Tulun Chen who arrived with members of his association. A trip to the Chinese cemetery was scheduled for Thursday followed by a family feast.

On new year's day, each Chinese establishment is festooned with red banners imported from Hong Kong or Bangkok. The Chens' table has a 10-course lunch spread on it while the Lius prepare the traditional pancake or 'mafa'. Lorna Lin plans to visit an "authentic'' Chinese restaurant in Bandra along with her sister who has arrived from Hong Kong. "I decided to forego the customary visit to Kolkata where the vast Chinese population organises a grand dragon dance in Chinatown,'' she says.

Knowing this is a season for family reunions, hotels and restaurants have devised special food festivals lasting a fortnight. For instance, the Courtyard by Marriott is drafting dishes from different provinces of China like Szechuan, Hunan and Shanghai. From asparagus and crabmeat soup to Peking duck, pork spare ribs, whole pomfret in black bean sauce, barbecued beef and Hunan chicken, each dish is being prepared the traditional Chinese way.

The ITC Grand Central, meanwhile, has added to its list spicy numb fish, flaming whole grouper in chilly plum sauce and crispy numb tofu, recipes that do not figure on the menu in the ordinary course.
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