On a map of the world, India and China share a 2,000-mile border. On a menu of the world’s cuisines, they have often overlapped, connected by the Silk Road’s spice traders to delicious effect.
About three centuries ago, a wave of Chinese folks struck out for a new life in Kolkata, or Calcutta, capital of India’s West Bengal state. The restaurateurs among them figured out how to modify classic Chinese dishes, and exploit indigenous ingredients, creating another subgenre of Chinese cuisine.
The United States got chop suey, egg foo yung and General Tso’s chicken from its enterprising Chinese immigrants. India got dishes like lamb dumplings in savory tomato cream, sweet-and-sour paneer, and Singapore rice noodles, stir-fried with curry oil.
Now those crossover classics are available in Amherst, along with a host of more purely Indian or Chinese dishes, at a place called Inchin’s Bamboo Garden.
The spacious plaza rooms, including a bar and private dining space, have been outfitted with stone soldiers, bamboo partitions and acres of brown wood.
Inchin’s Bamboo Garden will let you stick to Indian and Chinese basics, if you prefer. Potato-stuffed samosa turnovers (2/$6) and crispy fried spring rolls stuffed with shredded cabbage, carrots and bell peppers (3/$8) paint within the usual lines.
Not so Chinese bhel ($12), the Indian salad of crispy fried noodles and shredded vegetables, cucumber, onion and tomato, augmented with soy sauce, garlic and chile sauce. It’s a juicy, rousing vegan side dish with a kick.
Momos (3/$8) are Tibetan-style dumplings, a smidge bigger than standard potstickers, stuffed with vegetables, chicken or lamb. They’re offered in four types. Steamed and fried are self-explanatory.
Szechwan is another option, but in Indo-Chinese cuisine doesn’t mean lip-numbing peppercorn and sluices of chile oil like Sichuanese dishes from China. It’s closer to a sweet-and-sour ginger-and-garlic ketchup with lingering heat.
The last option was my favorite momo by far: butter masala. Lamb dumplings fried and doused in gently spiced aromatic tomato cream made me wish I’d ordered mo’ momos.
But there was so much else to try.
Chicken manchow soup ($6) posits ginger as chicken’s steady companion, in a soy-darkened broth with chopped onion and lots of fresh herbs.
Vegetarians have more than tofu to choose from here. Kung pao paneer ($16) is one of my favorite Indo-Chinese crossovers. Cubes of firm housemade cheese replace the chicken, while the rest of the act remains the same. They’re stir-fried in a fiery welter of ginger, garlic and chile, to be joined by celery, water chestnuts and peanuts.
Paneer tacos (3/$13) loop in Mexican notions by filling crunchy corn shells with crumbled paneer, the mild Indian cheese, with carrot, cabbage, goat cheese, and of all things, sriracha ranch.
Singapore rice noodles ($15-$17 for vegetable, seafood, meat versions) brings the union of India and China to the fore with thin rice noodles and shredded vegetables wok-fired in curry oil, coming out smoky and golden from turmeric.
Burnt garlic chili fried rice ($14-$16) was another aroma bomb, and a surefire way to the heart of a garlic lover with a significant spice tolerance. There’s shreds of carrot and flecks of chopped scallion to freshen up forkfuls, and plenty enough flavor to enhance the glow. It’s marked with an asterisk on the menu, denoting a spicy dish.
Lamb sambal ($20) gets flagged with two asterisks (“very spicy”) on the menu, and it came by those asterisks honestly. Boneless lamb slices are marinated in chile-based sambal, with celery, onion and garlic, seared, and served on a griddle with a tealight inside to keep it warm.
Coals to Newcastle, I thought, as sweat trickled down my nape, reaching for another bite as the pleasure extinguished the pain.
Another lamb dish roundly praised by the table was lamb keema ($20), a relatively dry meat dish served with rice or paratha, a flaky griddled whole-wheat flatbread. Squeeze the lime wedge over the proceedings, and line flatbread with your own Indian lamb tacos.
Chili mustard fish ($18) brings tilapia fillet gently cooked in a tangy mustard cream, presented on a nest of shredded carrot and lettuce leaves. Its saucy heat lingered but didn’t hurt. Chili shrimp ($20), by contrast, brings two-asterisk smoke in the guise of jumbo shrimp sautéed in glossy tomato-based sauce that’s sweet at first, then flamethrower serious.
Desserts include competent renditions of gulab jamun, golfball-sized fritters soaked in syrup, and rasmalai, cardamom-scented discs of crumbly cheese, decked out in cream and almonds (both $6).
Our server was helpful with questions about the menu, and got answers to questions from guests without complaint.
Slide over to Williamsville Place to explore culinary sensations that have made it all the way from the Silk Road to Sheridan Drive.
5415 Sheridan Drive, Amherst (580-3032, bamboo-gardens.com)
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday; noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday; noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Prices: appetizers, $6-$13; entrées, $14-$20.
Atmosphere: peaceful exploration zone
Gluten-free options: many choices.
Photos: Explore Chinese-Indian fusion at Inchin’s Bamboo Garden
Asian fusion restaurant
Ancient Asian decor
Chili mustard fish
Sambal lamb at Inchin’s Bamboo Garden
Burnt garlic chili fried rice
Terra cotta soldiers
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