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Chinatown business serves as bridge

Pub Date:2023-01-31 09:41 Source:China Daily

A historic business in Chinatown in India's eastern Kolkata city is serving as a culinary bridge by making popular Chinese sauces and other food products for more than 70 years.

Owned by an Indian of Chinese origin and located along the Lu Shun Sarani road, the iconic Pou Chong is known for making and selling a wide array of sauces such as garlic chili and Szechwan.

Pou Chong, which means "harmonious and safe journey in life", was founded by Lee Shih Chuan in the late 1950s when he was a young man. His granddaughter Janice Lee said Pou Chong produces more than 40 varieties of sauces and now caters to restaurants and locals.

Its products are supplied to five-star restaurants and major hotels, among other clients. And they are also popular among households in Kolkata.

The family traces its roots back to a Hakka Chinese community that arrived in Kolkata by ship from a village in Guangdong province, one of the early Chinese settlers in Kolkata. Lu Shun Sarani and its adjacent area in central Kolkata is one of the oldest marketplaces in the city where the Chinese community first settled in the late 18th century. Since then, the place is widely known as Chinatown.

Lee Shih Chuan's father and grandfather were traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. In 1958, he took over an old sauce factory to make signature sauces with Chinese herbs. Eventually, he began mixing Indian herbs with Chinese ones to create fresh blends and invented new varieties of sauces, including a green chili sauce that is now widely popular in India.

Lee Shih Chuan's green chili sauce was inspired by the many locals, especially Bengalis, who loved to eat green chilies dipped in salt while eating rice.

Kolkata staple

"When he first began making the green chili sauce, he would literally sell it for very little," Janice Lee said. "Roadside cucumber sellers would use this sauce as a dressing. Eventually, there was a growing demand for it and the green chili sauce became a staple for Kolkata-style Chinese noodles, kathi rolls (paratha wraps with fillings) and most importantly, the chili chicken. It became almost indispensable to Kolkata Chinese food."

Hunan sauce and oyster sauce, which are produced using ancient techniques, are extremely popular sauces to make Hunan chicken and Hunan fried rice. Hunan sauce, originating from Hunan province, has a distinctive taste.

"We use Indian spices and mix it with a traditional way of making chili sauce, which was learned by my ancestors from China," she said.

After Lee Shih Chuan founded Pou Chong and grew the business, it evolved from being just a sauce company to making many more Chinese food products like dumplings, spring rolls and Chinese sausages. In 2017, the company launched its KIM range of products, establishing a premium brand for authentic Hakka products. Kim in Chinese means "gold".

The Lee family's ancestors came from a Hakka Chinese village called Meixin. "We are carrying the same language and customs," Janice said.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.


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