By Fatin Kwasny, Founder & Austin ambassador
If you were walking through the streets of Bombay, also known as Mumbai, the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra, you’ll encounter a symphony of spices, vegetables, and meats with scents so harmonious that the air is as melodic as India’s contagious music. Our senses were transported to the popular food carts and restaurants of Bombay when we stopped at Austin’s only Indo-Chinese eatery, Chicken Lollypop. The hidden gem, tucked inside a Braker Lane food mart just east of Interstate 35 was opened by owner and Chef Immie Shaikh a little over a year ago.
It was only after spending a year perfecting the recipe for his popular flagship appetizer, the Chicken Lollypop, that Immie felt fit to introduce the city to its first taste of famous Indian Chinese food. Tender and smoky, the Chicken Lollypop is shallow-fried together with its aromatic marinade, a signature Shezwan sauce reminiscent of Bombay. “In India, and Bombay especially, Indo-Chinese cuisine is very popular” he explained. A native of the cosmopolitan Indian state, it was during his studies in Bombay that his ambition for establishing good food in generous portions took root before setting out for the United States to settle in Austin.
He’s always loved to cook and incorporates one key Indo-Chinese restaurant difference—incorporating fresh ingredients and investing several hours in preparation time to make his dishes a model of the cuisine. “The food carts in Bombay serve the best Indo-Chinese food because it’s fresh,” he said, comparing the popular alternative to restaurants which tend to buy ingredients in bulk. Immie’s recipe for his chicken lollypop alone calls for 16 hours in a four-process marinade before it’s ready to be cooked and served, a noble effort that won’t be found anywhere else.
“The green chutney is house-made and prepared from scratch early every morning before we open, and the vegetables are all chopped to order,” he said of the difference in his staple ingredients. From poplar naan wraps that start at $4.99 to fried rice and plated entrees, the menu features more than a dozen sizzling chicken, shrimp and vegetarian Indo-Chinese dishes that range from savory to spicy. Created with a perfect balance of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables, the restaurant’s signature naan wraps were designed to satisfy his many lunch patrons through the work day.
“The naan wraps were invented in-house and are most definitive of Indo-Chinese culture,” Immie explained. “In India they eat a lot of spicy food and the mixture of spices are found in a lot of dishes, along with the chicken and naan bread.” Customers can expect the flavors of chutney, garlic, julienne carrots and fresh green beans in the all-in-one taste of Bombay that he is proud to deliver. His chicken Manchurian and Chili chicken fried rice dishes are also popular creations.
“For many a restaurant is a business, but here I wanted to have a small kitchen to be able to focus on the quality of the food and my guests,” he said of the restaurants hospitality, which has brought with it long standing relationships and a loyal following of Austinites hungry for the unique, fresh and satisfying cuisine. Four tables sit inside the eatery’s kitchen to serve dine-in guests together with its to-go patrons, who can hear the simmering and clanking sounds of each dish being freshly prepared.
He explained that when Chinese immigrants traveled to India and started to cook their native foods, the ingredients became married with Indian spices and flavors along with the influences of Indian chefs, and that’s where the diversity of Indian-Chinese or Indo-Chinese cuisine started in the country.
“In Bombay the cuisine is the best and that’s part of its popularity with tourists because the food culture is completely different there given its infrastructure and diversity,” he said, speaking of the city’s culture of inclusion. From Hindus to Muslims and Christians, everyone supports and celebrates with one another across their cultural experiences in Bombay, from disasters to festivals and cooking, culminating in a culture that’s surely as warm and generous as the food and hospitality you’ll find at Austin’s Chicken Lollypop.