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Red hot
A view of Red Hot Chilli Pepper on Ballygunge Circular Road

Tangra-type Chinese food was taken to New York by Kenneth Chen, who left Calcutta for the Big Apple over 25 years back. Come Poila Baisakh, a popular “Indian-style Chinese” eatery chain from Calcutta will lay the tables on the San Francisco Peninsula, serving its signature Garlic Chilli Pepper Chicken to the Californians.

Red Hot Chilli Pepper, the first organised city-based restaurant group to take the plunge into the American West Coast, is gearing up to open a 120-seater restaurant in San Carlos, California, in mid-April, with a robust roadmap to invade the rest of the US.

“We had worked as consultants to set up an Indian-style Chinese restaurant, Bamboo Garden, in Atlanta back in 2003, which has now grown into a chain of 12 eateries. This has given us the impetus to kick off our own brand in the US,” says Bharat Dhamala, director, ABNM Restaurant Pvt Ltd, which owns the Red Hot Chilli Pepper brand.

Starting with the flagship outlet in San Carlos, the Calcutta group, founded in 1999 by Dhamala and his ex-Taj Group colleagues Manas Borthakur and Ashim Mewar, plans to open one new restaurant every year across the US for the next seven years.

“We already have exciting offers from big cities like Chicago, New York and New Jersey, and we will work on a pan-US footprint, once our maiden stop in San Carlos is firmly on track. We hope to break even with the first outlet in 18 months,” says Borthakur.

The US venture of Red Hot Chilli Pepper has rolled out in tandem with a managing partner, with ABNM holding majority stake in the combine. The San Carlos restaurant has come up in a leased property and the group is keen to replicate this model in its subsequent stops, with a ballpark investment of Rs 1 crore per restaurant.

The competition for the Calcutta outfit is also likely to be red-hot. The Indianised version (read Tangra-type) Chinese fare is now gaining ground in New York, where at the Royal Tangra Masala in New Hyde Park, one can dig into a dish of Gobi Manchurian or Royal Tangra Masala and round it off with a cup of Rasmalai!

Calcutta has always had a palate for paler, lighter sauces, according to t2 food columnist Nondon Bagchi. “An Eau Chew, a Nanking or a Waldorf would always do justice to the subtlety of Cantonese flavour. It’s only over the past 15-16 years that the richer, spicier schools have gained currency,” he says.

Needless to say, the chatpata style, salt-sugar-soya sauce combo has also been growing in popularity in the US, not the least in New York, where often, the Calcutta-style Chinese fare cooked in a pungent bed of soya sauce, chilli paste, onion and garlic rules the roost.

On the flipside, there is a growing urban clientele back in Calcutta, which is now craving for the “authentic” fare. “People are now getting more exposed to the real thing thanks to increased travelling and many of them are moving away from the sharper red and black sauces, asking for the lighter stuff instead,” says Anjan Chatterjee, the man behind Mainland China.

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