Chinese in Kolkata - History, Food and Culture

 

Chinese in Kolkata

Chinese in Kolkata represents a unique confluence of food, culture, and language which is a perfect blend of China and India. Chinese in Kolkata or the Chinese Community in Kolkata will remind you of the phrase “Hindi- Chini Bhai Bhai” ( Indians and Chinese are brothers). The Chinese in Kolkata is also called as “Chini” and we also call sugar as Chini. That reminds me to narrate a beautiful and unique history of Chinese in Kolkata.

Chinese in Kolkata has given Kolkata unique Chinese cuisine, leather tanning technology, and lots of spices. There are approximately 2000-2500 Chinese in Kolkata. It’s a vanishing culture as the young generation of the Chinese in Kolkata are moving out to the west. The Chinese in Kolkata adds to the diaspora of the culture of Kolkata.

In this blog post, we will talk about History, Culture, and yes Chinese food, Chinese Restaurants in Kolkata. If you are looking to understand anything about Chinese in Kolkata then read this blog post.


History of Chinese in Kolkata

It is said that the Chinese people first landed in West Bengal. The first recorded Chinese who settled in India was Tong Achew. He was a tea seller who landed in Budge budge in West Bengal first in the year 1780. Mainly he had an export business of tea in Burma (now Myanmar) and Vietnam. Once, while he was sailing for business purposes, unfortunately, his shipwrecked at the shore of river Hoogly, in Bengal.

The official history of the Chinese in Kolkata tell us, Atchew who desirous of quitting a mercantile life would wish to bring with him, on his return from China, wanted to bring many of Chinese who were skilled in husbandry. After getting assurance from the government, Atchew returned his country and again came back in 1781 with 110 Chinese laborers to settle here permanently. He brought Chinese people along with him to work in the sugar factory in Budge Budge. The place is now called as Achipur which was named after Tong Achew. The first Chinese settler in India died soon in the year 1783 and the Chinese people who he brought started migrated to Kolkata from 1804 when his sugar mill was auctioned off. Tong Achew migrated to Budget Budge and he was given 650 Bighas of land for an annual rent of just Rs45.


Tong Achew Tomb in Achipur - Source 


The Hindi & Bengali word “Chini” for sugar can be attributed to Tong Achew. Since he was Chinese, the sugar was started being called Chini colloquially. Tong Achew started a sugarcane plantation and also started a factory for manufacturing sugar. This was the first sugar mill in India.

The then Governor-General Warren Hastings in a letter dated 19 June 1788 wrote that ‘for the sake of giving all due encouragement to so industrious a race of people as the Chinese to settle in this province’. Hastings further mentioned in his letter that ‘ the quantity of land which he shall thus have improved shall remain rent-free forever what further improvements he may make after that period (5 years) will be subject to the customary modes and rule of taxation’.

Achipur Chinese Temple
Achipur Chinese Temple


Also, the Portuguese brought Chinese as slaves to India due to which lots of Chinese were forcefully migrated to Kolkata. The earliest record of Chinese immigration to India can be found in a short treatise from 1820. It is said that the Hakkas were the first Chinese immigrants to India however it doesn’t specify the occupation and reason for immigration.

In 1837 as per the Calcutta Police census there were just 362 Chinese in Kolkata.

 

Chinese Settlements in Kolkata

If you want to meet Chinese in Kolkata you have to head to two places. One is Tiretti Bazar and the other one is Tangra. Both these places are colloquially called as the China Town. Tiretti Bazar is also known as the Old China Town in Kolkata.

However, if you ask people from Kolkata where they can meet Chinese in Kolkata, will say Tangra. Tangra in Kolkata is relatively a new place where the Chinese people have shifted. Tangra was never the first choice of the Chinese in Kolkata to stay.


The Chinese first settled in Kolkata which is known as the “Grey area” better known as Bowbazar, Bentick Street, Eliot Road etc. This area was collective called as Territi Bazar however now only a small place is known as Tirriti Bazar. This is the Old Chinatown and you can still find beautiful Chinese temples in Kolkata in this region. Most of the people who used to stay here were Cantonese and migrated from Canton.

Chinese in Tiretti Bazar
Chinese Community at Tiretti Bazar


The Chinese people mainly the Hakkas started moving to Tangra eventually and they started setting up a tannery. These people were mainly the shoemakers who settled in the Tangra area of Kolkata Now since tanneries have been moved away from the main city of Kolkata , most of the old tanneries have converted into restaurants which serves amazing Chinese cuisine in Kolkata.

Still, in Kolkata, you will find Chinese communities near Tiretti Bazar and Tangra area. However, if you want to get a feel of how Chinese live and to see the lifestyle of Chinese in Kolkata you should go to Tiretti Bazar. Tiretti Bazar is known for Chinese breakfast which you get in the morning.



Chinese Occupation in Kolkata

The Chinese community in Kolkata can be categorized basis the occupation. There were mainly 4 major occupations of the Chinese community in Kolkata. However, it is to be noted that these occupations were mainly for the Chinese in Kolkata during the British raj. Nowadays you can find Chinese in Kolkata in all major sectors.

Chinese Tanners 

The Chinese tanners are mostly Hakka people who came from the eastern side of Guangdong province of Chinese. There were extremely skilled shoemakers. Later they started diversifying into preparing leather for their shoes. They started setting up tanneries in the Tangra region of Kolkata. This Tangra region is now known for Chinese restaurants in Kolkata.

Chinese Dentists

 Hubeinese were considered as well-known teeth setters of China. The Hubeinese teeth setters seem to have first immigrated to Southeast Asia, and from there they relocated to Kolkata and other regions of India. Chinese people are extremely skilled at dentistry. You will still find lots of Chinese dentists in Kolkata. The art of dentistry is mainly passed through generations and in most cases, they don’t have any professional degrees. However, due to their skill set, they are known to be excellent dentists.

Chinese Dentist in Kolkata
Chinese Dentist in Kolkata


Chinese Carpenters

Carpentry seems to be one of the main occupations of the Cantonese subgroups migrating to South

Asia. Most of them learned their skills of carpentry in China and were employed in Calcutta and other South Asian cities to work in different areas like shipyards and railway companies. According to record, in 1930, for example, there were 178 Chinese carpenters working for the Greater Indian Peninsular (GIP) Railway Company in Bombay. Some Chinese carpenters were in Assam as they were engaged in making wooden tea containers. Cantonese carpenters had a big reputation as hardworking, cordial, and highly skilled so they were pursued both by the local Indians and the British living in Kolkata. These people were Cantonese speaking from West Guangdong Province. You can still find Chinese carpenters around Tiretti Bazar in Kolkata.

 

Chinese Temples in Kolkata

If you are exploring the heritage and culture of Chinese in Kolkata then visiting the Chinese Temples is a must in Kolkata. Now one thing might confuse you why the Chinese temples in Kolkata are called as Chinese churches. Well nobody knows why it is called so however, one theory goes as, Britishers started called these Chinese temples as churches as for Britisher's temples were associated with Hindus.

Chinese temples or churches can be found in both Tiretti Bazar and also at Tangra. Other churches are dispersed across Kolkata.

The below maps shows the locations of the Chinese temples in Kolkata.


Sea Ip Church

Address: 22/1 Chattawala Lane, Kolkata 700012

Approx Year of Establishment: 1905 at its present location.

Sea IP Chinese temple in Kolkata is a beautiful temple. One important aspect of this temple is that you can see people reading Chinese Newspaper here. The Overseas Chinese Commerce of India is the only Chinese newspaper printed in the country and now hardly 50-100 copies are printed.


Once you enter the temple you will find a community area on the ground floor and the temple is on the second floor. The staircase is a beautifully decorated and colorful one. 


The temple has intricate designs made on wood. You need to look up on the ceiling once you enter.



Toong On Church

Address: 22 Black Burn Lane, Kolkata 700012

Approx Year of Establishment: 1924

If you have heard of the Nanking restaurant then this is the place where it was initially located. It is said to be the first Chinese restaurant in Kolkata. Just like Sea Ip church, you will find the god on the second floor. The first floor was the place where the famous Nanking restaurant was located.


This Toon On Chinese Temple was a disputed property and the current owners were trying to sell it off. However, after lots of litigation, it could be saved. As soon as you enter you will find a Buddha statue but don’t get intimated by it, take the staircase on the left and soon you will be welcomed by a wooden staircase. Take the staircase and you will be able to see the temple.

 

Gee Hing Church

Address: 13 Black Burn Lane, Kolkata 700012

Approx Year of Establishment: 1920

If you want to see the famous game of Mahjong then you should of course visit this temple. Also just next to the temple you will see a shop of Chinese Carpenter. Go on a Sunday if you want to see the game of Mahjong.

The temple is decorated with beautiful wooden carvings. Take time to appreciate the beautiful carvings in this temple.


Sea Voi  Yune Leong Futh Church

Address: 17 Black Burn Lane, Kolkata 700012
Approx Year of Establishment: 1908


This is one of the Chinese temples in Kolkata which is extremely colorful and as we say instagrammable Chinese building. It’s the main office of Hupei Association. Hupei means Chinese dentists. It’s a beautiful red color building.  The temple is extremely small however the building is huge.

However, I am sure you will be awestruck by the beauty of this Chinese temple in Kolkata.



Choonghee Dhonc Thien Haue Church

Address: 32 Black Burn Lane, Kolkata 700012
Approx Year of Establishment:  1858

You might miss this Chinese temple easily. There is no temple-like structure and you might get easily confused. There is just a small door with the name of the Chinese temple written on a marble slab.


Choonghee Dhonc Thien Haue Church


You will find lots of deities in the two rooms of this Chinese temple.

When you enter the Chinese church look below on the floor. It is decorated with beautiful mosaic however sadly because of lack of maintenance almost everything has faded.

 

Nam Soon Church

Address: 13 Damzen Lane, Kolkata 700073
Approx Year of Establishment:  1820


Nam soon Chinese church is the oldest Chinese temple in Kolkata. There is a beautiful large courtyard and Nam soon Chinese temple is a little difficult to find as it's inside an alley. The Nam soon church has a beautiful wooden work from its ceiling. There is a beautiful black cat in the Nam Soon church.

Nam Soon Church Shrine

You will find lots of Chinese weapons in this Chinese temple.

 


Where & What to Have Chinese Breakfast in Kolkata

If you want to have Chinese breakfast in Kolkata then you will be really happy with the choices you will get. Tiretti Bazar is the place where you should have a Chinese breakfast in Kolkata. You get authentic Chinese breakfast here.


If you want to have Chinese breakfast then head to tiretti bazar early in the morning. The Chinese breakfast market starts around 6am and almost everything finishes off by 8am. So if you have plans to have late breakfast then Chinese breakfast in Tiretti Bazar is not for you.

Chinese Breakfast in Kolkata
Chinese Breakfast in Kolkata


In tiretti Bazar mostly Chinese people bring breakfast from home, so you get to have home-cooked breakfast. These are temporary stalls and they sit with food by the road, just like street food of Bangkok.

Things to Eat -  Chinese Breakfast in Kolkata in Tiretti Bazar

One thing you should taste is the Pao or Stuffed Bun. The buns have fish or pork stuffing inside and served with sauce. If you have sweet tooth like me, try the sweet version. You will get a slightly sweet taste along with the flavor of pork or fish.

People go there for Momo. You will get all kinds of momo from pork, fish, chicken and sometimes you can find veg momos as well.


Rice balls is another interesting Chinese food that you will find in Tiretti bazar. This is an extremely filling Chinese breakfast and if you have this in all probability you will not be able to have anything else. To be honest I didn’t like the taste.Its a bit rubbery and have an extremely mellowed taste.

Another Chinese breakfast food you need to try is Dumpling in broth. These are dumplings that are served with soups. This is again a heavy filling Chinese breakfast so one bowl is enough.

Don’t miss trying out Rice Zung or Meat Zung for Chinese breakfast here. This is an interesting Chinese food which you will not find anywhere else in Kolkata.Its sticky rice wrapped with bamboo leaves and it is steamed. The sticky rice is filled with meat or sweet lentil.

One sweet dish you must try at tiretti Bazar for Chinese Breakfast is the Chinese Rice pudding. You will find it in all forms and are decorated.

Pork sausages or famously known as Chinese sausages are another must-try. You will find mostly pork sausage here.

 

Chinese Restaurants in Kolkata

Now once you have had Chinese Breakfast in Tiretti Bazar in Kolkata you should also try out the Chinese cuisine at various Chinese restaurants in Kolkata.  Chinese food is one of the most favorite cuisine of the people in Kolkata.

Lots of Chinese restaurants could be found in Kolkata however few restaurants have become favourite of the Kolkatans. Here as usual we will not recommend the Chinese restaurants of the five star hotels or high end restaurants which is costly for many. However here we will recommend the Chinese restaurants in Kolkata which is easy on pocket and also the food is extremely tasty.

These Chinese restaurants in Kolkata is not in any particular order and I myself have dined out with my family and friends over the years in these Chinese restaurants in Kolkata.

Heritage Chinese Restaurants in Kolkata

Eau Chew - Heritage Chinese Restaurant in Kolkata

It’s the oldest Chinese restaurant in Kolkata. You not only have to visit this Chinese restaurant for food but also for the heritage value of this. This Chinese restaurant in Kolkata was set up in  1920s.


 They are famous for an amazing Chinese cuisine which is called Chimney soup. The vessel in which the soup is served in this Chinese restaurant in Kolkata is interesting. Eau Chew Chinese restaurant is also famous for another interestingly named Chinese cuisine called Josephine Noodles. It’s a fan fried noodles which is served with toppings of chicken, fish, mushroom, prawn and lots of vegetables.

Eau Chew Chimney Soup
Eau Chew Chimney Soup


Other Chinese cuisines you should taste are Pork Spare Ribs, Roast Chilli Pork, Sauteed Greens, Meat Ball Soup, Steamed Fish with Soy Sauce, Chicken in Wine Sauce, Flaming Fish and Fish with Chilli Black Bean.

Over the years they have preserved and retained the original flavors of Chinese cuisine. My suggestion if you have to visit one Chinese restaurant in Kolkata then visiting Eau Chew for Chinese food is a must.

 

Tung Nam – A Must Visit Chinese restaurant in Kolkata

This Chinese restaurant in Kolkata is not a famous restaurant however a true gem in Kolkata for Chinese cuisine. Tung Nam is famous for Pork and if you are a lover of pork you can’t miss this Chinese restaurant.

Tung Nam – A Must Visit Chinese restaurant in Kolkata


Tung Nam is a hidden restaurant as it is difficult to see from the main road. You have to become a Sherlock Holmes to find this restaurant. Just check the map below and head to Tung Nam Chinese restaurant. If you are expecting air conditioning or a plush restaurant then Tung Nam will disappoint you. However, with its amazing cuisine, it will make it up.



Must have food includes Pork Yam Wanton, Chilly garlic pork, Pork Hamchoy rice, Pork in Hamei sauce.

D’Ley – A Chinese Eating House

It’s a heritage hidden gem Chinese restaurant in Kolkata. Its hidden inside the lanes of Tiretti Bazar. Its an age old restaurant which is still run by the family.

D Ley Chinese Restaurant in Kolkata
D Ley Chinese Restaurant in Kolkata


The menu of D’Ley is extremely elaborate and it will make you wanting for more.Don’t miss to try their Yam Mein , pork ball soup,Pork Fooyung.

Sei Vui – A Dormitory Turned Chinese Restaurant

If you want to get a feel of history along with enjoying the food then head to Sei Vui. Sei Vui is a 110 year-old dormitory which has been recently turned into a restaurant. It was set up as a dormitory for the Chinese working population approximately in 1896.

Sei Vui Chinese restaurant in Kolkata
Sei Vui Chinese restaurant in Kolkata


The structure was is in a delipidated condition. To save it, Sei Vui was converted into a restaurant recently. Try Sei Vui’s Hokein noodles which is a fusion of Hakka and Cantonese noodles and is extremely unique Chinese dish. You should also try Lat Me Kei Chicken at Sei Vui. They also serve lots of squid dishes, lamb & crab. So you can get a little adventurous in Sei Vui.


 

Chinese Festivals in Kolkata

There are two major festivals of Chinese people in Kolkata. You should experience these to understand the culture of Chinses people in Kolkata more.

Chinese New year in Kolkata

This is a colorful festival with lion dance, firecrackers, cultural festivals and amazing food. Kolkata is the only place in India where the Chinese New Year is celebrated with much pomp and show.

Chinese New Year in Kolkata


On the new year’s eve, you can see the burning of 1000 firecrackers and the Lion race which happens while the firecrackers are still burning. In the morning you can see various teams wearing Dragon costumes and they go from home to home to collect lucky red envelopes and lettuce leaves. I will cover the Chinese New Year in detail in a separate blog.


Chinese Moon Festival

After Chinese New Year the second most popular festival is the Moon Festival. Chinese Moon Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar moon. During the moon festival, the family members sit together over moon cakes, fruits, groundnuts, and appreciate the moon. They make beautiful lanterns and they decorate the house with these Chinese Lanterns. Because of this, the Moon Festival is often referred to as the Lantern Festival.

Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival

Chinese Hungry ghost festivals can be equated to All soul’s day. The Chinese in Kolkata lay down food in front of the graves of their ancestors. The Chinese Hungry ghost festival is celebrated on the 7th month of the Chinese calendar. You can witness the Chinese Hungry Ghost festival at the Choong Ye Thong cemetery.

Let me know in the comment section below whether you have ever had Chinese Breakfast at Tiretti Bazar or visited any of the Heritage Chinese Temples or attended the Chinese New Year. If you have not experienced the culture,food & heritage of Chinese in Kolkata, you should do it soon.

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Chinese in Kolkata - Food, History, Culture

Chinese in Kolkata - Food, History, Culture


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23 comments:

  1. How interesting and insightful! I never knew abt this connection of Chinese to Kolkata!

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    1. Hi Candlez... Yes Kolkata & China have very deep relationship... Ingact during 16-17th century lots of chinese migrated to various asian countries... You can find traces of Chinese Immigration in Thailand as well.

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  2. Going through this post made me all nostalgic! having spent three years in Kolkata, Tiretti bazar was a go-to place for breakfast, Tungnam was where we used to land up after college. And definitely, so many photowalks that I did through the streets of Tangra.

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    1. Oh thats awesome.. Did you get chance to visit the Chinese New Year.. I have my next blog coming up on Chinese New Year in Kolkata

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  3. Replies
    1. Thanks shrinidhi... let me know when you plan to visit Kolkata , will take you around

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  4. Give yourself a pat on the back! You are an amazing researcher and writer. I had never thought about the importance of the Chinese population in Kolkata and wasn't aware that they were so widely spread. Loved your post! Keep writing such informative posts. Kudos!

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    1. Thanks a lot for your lovely appreciation. Infact while finding out facts about Chinese in Kolkata , I found lots of interesting things...More coming up in future blogs on Chinese community in Kolkata...Let me know when you plan to Visit Kolkata , will love to show the chinese community to you.

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  5. Woww that's quite detailing never knew so much bout chinese settlement in kolkata. Love the way you have explained

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    Replies
    1. Hey thank you so much :) really means a lot that you like this blogpost

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  6. Fantastic information....never knew most of the things mentioned here...Shillong serves the best chinese in India imho but Kolkata chinese is one of the best in the country

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    1. Few Chinese immigrants also entered India through land from the North East part of India and hence you get amazing Chinese food in Shillong. Also the food in Shillong is also influenced by Tibetian cuisine.

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  7. Lovely read..and such detailed information!

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  8. What a mind blowing informative post about Indian Chinese. The Chinese,especially those are from Kolkata have so many cultural impacts on Kolkata like food, festival and history. I did not know about the name of Chini/Sugar, its great to know about the history behind the name. Great Post.

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  9. That's such a nice article. Very well researched and articulated. I focused a lot more on the food, because I love chinese cuisine.

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  10. This post is really very interesting. The history of the advent of the Chinese to India/Kolkata is really fascinating. I was especially riveted to read about the connnection between the Chinese and Dentistry. This is because I had a friend back in primary schoolwho was a Chinese and his father was a dentist, and this was in Gujarat.

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  11. This is definitely an interesting and unique post.I never knew the existence of mini China in India, and the story behind why sugar is called chini? It is really interesting, I would like to try out their veg breakfast in some point in time.

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  12. what an informative article about the Chinese History of Kolkata and gives a better understanding to preference and popularity of Chinese food in the city

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  13. Oh wow I didnt know there was so much of chinese heritage and influence in Kolkata. Really interesting and good to know. The next time I am in Kolkata I will keep a watch.

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  14. If I am honest with you, I don't feel that I've seen Kolkata properly. Damn, I missed out on so many things. Thanks for letting me know about their history, their skills in dentistry and also that they make killer food.

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  15. This is such an interesting post, Tanayesh! I had never before heard of the Chinese community in Kolkata. I would love to explore this fast vanishing culture hopefully very soon. Thank you for bringing this to the world - it was an extremely pleasant read!

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  16. That is true, the Chinese culture and food always common here in kolkata, best described article.. keep writing...

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