World's love of Chinese food takes a unique turn in Redmond

Highly skilled immigrants have helped to create a following for Inchin's Bamboo Garden, a restaurant whose style of cooking relates to what people remember from Chinese restaurants in India.

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Inchin serves food that people who grew up in India remember as the type served in Chinese restaurants there.

Highly skilled immigrants have helped to create a following for Inchin's Bamboo Garden, a restaurant whose style of cooking relates to what people remember from Chinese restaurants in India.

This month the Brookings Institution released a study that determined the number of high-skilled immigrants in the American workforce now exceeds the number of low-skill immigrants, a shift that seems to have occurred about three or four years ago.

In other words, despite generalizations that might persist about immigrants filling low-wage jobs, they are now more likely (if only slightly) to be running an office than cleaning one. This is particularly true in Seattle, which among U.S. cities has one of the highest ratios of high-skilled immigrants: 182 high-skilled immigrants for every 100 low-skilled immigrants. (You can read the report here.)

The trend is evident in the lobbies and elevators of the Eastside’s office towers, where accented English of all kinds can be heard throughout the day, British, Russian, Chinese, Australian, Indian. This can mean only good things when it comes to eating out in that neck of the woods, where disposable incomes help create a demand for high-quality foods from faraway places. In downtown Redmond, the most distinctive Indian restaurant and the most distinctive Chinese restaurant in town happen to be one and the same, Inchin’s Bamboo Garden.

Inchin’s is located in Redmond Square, a small shopping center across from the Redmond Town Center mall. Redmond Square is in the figurative, if not literal shadow of Microsoft, about two miles from the company’s main campus in Redmond. There is a yoga studio, a gourmet pet food store, an Indian grocery and deli, and several restaurants, one Japanese, one Indian, one Thai, and a Chinese restaurant, or so it would seem.

From the outside, Inchin’s Bamboo Garden appears to be just another Chinese restaurant, whose name could just as easily be the Golden Lotus Panda Moon Blossom Jade Dragon Gate Temple, or something like it. A rickshaw is parked by the front door. By 8:30 p.m., it is the most crowded restaurant in the place. At some point, you will notice most of the customers, in fact just about all the customers, are of Indian descent: families, couples, large groups of friends, most of them young.

“Occasionally we’ll have Chinese people come in,” said the restaurant’s Japanese-American waitress, “and they’ll sit down, look at the menu, look confused, and say, ‘Oh, this is not what we were looking for,’ and they’ll go somewhere else. I mean, you can’t really tell from just looking at the sign.”

The proximity and influence of Microsoft is not a coincidence. The restaurant’s owner works for the company, and so do many of its customers. During the lunch hour, our waitress said, you can see more than a few Microsoft badges dangling from waistbands.

As the name suggests, Inchin’s is an Indian-Chinese restaurant. It is not Chinese style Indian food, or Indian-Chinese fusion, or even Indian style Chinese food exactly. A love for either Indian food or Chinese food will not prequalify you to love Inchin’s. It is similar to but also very unlike anything I have ever tasted in any other Chinese restaurant. To be honest, there’s a good chance you won’t like the food at Inchin’s unless you grew up with it, which most of the young Indians eating there probably did.

Inchin’s is an institution for Indian-American families, whose idea and memory of Chinese food is unique and can’t be satisfied by going to a Chinese restaurant that caters to Chinese immigrants or Americans of an older generation weaned on sweet and sour pork, egg rolls, and egg foo young. Inchin’s is a national chain, an Indian-American approximation of P.F. Chang’s, with restaurants in Redmond, Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus (Ohio), and Raleigh (N.C.).

Chinese food is one of the most pervasive cuisines in the world, something you can eat in some form on every continent. Its ability to take seed in, germinate, and sprout in the culture of another country is remarkable. Chinese food is popular in Japan, and popular in England. It is so popular in Peru that it has become part of Peruvian cooking. Lomo saltado, a very popular Peruvian dish, is made with strips of beef marinated in vinegar and soy sauce, sautéed with peppers, onions and tomatoes, served with white rice and fried potatoes. One of the most common meals in Peru is fried rice.

Chinese food in India took root sometime in the 1980s and quickly became very popular in that country’s cities, and continues to be a hip ritual for young, urban Indians. It most resembles American-Chinese food, with its thick, gravy-like sauces.

Inchin’s has American classics like egg drop soup, General Tso’s (spelled Tsao’s) chicken, chop suey, Mongolian beef. Soy sauce is used liberally. Anything labeled “Manchurian sauce” on the menu is likely to have a lot of it, and seems to be a general designation without any specific meaning to that region of China. Most of the spices and flavors we associate with Indian cooking are entirely absent, a welcome departure probably if you ate Indian food every day.

Many dishes are spicy, but not fiery hot. Small bowls of chili paste and serrano-infused vinegar are at each table. Cilantro is a frequently used ingredient in many dishes. A large portion of the menu is vegetarian to accommodate Hindu tradition, and all of the meat is properly procured and blessed so it qualifies as Halal. Chopsticks are not part of the place setting at Inchin’s. There are a few subtle Indian twists to familiar classics, like the burnt garlic chili fried rice ($11), made with crushed chilies, seared garlic, and basmati rice instead of long-grain Chinese rice.

Many of the dishes have an equivalent or counterpart on an American-Chinese menu; some seem of their own invention, like the lamb chili mustard ($15), strips of lamb in a tangy, yellow, mustard sauce.

The most Indian-seeming dish on the menu is the pan-fried paneer. There are several varieties, like the lat mai paneer ($9), cubes of paneer fried to a crisp with onions, garlic, and ginger. The shrimp tobanjan ($17) could be described as a bland curry, faintly tart, faintly creamy. Its ingredients were mostly submerged in sauce, as was the case with almost every dish.

Indian-Chinese meals usually end with one of two classic deserts, date pancakes or darsaan, which are fried strips of wonton skin sprinkled with sesame seeds and drizzled with honey. Both are served with vanilla ice cream. Inchin’s serves other flavors of ice cream, like cardamom, saffron, and pistachio. Fortune cookies arrived with the check. That much seems to be the same in every Chinese restaurant. Unless you’re actually in China, where people don’t really know what fortune cookies are.

For the most part, my fortune read true: “Your expectations this month are reasonable and will be met.”

If you go: Inchin’s Bamboo Garden, 16564 Cleveland Street, Redmond, (425) 284-0670. Open 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; open 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday; open noon-10:30 p.m. Saturday; open noon-10 p.m. Sunday.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Hugo Kugiya

A former national correspondent for The Associated Press and Newsday, freelance writer Hugo Kugiya has written about the Northwest for the Puget Sound Business Journal, The Seattle Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times. His book, 58 Degrees North, about the sinking of the Arctic Rose fishing vessel, was a finalist for the 2006 Washington State Book Award. You can reach him at