Elevated & Eclectic – Indian Meets Middle East at Khan Chacha

By Sophie Steiner, January 1, 2021

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The Place 

Step off the 8th floor elevator of Parkson Mall and you’ll find yourself greeted with a steaming, frothy glass of chai at Khan Chacha – a contemporary Indian and Middle Eastern restaurant that opened its second Shanghai location this past February. We eagerly took our seats at the new space – ready to indulge in the recently released updated menu with seasonal favorites – and left hours later beyond satisfied.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Peruse the sprawling menu of dishes that span New Delhi in the north to Kerala in the South to Tamil Nadu in the east to Rajasthan in the west. Northern style buttered curries sit adjacent southern versions redolent with mustard seeds. A modern-day interpretation of French-style Duck Confit Vindaloo is casually placed alongside Lucknowi Biryani, a Mughal legend. 

This is commonplace at a venue like Khan Chacha that prides itself on using only the highest quality imported cheeses, herbs and spices to create unique sauces and flavor combinations not found in other Indian or Arabic kitchens. 

Founder and chef Jibin Arjunan jumps further west to the Middle East, with dishes inspired by Iranian, Pakistani and Turkish cuisine. If you’re overwhelmed, just close your eyes and point to the menu – after trying over half of it, we found you really can’t go wrong. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

“If it’s the right product, customers will seek you out,” says Arjunan. “This is my main takeaway from working as an IT executive at IBM for 17 years, and this is what makes my restaurant different than other Indian venues of Shanghai.” During his corporate stint, Arjunan simultaneously pursued a culinary education at an Alain Ducasse culinary school in Manila with the hopes that he would open a culinary venture someday; that dream manifested itself as Khan Chacha.

Arjunan is truly breathing fresh air into the Indian and Middle Eastern dining scene by not following in the footsteps of those that came before him, but instead bringing a new perspective to this underrepresented cuisine with the introduction of European and Asian produce, sauces and culinary techniques.

DSC07941.jpgAmritsari Surf n’ Veng Pakodas (RMB98) battered squid flowers, flounder, butterfly shrimp, okra, pumpkin, kale, eggplant, pudina tartare sauce, Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The modern take on Indian food at Khan Chacha belongs to a newer Shanghai dining scene that has emerged in the last decade – one that rivals Singapore, New York and London – and that proves through creative recipes, high quality ingredients and dedicated execution any cuisine can be elevated to a distinguished, fine dining level. 

The Food

Aromatic pods of cardamom, Iranian saffron, European vanilla and dried rose flavor everything from basmati rice to milk-mustache forming lassis to treacly desserts. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Start with a Raj Kachori (RMB68), a typical Indian snack found on every street corner for a few rupees, that has received a major facelift. A crisp, fried puri puff is stuffed with paneer, crunchy sev slivers, potatoes, chaat masala, puffed rice and black chickpeas, then drizzled with yogurt, beetroot sauce and capsicum and tamarind chutneys. Go all in with this one – break it up, mix everything together and dive into a dish that truly represents the flavors, aromas and culture of the Indian sub-continent. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Papdi Chaat (RMB68) takes a guacamole spin on this other everyday streetsnack. Mexican avocados, tomatoes, coriander, lime juice, pomegranate, house made papdi, chaat masala, and puffed rice are formed into a tartare-like round, topped with a generous dollop of nitro-foamed yogurt espuma. 

Other dishes can be described as in-between cuisine – not quite Indian, not quite Middle Eastern, not quite European – a metaphor for how Arjunan has navigated the expat world, living in Qatar, India, the UK and across Asia, bringing components of each into his food. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A flaky dome of French puff pastry covers a bowl of Lucknowi Mutton Dum Biryani (RMB98), fluffy and light as a new down jacket. Pull off the layer of bread to reveal saffron-stained basmati rice pilaf sitting atop fried onions and chunks of lamb that have been braised for hours, yet lose none of their pungent musk. Accompanied by crisp papadum and spiced raita yogurt, the filling portion is best shared between a group. 

DSC07958.jpgCatch of the Day Coastal Grill (RMB188) - tandoor grilled octopus, monkfish and tiger prawns, Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Like the eastern coastal town of Pondicherry, the Vindaloo Duck Confit (RMB88) sees a French-Indian hybrid on a plate. Sous vide duck leg pairs with duck fat-roasted masala baby potatoes. Bathed in a vindaloo curry sauce, the gravy is seasoned with Kashmiri chili powder that imparts a smoky yet sweet flavor, calmed by coconut cream. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Khan Chacha asserts that they tout China’s Best Butter Poussin Chicken (RMB108) – a claim we stand by after tasting it. Masala-marinated young ‘poussin’ chicken is first smoked in a tandoori oven, and then cooked in a tomato butter curry sauce with khoya (milk solids) and French cream for a melt-in-your mouth bite, in every meaning of the phrase. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Moving down India’s southern coast, a Keralan fisherman’s lunch is reimagined in the Spice Coast Grilled Mackerel (RMB88) – cooked in a Japanese style rather than the traditional Indian way – which sits atop a tomato chutney, alongside dollops of coconut lentil puree.  

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Similarly, a rich moilee curry, made in the typical south Indian style with coconut milk, cardamom pods, turmeric and cinnamon is draped across bouncy, bite-size chunks of grilled lobster in the Lobster Moilee (RMB148). A creamy mash of cassava and coconut milk forms an ideal base for soaking up more of the thick stew-like sauce. Sop up the last droplets with a tear of Garlic Butter Naan (RMB28), seasoned with Iranian saffron and house-made herbed garlic butter. 

4 Cheese Naan (RMB42) with Danish blue cheese, Philadelphia cream cheese and French Emmental, sprinkled with olive tapenade, Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Located in the mountainous region of south-central India lies the coffee-growing region of Coorg – an area also famous for its semi-dry pork curry. At Khan Chacha, pork loin is swapped out for a slab of belly cooked Japanese  in the Coorgi Pandi Pork Belly (RMB88) – a glass-like layer of shatteringly crisp skin barely stretches across the fat-capped meat that rests below it. Thick gravy spiced with cumin, fennel and garam masala is balanced by cooling coconut cream. 

DSC08007.jpgIranian Koobideh (RMB108) Koobideh kebab, saffron rice studded with roasted cashews, char-grilled tomatoes and bell peppers, Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Branching out to the Middle East, Khan Chacha is the only place in China where you can eat a Lucknowi Galouti Kebab with a Shammi Kebab and Chapli Kebab (RMB88) – a ménage a trois of Pakistani and Indian kebab patties, served with brown onion and almond paste and a charred bell pepper skewer. The soft, crumbly meat is different in seasoning and texture across all three patties, making the comparison that much more of a trip. On the side sits a pudina sauce, customarily made in India with cilantro and mint, but Arjunan's nouveau twist sees an herbal mix of basil, tarragon, dill and curry leaves. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

If India taught us anything, it’s that there’s is no dessert more colorful nor more flavorful than their own. This rings true with the Falooda Sundae (RMB78), an American diner twist on the dessert that’s existed in India since the 16th century. Rose milk and jelly layers give way to falooda sev, sweet crisps and dried fruits and nuts. Basil seeds alternate with candied oats, while gulab jamun pearls are sought after like a holy grail. A heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream and a maraschino cherry adorn the top. Other similarly fusion-forward desserts use various rums, like Malibu, or bourbon that are not of Indian origin.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

If you order just one dessert, it should be the Skillet Kunafa (RMB88) – a Middle Eastern dessert made of kadayif (shredded filo dough), European-imported mozzarella and ricotta, drizzled with sweet rose syrup. A dome of vanilla ice cream is sprinkled with pistachio slivers and dried rose. 

DSC08043.jpgVanilla Pista & Honey Semifreddo (RMB68) vanilla bean paste, cardamom, Iranian pistachios, rose and honey syrup drizzle, Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The beverage menu spans Indian flavor-inspired cocktails, classic cocktails and paired wines that have been matched with the food dishes by an American sommelier. For those abstaining from alcohol, there are tangy, creamy lassis along with fresh juices, soda and coffee beverages. 

The Vibe 

Although you’re dining in a mall, it doesn’t feel like it. Khan Chacha isn’t trying to compare with other Indian restaurants, but rather, food presentation and quality rival what you would find at a high-end European restaurant, which is exactly what Arjunan wants to emulate. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

People in Shanghai are always looking for new experiences – craving the next hottest, novel concept – and Khan Chacha is providing just that in that form of elevated, elegant riffs on Indian and Middle Eastern comfort food. 

Price: RMB150-300
Who’s Going: Locals and expats interested in contemporary Indian cuisine, the Xuhui lunch crowd, lucky mall dwellers who happened upon the best food available in a mall
Good For: Authentic Indian and Middle-Eastern food cravings, colorful food photography, Indian dessert crushing

See listings for Khan Chacha. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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