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House of Málà: Mumbai’s Sichuan supper club turns a year old

As part of the first anniversary, House of Málà blends Sichuan spices with Thai flavours exclusively for a weekend in June.
House of Málà

We are suckers for good experiences and food. House of Málà, Mumbai’s Sichuan supper club has been on our radar since they opened their doors last year. Run by sisters Saloni and Prachi Gupta, the House of Málà initially started as a passion project. The first round of tables they hosted was from mid-May onwards for their friends and family. The response for their all vegetarian supper club was overwhelming that they finally took the plunge to welcome eager food enthusiasts into their home.

“When we started, it was to introduce this cuisine as a supper club and to form a community of like-minded people,” says Prachi. This passion project which used to be a weekly affair soon became one of the most sought-after community food events in the city. A year on, the sisters now host around eight tables, from Thursday to Sunday, including lunch tables on weekends. Besides welcoming people to their home in Khar, the self-taught chefs have also started taking up catering gigs for their Sichuan cuisine menu. 

 The reason for starting House of Málà, a Sichuan cuisine supper club, was the sisters’ collective love for this cuisine. The sisters fell in love with the cuisine during their trip to the Sichuan region in China in 2019. “We fell in love with the bold and spicy flavours,” they say. They also realised that Mumbai lacks authentic Sichuan flavours, hence House of Málà is their way of solving this problem. Málà derives its name from Ma which means numbing and La which is spicy. “We saw some similarities between this cuisine and ours,” says Prachi. “Spice is synonymous with Indian cuisine, so we were convinced that these flavours, even though foreign, would be welcomed by Indian diners,” she adds. Besides the numbing of the peppercorn, Sichuan cuisine also incorporates notes of sweetness and sourness. 

After a year of seeing them on everyone’s Instagram, we found ourselves sitting in the living room of the sisters behind the House of Málà. As part of their anniversary dinner, Prachi and Saloni spiced things up, literally, by combining Sichuan flavours with Thai cuisine. From classic Tom Yum flavours, Raw Papaya Salad, to the popular Thai dessert of Mango Sticky Rice, the menu had everything but with a Málà twist.

We quiz the sisters on what it means to run a supper club in Mumbai for a year and how have they managed to stay relevant and keep the buzz going.

The Málà sisters on their food entrepreneurial journey  

“Each dinner has to be planned and executed to ensure that it is perfect,” says Prachi. The sisters agreed that learnt about the planning that goes behind running a supper club. “Whether it is research on menus, what we are going to serve the guests, or even cracking the code of hosting and cooking at the same time, everything must have meticulous planning.” “The key,” adds Prachi, “is that we have hardly taken this as work. It is still a passion for us and we are grateful for how it has evolved.” 

Having a bunch of people at a community table enough to foster interesting conversations and meet new people. “Every table offers a learning experience,” says Prachi. “We learn something at every table. Be it a change in the booking style, adjusting the spice level, or even changing the plating, we are constantly implementing feedback,” she adds. “For instance,” starts Prachi, “Earlier we used to serve jasmine tea in the end but then we realised that people felt the spice kick so now we serve it in the middle of the meal where they can have a tea break, cool down their palate.” 

How did two sisters with no professional cooking experience manage to create such a buzz around their supper club? “Word of mouth,” is what they responded. Just like most businesses, it started with friends and family but later, the sisters who are in their 30s used Instagram to their benefit. “The fact that it is a new cuisine also worked in our favour. In no time, we were all booked that we had to increase the number of tables per week,” says Saloni. However, what helped them stay relevant even after a year has to be meticulous planning and consistency. 

House of Málà

Prachi and Saloni Gupta, the sisters running House of Málà. Photos: House of Málà

 Kickstarting the one-year celebration

For their first anniversary, Prachi and Saloni will have an exclusive meal for two tables on the first weekend of June. “We will be mixing things up by blending two cuisines—Thai and Sichuan,” says Saloni. As part of this menu, Thai dishes will have a Málà twist. “Both cuisines are known for their spicy food but Thai cuisine brings forth refreshing flavours from lemongrass and Kaffir lime while on the other hand, Sichuan flavours are bold and intense,” explains Saloni. This menu is a flavour explosion in the mouth.

We started the meal with a chilled iced tea. Something we sipped on quite leisurely, not realising how much we would need it once the spice kicked in. Our first course wasa Som Tam Thai raw papaya salad, followed by a Firecracker Basil Tofu. This dish was spicy enough to make our faces as red as the Thai chili on top of the tofu. The third course was the flavourful Tom Yum hotpot with 18+ ingredients. It was a blend of Thai flavours such as lemongrass and Kaffir lime, along with Sichuan peppercorns and a homemade Málà spice paste which was a game-changer!

By this course, the spice got the better of us, and everyone on the table that the only way to cool down our palate was some good ol’ spoon of sugar. After that, we were ready for the Massaman Curry with Jasmine Rice. A homemade coconut milk-based curry with Sichuan peppercorns, potatoes, carrots, and a secret Massaman curry paste was easily a crowd favourite. It was also the perfect end to our spice journey. The dessert course was where we thought of our trip to Bangkok, with their take on the classic Thai dessert—mango sticky rice. However, the sticky rice was replaced with sago, giving it a similar, if not stickier texture.

Beyond the food

Yes, this is a vegetarian supper club. Yes, food is the highlight of the evening but there’s more. “Our aim was not just about the food, but to also foster a community in Mumbai where people feel safe and comfortable dining with strangers,” says Prachi. Hosting a community table means interacting with people from different walks of life. Conversations are bound to be wild and interesting. “It is very exciting for us because each table has different people with a different background and stories,” says Saloni. “There is always someone on the table with a funny bone who is entertaining everyone.”

While a chef spends mots time in the kitchen, there is nothing more wholesome than watching reactions of the diners as they eat. One of the highlight for the sisters is watching the reactions of the guests who try Sichuan cuisine for the first time.

“It goes beyond the food,” shares Prachi. “There are discussions on politics, new restaurants, chitter-chatter, current affairs, new cuisines, their professions, and more. The table is never mundane for us, nor the guests because they get to meet different people and even make friends!” exclaims Prachi. However, they admit that FOMO is real when they are in the kitchen and hear laughter and people have fun.

House of Málà

(from left to right) Tom Yum Hot Pot, Mango Sago. Photos: Nidhi Lodaya

The décor also adds to the experience. It is as pretty as a Pinterest board. Right from the table setting to the lighting, each element is carefully considered, they tell us. However, they keep amping up their décor based on festivals. During Chinese New Year, they had lanterns and explained what the Year of the Dragon meant, for Diwali, they had diyas and mogras and during Christmas, they had a tree with fair lights and the table was laden with green and red elements.

What next?

“We are both culture and food lovers,” admits Prachi. While House of Málà will always be about Sichuan food, they will experiment a bit more. “Every quarter we will pick a cuisine and try it and mix it with Málà spices,” they share. The anniversary edition is the first one. “Other cuisines will include Burmese, Korean, Japanese, and more. We will start with Asian because that goes with Sichuan Málà spices and then go ahead with others,” they conclude.