I’m listening to Chengdu rap as I write this. Odd detail, you wonder? I was introduced to the genre at a recent supper club experience in Bangalore, and I’m hooked ever since.
Bengaluru-based Dongli Zhang, along with her husband Aditya Ramakrishnan started Má Là Kitchen Supper Club, as a stop-gap arrangement for authentic food during the lockdown. After months of tasting trials with friends and family, this weekly home-style supper club has a perennial waitlist.
Zhang found herself craving traditional Sichuan food from back home in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province in China. Kitchen experiments offered her husband a sneak into an authentic and nuanced telling of the cuisine from her childhood. Má denotes numbing, and Là means spicy, and is considered one of the more familiar of the 24 flavour profiles in Sichuan cooking.
It’s fascinating to see the resurgence of the home-based supper clubs in India. Dining with strangers in a private setting that allows intimacy, personalisation, and chef interactions makes it memorable. There’s a certain thrill hunting down an address, a certain nervousness walking into a stranger’s private quarters. All calmed down by the warm and forthcoming hospitality of the hosts.
The evening starts with a traditional tea ceremony, followed by a six-course meal, and an occasional belly rub to their gorgeous dog, Simboo. The table has an intricately embroidered scroll featuring the works of the 4th-century Chinese calligrapher, Wang Xizhi. Ramakrishnan shares, “The original is believed to be buried with the Emperor, and reproductions have sold for as high as $50 million!”
#RapidReview: Má Là Kitchen – the good, the great, and more!
The Good: The menu programming is thoughtfully orchestrated and charts a journey that offers variation in texture and flavour. The Black Fungus Salad using wood ear mushroom with fresh red chilli and garlic is a light and subtle start to the meal that progresses to sharper, distinct spicy notes. The cold Vermicelli Salad is a delightful explosion of texture (chewy noodles, crunchy carrot) and flavour (cooling cucumber, mild kick of the chilli, sweetness of the garlic).
The Great: The Dan Dan noodles are what umami dreams are made of. The region’s hot winner is also Ramakrishnan’s comfort food, and it’s easy to see why. This heroic winner is a tiny step away from the finger-licking bowls at Kavann Kuttappa’s Eat Naru. If there is one new culinary tradition I have built this year, it is demolishing this bowl. So darn good, I’d fly 3.5 painful hours for this. The Ma Po Tofu and Mouth Watering Kitchen saw many hands shoot up for seconds.
I would strongly urge them to retail bottles of their in-house Sichuan sauce – it’s fragrant, fresh, and promises to upgrade your meal.
The Edits: The menu can widen its repertoire and cater to dietary preferences. Traditionally, the cuisine is diverse enough to offer more expressions of Sichuan cooking than just tofu. Unless you love the glutenous texture of mochi, the Sweet Corn Mochi Cake is skippable.
What’s next for Má Là Kitchen
Zhang and Ramakrishnan shared some exciting news exclusively with The Lab Mag – “We are in the process of rebranding to Tianfu Table, and the new brand identity will be unveiled this December.” Tianfu means land of abundance or heavenly land and is an epithet that refers to Sichuan, specifically the fertile area around Chengdu.
As excited as we are about the rebrand, there is one thing we know will remain the same – each bowl of food served at Má Là Kitchen will continue to be a celebration of the core ingredient. What this duo gets right is an authentic cook, culling distinct flavours in every dish, and striking a comforting balance of all things spice and nice. A fantastic crash course on the dual complexity and delicacy of Sichuan.
TL;DR? Slide into their DMs pronto. The meal is priced at Rs. 3,500 per person, no alcohol.
#BeyondTheRestaurant is a series where we explore new food experiences you can try, outside of a restaurant.