Next to Cantonese cuisine, the two most widely known styles of Chinese cooking outside the mainland are Sichuanese, known in Putonghua as Chuan Cai (川菜), and Hunanese, known as Xiang Cai (湘菜). The name is derived from the Xiang River, which flows through the province.
Shenzhen is awash with restaurants serving dishes from both provinces. Both cuisines are fiery, both have strong flavours, and both can be outrageously oily so it is highly recommended to request less oil when ordering.
The peppers favoured by Sichuanese chefs differ markedly in taste from those used in Hunanese fare. Their unique numbing quality, known in Putonghua as ma la (麻辣), is so distinct that there is no English translation for the term. The sensation it causes in the mouth is practically impossible to describe.
“Chuan cuisine features ma la and the generous use of fragrant oils,” Ng Wing-kun, executive Chinese chef at the Futian Shangri-La, Shenzhen, China. “Condiments such as chili peppers, black pepper, huajiao （花椒）and ginger are often used to enrich the taste. As for Xiang cuisine, it is made using a wide variety of ingredients, often featuring smoked meats and spicy chilies. The use of oil is generous and the colours are vibrant.”
Curing, simmering, steaming, and stewing are the main cooking methods used by Hunanese chefs. Popular dishes include Dong’an chicken, orange beef, and spicy frog’s legs.
Chairman Mao was born in Hunan Province. Interestingly, many peasant uprisings in China’s long and tumultuous history broke out in the region. Mao once commented that the spicy food that the people in his native province ate made them a bit rebellious.
Mao Jia Restaurant
From the bronze bust of Chairman Mao to the indirect lighting to the bamboo shades to the red brick walls, this stylish restaurant is dripping with contemporary Chinese atmosphere. Serves some of Chairman Mao’s favourite Hunanese dishes, such as the Mao Family’s red cooked fatty pork, as well as Sichuanese and Cantonese specialties. The spicy barbecued duck’s legs on skewers, the stuffed green peppers and the chicken broth with Chinese herbs are highly recommended. The menu has pictures, but no English translations.
Chun Feng Road, 2033 Yun Jiang Hao Garden, 2nd Floor, Luo Hu District, Shenzhen
Tel: (86 – 755) 8221 6569
Cuisine: Hunan (Xiang)
Specialties: frog’s legs, internal organs and stuffed peppers, with an emphasis on heat
Average food cost: ￥
Opening hours: 10.30 am – 11.30 pm
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￥ – most dishes under ￥50
￥￥ – most dishes under ￥100
￥￥￥ – most dishes under ￥150
￥￥￥￥ – many dishes/main courses more than ￥150