Cantonese food has long reigned as one of the most popular forms of Chinese cuisine. Yet in recent years, the fiery face-melting flavours of Sichuan province has blossomed in popularity on the global stage.
“It has become China’s favourite out-of-home dining, sold in countless restaurants that often advertise its trademark chilli heat,” wrote the New York Times. “It has made major inroads in New York, London and other intensely competitive dining cities abroad.”
That’s no different for Kuala Lumpur. In fact, some of the city’s best Sichuan restaurants have been opened for close to a decade. The cuisine is much loved for its mala flavours — a powerful triumvirate of tongue-numbing peppercorns, dried chilli and liberal use of chilli oil.
This combination forms the basis for many of the cuisine’s dishes; think along the lines of hot pots boiling over with mala broth, kung pao chicken and mapo tofu. But venture deeper into the heart of the cuisine and you’ll find a rich tapestry of ingredients and techniques not harnessed in other forms of Chinese cuisines.
Beef for instance is more common in its dishes than it is in other parts of China. The cuisine itself can also be further broken down into four categories: Chongqing, Chengdu, Zigong (after their geographic area) as well as Buddhist vegetarian style.
While we may not have as much variety here in KL, there still exists a diversity of dining options. For starters, those looking for a polished experience can book a table over at Sichuan Dou Hua — the Malaysian offshoot of a well-respected Sichuan and Cantonese restaurant which hails from Singapore. For a more laid back experience, go for the humble Restoran Sichuan Cuisine, which serves up authentic dishes like Sliced Beef Tripe in Chili Oil with Peanuts in a traditional setting. Here’s more.
Si Chuan Dou Hua hails from Singapore, where it is a widely respected institution. The Kuala Lumpur branch is pork-free but its most loved signature dishes are still available here. Don’t leave without ordering the dan dan mian — noodles which are cooked till springy served in a thick, spicy broth laced with sesame or peanut paste. Other highlights includes the silken beancurd served with wolfberries and sweetened with a caramelised sugar syrup.
Si Chuan Dou Hua Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, +603-2782 8303.
Big groups are more than welcome here at Restoran Sichuan Cuisine. The vibe here is convivial and the food is fiery. It sees a steady stream of regulars who come back time and time again, for dishes like the boiled sliced fish which comes in a sizeable pot filled with peppercorns as well as the section of the menu dedicated to Chinese-style barbecue. The chefs hail from Sichuan province in China so it doesn’t get more authentic than this.
Restoran Sichuan Cuisine, 6 Jalan Kuchai Maju 6, Kuchai Entrepreneurs Park, 58200 Kuala Lumpur, +6017205 6688.
Rainy days call for steamboat and family restaurant Xiao Fei Yang, a chain from China will hit all the right spots for its mala broth. Do it right and order the mutton slices — its fatty parts will render beautifully with the chilli oil and the peppercorns bobbing in the stew. If you can’t take the heat, fear not for the steamboats can hold two types of soups and an equally delicious alternative is the herbal chicken.
Xiao Fei Yang Restaurant, 18, Lorong Thambi 2, Pudu, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, +603-2142 6789.
Regulars to Lucky Sichuan Restaurant — a two-storey convivial joint in Kota Damansara swear by the Chongqing fried chicken with hot chilli. The chicken is covered with strips of dried chilli and fried until crispy perfection without being greasy. If you’re in the area at noon, go for the executive set lunch which provides a fuss-free meal with all your classic Sichuan dishes like mapo tofu served with rice, soup of the day and a drink.
Lucky Sichuan Restaurant, 19, Jalan PJU 5/12, Kota Damansara, 47810 Petaling Jaya, +603-6140 7755.
30-year-old establishment Ming Palace Chinese Restaurant is not just pork-free, it has a string of awards to its name too. It serves up Sichuan and Cantonese food in a formal 200-seater space that can also cater to banquets. Its dim sum buffet is especially popular (go during the weekdays if you can) with all your usual dim sum suspects like siew mai and har gow served alongside Sichuan specialties like the hot and sour soup — a thick chicken stock-based broth with mushrooms and scallions.
Ming Palace Chinese Restaurant, Corus Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Ampang, Hampshire Park, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, +603-21618888.