With over 2,600 Sichuan restaurants in Shanghai, the cuisine is more than a trend, it’s a weekly meal for many people. The Sichuan invasion illustrates the city’s transforming tastes, when only a decade ago people joked that the Shanghainese feared nothing at the dining table so much as a hot chilli. Now, with a few years of spice experience, palates are becoming discerning, and Maurya is one of a crowd of new entrants elevating the sophistication and authenticity of Sichuan in Shanghai.
Maurya’s owner, a partner in the FCC restaurant group on Julu Lu, likes peacocks and art. The pleasant if eclectic dining room has a sculpture of the bird, a painting of the bird, peacock-blue velvet curtains and hammered metal and pink bead lanterns overhead.
But we’re not here for the light fixtures. We’re here for Chef Zhan, who previously worked at a private club in Chengdu where local officials often dined. When he was invited to Shanghai to open Maurya, he brought his whole team with him. Zhan’s 9RMB dandan mian
is the first version of this iconic noodle dish we’ve had in Shanghai that conjures up that local stall in Chengdu where a Sichuan friend once reverently took us. Maurya also serves plenty of rabbit, including the barbecued head (18RMB/piece), a traditional Chengdu delicacy.
Then there’s the chicken, well, two of them to be exact – every day Zhan cooks just two ‘extra braised yellow chicken with pork feet’ (119RMB). The chicken arrives with a golden lacquer, like an antiqued object; tucked underneath are fatty pig feet in a soft curry broth. The bird has been stewed for six hours til it's stick-to-the-teeth, fall-apart-soft.
‘River water bee boiled in curry stock’ (83RMB) is a pot of noodles topped with water bee fish (anzi yu
) and bright green chillies. This fresh water fish popular in Sichuan cooking is riddled with needle-like bones, but the tender flesh is worth the trouble.
If you can’t stand fiddling with the bones, the thick incredibly elastic noodles, made of potato flour, are deliciously infused with the intense slow burn of the green chillies, different from the sharp directness of red chillies. This is a soft blanketing of the palate with long-lingering heat. It’s a very pleasant way to break out into a sweat.
Aficionados point out that Sichuan’s diverse cuisine offers much more than just spiciness – the best chefs are known for nuance, subtlety, texture, beautiful ingredients treated with formidable knife skills. Chef Zhan has talent; visit him for a taste of Chengdu.Crystyl Mo