RESTAURANT XIANG LI PLACE,
74G & 76G, Jalan SS21/62,
47400, Damansara Utama, Petaling Jaya.
Tel: 03-7726 7633
Business hours: 11am-10.30pm, daily.
CHINESE cuisine is known all over the world for its diversity in flavour, with different regions boasting unique cooking styles and ingredients influenced by geography, weather, resources and the culture of each area.
While most Malaysians are privy to the more popular Sichuanese, Cantonese or Fujian cuisine, many are still unfamiliar with Hunan dishes.
Food from this region, located just north of the more well-known Guangdong province, is known for being spicy and rather oily.
The cuisine is slowly gaining a loyal following here, said Restaurant Xiang Li Place owner Duan Qing Peng.
The restaurant in Damansara Uptown specialises in Hunanese cuisine.
“Hunan’s climate is humid like Malaysia, but it is cold there, so we like hot and spicy food,” said Duan.
Having been in operation for four years, the place is patronised by locals, Chinese nationals and students alike.
It promises an authentic experience as the food is prepared by four chefs from Hunan, led by head chef Liu Wei, who has 13 years of experience in the industry.
If you like spicy food, you will be glad to know that chilli is a central part of Hunanese cuisine, and is prevalent in many of the dishes served at Xiang Li Place.
Kicking things off was the appetiser of Assorted Marinated Meat, comprising three different thinly sliced cuts of meat — beef, pig trotters and pig’s ears, drizzled over with chilli oil and served with a bowl of spicy dipping sauce.
The pigs ears had an interesting texture — a cross between chewy and crunchy, which complemented the tender beef and pig trotters.
For the mains, there was lamb ribs, marinated in chilli and cumin to get rid of the gamey flavour, before being shallow-fried to a crisp and topped with a colourful medley of dried chilli and chopped spring onions.
The ribs were separated into bite-sized pieces, making for great finger food.
Duan recommended the Fish Head “Double Taste Style”, which he said was one of the restaurant’s signatures and very popular with patrons.
The visually appealing dish came served with one side of the fish topped with spicy red chillies and the other, sour green chillies and bean paste.
“We import the chillies from China and they are fermented for 30 days for a strong, distinctive taste,” he explained.
Being used to gentler flavours, the dish’s saltiness was not suited to our palates but those craving for a strong, spicy flavour might enjoy it.
The piece de resistance was the Meat Braised “Mao” Style, named after Mao Zedong as it was supposedly his favourite dish.
It featured a generous helping of braised fatty pork served with fermented, dried long beans in a claypot.
Marinated with garlic and three different types of chilli, including cili padi, the well-seasoned pork melted on the tongue when combined with the savoury long beans, which were dried and fermented for a week.
Preparation takes three hours as more than 10 types of Chinese herbs and spices are used for this treat.
Meanwhile, the Green Capsicum with Shredded Potatoes had an interesting crunch to it, unlike regular stir-fried potatoes.
The sour taste and texture was similar to an appetising Thai salad.
For those opting for something less spicy, there is the Salt Baked Chicken, marinated in turmeric ala-Hunan and baked to perfection.
Unlike conventional salt-baked chicken dishes which are often wrapped up and baked in herbs, the version here is dry with a smokey taste, and is tender and evenly seasoned.
Another non-spicy option was the Hand-Shredded Cabbage in Wok.
The dish, which was served with slices of pork belly, tasted like a saltier, oilier version of any other stir-fried vegetable dish.
Finally, rounding up the meal was sweet and crispy pumpkin cakes prepared with a mix of pumpkin paste and glutinous rice.
The crispy crust and chewy filling was similar to the traditional nian gao (glutinous rice cakes).
This is the writer’s personal observation and not an endorsement of Star Metro.