From the outside, supper clubs can seem like elevated versions of fancy dinners. Even the first supper club ever recorded, in Milwaukee, Beverley Hills, California in the 1930s, sets you up to imagine the concept as dominantly elitist. Over the years as restaurants became popular and often a go-to option for food, intimate supper clubs were pushed aside. In recent times, they are making their way back to the table as people are looking beyond restaurants and peeking into the charms of experimental home cooking—a seemingly full circle moment.
For self-taught chefs and sisters, Prachi and Saloni Gupta the idea to start a supper club is tied to their love for Sichuan cuisine. When you love a cuisine a bit too much, you look for ways to get everyone to try it. This is what the Mumbai-based duo wanted to celebrate when they started House of Málà in June 2022. Currently, they are open for community tables on Fridays and Saturdays and host six people at a time.
“In 2019, we tried authentic Sichuan cuisine while visiting the Sichuan region in China, and were instantly mesmerised by the bold and spicy flavours. We tried to find these dishes with the same flavours in Mumbai for three years, but couldn't," they share.
Finally, they started buying chillies and Sichuan peppercorns from Hong Kong and locally sourcing tofu and noodles. As they started cooking Sichuan dishes and imitating the flavours, both realised that the cusine was missing in the city, and could be introduced to more people. They wanted to do more than bring the meals to the tables, and aimed to create an experience. This wouldn’t have been possible as a cloud kitchen or delivery venture.
“We love the art of cooking and hosting people. More importantly, we love the idea of getting people to meet over food and forming connections—weaving stories together while trying a new cuisine. For this concept, starting a supper club felt like the right way to go about this,” Prachi explains.
A supper club, traditionally, has been a way of spending an entire evening in a relaxed and homely environment that restaurants don’t provide. It’s this charm of connecting with familiar and unfamiliar people and exchanging life experiences that the co-founders want to bring back through House of Málà.
The name Málà. comes from two important spices used in the Sichuan cuisine: Má and Là. While Má is the peppercorn with a numbing sensation, and Là adds the spiciness. It's similar to Indian cuisine has different types of chillis and spices, and are combined to create complex flavours, the sisters explain.
“What we offer is like a unique dining experience, where you can try a special cuisine, which is not found elsewhere in Mumbai and interact with the chefs as we join the table and share their stories. There is also a game added into the mix and people have a fun, intimate dining experience,” Saloni adds.
The dinner is presented in five parts. As the guests enter, they are served with a mocktail, a mixture of cardamom and soda, which is the sister’s creation and it goes well with the food that will be laid out. The first course is a cold noodle salad,Sichuan liang mian, served in a numbing, tangy and nutty sauce. This is followed bySuan la chao shou, wontons filled with ground mushroom, tofu and veggies served in a spicy broth.
The third course is silken tofu in a spicy chilli bean sauce,Ma po doufu and jasmine rice, served with shitake and Sichuan peppercorns. The fourth course is Mala tang, a personal bowl of spicy and numbing Sichuan hot pot with noodles and vegetables. The dining experience ends with a unique dessert,Bing fen, a sweet and refreshing ice jelly with sweet syrup, which is from the Sichuan region. Jasmine tea is served after all the courses to wash down the dishes.
“The Sichuan cuisine revolves around about 24 flavours, but we cover the seven most important flavour profiles, which are spicy, numbing, aromatics, sweet, umami, bitter, and salty. Every course is curated in a way that showcases a combination of different flavour profiles,” Prachi explains.
One of the instant hits for the self-taught chefs and diners is the use of Sichuan peppercorns in the dishes, which brings a tingling and numbing sensation to the palate. “It’s like a flavour roller coaster of your senses, and is very addictive. Funnily, one of the people from the Supper club described it as ‘this feels like anaesthesia on the table and I’m loving it.’ It’s these strong flavours that make the cuisine special,” Saloni says.
In between the different courses, the guests also play a Chinese game, Liar’s Dice, which is a bluffing game. While it’s a good way to break the ice, the game is also part of the authentic Sichuan experience, the chefs explain. In the Sichuan region people play games between courses as a way of engaging with strangers and families.
Although presenting a Sichuan dining experience is the crux, it’s the laughter shared between strangers and the myriad of stories exchanged that reiterate the beauty of supper clubs for the sisters and show what sets it apart from a regular dining experience.
House of Málà-A Sichuan Supper Club (@houseofmala_) is expanding from two days to four days a week and increasing the number of guests to eight in October. The price is ₹2500 per person.