Coming from a Filipino-Chinese family, I've already had my fair share of Chinese cuisine and even found myself quite tired of the traditional Chinese flavors. However, since I only got used to the Guangdong style also known as the Cantonese regional cooking, I found myself unusually excited to try out Mao Jia Hunan Cuisine in San Juan which offers a different Chinese regional gustatory experience from the Chinese dishes I got used to.
Located at the Ronac Art Center in North Greenhills, Mao Jia Hunan Cuisine is one of the only few Chinese restaurants in the Metro serving authentic Hunan dishes known for being spicy, flavorful, aromatic and deeply and strikingly colored. And although I hate to admit it, I actually haven't had a taste of Hunan-style cooking yet prior to this trip, so you can say I'm a complete newbie to the Xiang or Hunan type of Chinese regional cuisine.
Mao Jia Hunan Cuisine has a simple, warmly-lit space with just a few tables around, and a function room for diners who are looking for privacy. And although there's nothing too extravagant in the restaurant, what caught my eyes were these miniature statues of Chairman Mao in a wide variety of colors. They weren't only there for the restaurant's design though 'cause they're actually up for sale.
Of course, being new to Hunan food, I was excited to try the dishes and find out if this particular Chinese regional cuisine will leave me wanting more. And with a nice selection of gustatory treats at the restaurant, we finally began the Hunan cuisine immersion.
First on our table was the Beancurd with Kuchay (P160). While I'm not a big fan of tofu, this easily became my favorite tofu dish ever. The beancurd was cooked to a nice yet firm softness with loads and loads of savory flavors. Even the kuchay was very tasty, so both the beau and I were happy diners who can't help but savor every bite from this dish.
We then had the Salt & Pepper Shrimps (P380) which are simple yet tasty crispy-fried pieces of shrimps that can bring joy to lazy seafood lovers. Unlike most shrimp dishes, these ones don't need to be peeled off from their shells since they were cooked to be crispy and edible. Just pop a piece or two straight in and enjoy this well-seasoned treat.
Next, we had my favorite Stir-Fry Frog Legs (P380). While most people I know don't really dig this goody, I'm one of those who love this dish very much! Whenever I'm dining in a resto offering fried frog legs, you won't find me leaving the place without ordering this chicken-like tasting treat. As for Mao Jia Hunan Cuisine's version, I was glad that it's cooked and seasoned perfectly making it one of the most flavorful ones I've had.
We then had a serving of the Spicy Fried Chicken (P220), a nicely-cooked chicken dish with onions, peppers and tons of spicy, savory flavors. While this has tolerable spiciness, I was able to suffer its wrath 'cause I accidentally ate a spoonful of chili peppers.
I was fortunate that we were served the Wintermelon Spareribs Soup (P200) next as this simple yet hearty bowl comforted me while my mouth was on fire. For someone looking for a flavorful soup though, this is definitely out of the list as this was very mellow and subtle on the palate. However, if you're ordering a ton of spicy dishes, then this is definitely a nice soup to balance the heat out, with a bonus of tender sparerib pieces.
It was unexpected, but this Sour and Spicy Cabbage (P120) item easily became one of my most favorite dishes of the night. While this cabbage serving has chili peppers, it wasn't spicy enough for my palate. It's also savory while being sour at the same time, which makes it so addicting. Everyone in our table loved this to bits!
We then got to sample the Sour and Spicy Shredded Potato (P120). While I expected it to taste a little similar to the previous dish, this one is definitely a lot spicier. And honestly, I think this dish is the spiciest one we've had for the night that even its sour promise wasn't able to balance the heat out. Texture-wise, the shredded potatoes were firm and might come off as raw at first bite. This may be perfect with beer though.
We also had a serving of the Stir-Fry Vegetable (P120) which was apparently a bok choy dish with garlic and ginger. While I'm not a big fan of bok choy, I loved how simple yet tasty this dish was. Even the beau who regularly avoids vegetables liked this.
Next we had the bestselling Chili Fish Head (P380) which uses the head of an Imelda fish or bighead carp. While there were loads and loads of chili peppers in this serving, I was surprised that the fish head didn't taste spicy at all. It was savory and very juicy albeit a little difficult to eat. It also wasn't too fishy for a fish head dish.
Then, we had an off-menu but regularly available Hunan Sausage dish with leeks and chili peppers. I'm not so sure what these sausages are formally called, but they were imported from China and made from pork. I find them a little similar to our local longganisa though, just firmer, denser and more peppery in taste.
We also got to try the Salt & Pepper Spareribs (P380). While this dish was tender and flavorful, I somehow didn't find it extraordinary or good enough compared to the other dishes we had for the night. Don't get me wrong though, it's definitely savory, a little spicy and a good eat either on its own or paired with rice.
We then sampled the Diced Beef with Corn (P220) which didn't successfully enticed me when it was served. However, it turned out to be a sumptuous beef entrée after my first bite. The diced beef may be a little small, but it was tender and succulent. I loved that it had generous amount of corn too and had a little hint of spice from the chili peppers.
We then continued on with a serving of Pork Strips with Chili Peppers (P200). Unlike the previous dish, I was definitely able to feel the heat of this one. The pork strips were soft and juicy and oozing with a spicy yet refreshing flavor from the green chilies. This wasn't spicy enough compared to the shredded potato dish though.
Last viand for the night was this plate of Kung Pao Chicken (P220) with onions, bell peppers and green chilies. This dish may look simple, but it's definitely savory and tasty. Every chunk of chicken was tender and moist, perfect with a cup of plain rice.
Mao Jia Hunan Cuisine doesn't offer dessert items at the moment. However, they have the Honma Bread (P90 Small; P140 Big) which can nicely cap off your Hunan-style meal. Although it may look like your ordinary loaf of bread, this one is oven-baked first and then fried to attain a crispy crust. The inside of the loaf on the other hand, remains super soft with a hint of creaminess in it. It was so good when eaten as it is, but I bet it'd be more awesome when dipped into condensed milk.
Our trip to Mao Jia Hunan Cuisine definitely opened me up to another kind of Chinese regional cooking. While I'm not much of a spicy food fan, I found myself enjoying every spicy dish that we had. Actually, even the non-spicy items were also really good as they were extra tasty. And with a chef all the way from China, a very reasonable pricing, a nice, relaxing ambiance, and a prompt and friendly service, I'm sure to visit Mao Jia Hunan Cuisine with my spicy and Chinese food-loving family next time.
Ambiance - 4/5
Service - 4/5
Price - 4/5
Overall Value - 4/5
Mao Jia Hunan Cuisine, Ronac Art Center
424 Ortigas Ave., North Greenhills
San Juan City, Metro Manila
(02) 586-0700; (0917) 630-6196