Passing in front of Via Nicola Antonio Porpora 5, Milan, if you are careful, you will notice a faded sign “Gelateria” but the place does not sell below-zero creams. On the wall you will see Mao Tse-tung’s face stand out. Well, you are about to enter an atypical Chinese restaurant, all dedicated to the land of the great revolutionary leader.
Hunan is located in south-central China. It is a mountainous territory, where to the south there is Lake Dongting (China’s second largest lake): Hunan literally means “south of the lake”. It has a population of about 65 million divided into 41 different ethnic groups, united by the Chinese dialects of Xiang (this word is commonly used in place of Hunan). Mao Tse-tung was born in Hunan, in the village of Shaoshan near Hsiangt’an, in 1893. The son of a land-owning farmer, Mao became interested in Marxism as a boy, enlisting in Sun
Yat-Sen’s Republican Army in 1910. In 1921 he participated in the Shanghai Conference, during which the Chinese Communist Party was founded. Since then, he has been a tireless force for the spread of communism, traversing the Hunan countryside and making contact with the peasants, convincing them to join the trade unions. On October 1 1949, the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed. The cult of personality that is created around Mao is of interest: his image is shown everywhere (even today you can see the graffiti of propaganda on the streets of the Hunan) and his quotes were even included in the worldly publications. He was commonly referred to as “the four-times great: Grand Master, Great Supreme Commander, Great Helmsman.”
But if history today reminds him of being a controversial figure, for the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, perhaps not everyone knows Mao’s passion for the typical dishes of his homeland. As Edgar Snow writes in “Red Star on China”, Mao “the chili even made him cook in bread”, and again: “He ate what others ate, but being originally from Hunan he had that love for chili, ai-la, typical of the South”. Mao paid great attention to what he ate, he loved meat but during his last years of life he will not indulge in more than two meals a month made of pork. In 1927 he wrote that making the revolution is not “like inviting people to dinner or writing an essay”. And he preferred pork with more salt and sugar than the original recipes, as his personal cook Dong Linfa recounts.
So, Mao Hunan opens in 2015, a restaurant that has a solid and articulate heritage, whose dishes speak of a historical character that the Chinese (and not only) know very well. The idea came to mind by Jenny, a Chinese girl and student in Italy, who complained about the lack of places to enjoy home cooking. Tired of not finding anywhere the food she has always eaten, she decides to open a restaurant of her own with her boyfriend Marco (he is Italian) and her friend Angela (also Chinese). The idea was initially to recreate the home kitchen for a Chinese clientele that, like her, did not find the authentic taste in Milan. The cuisine of the Hunan has a direct, strong and spicy taste, a taste that in spite of Jenny’s predictions appeals very much to the Milanese people, so much so that they open Maoji shortly.
Mao’s presence is palpable inside the small restaurant: there are large graffiti, the red color is ubiquitous and the menu is Mao’s red booklet, complete with quotes.. But don’t expect a serious venue, actually Mao Hunan is a young, bubbly setting, perfect for dinner with friends, to share the various dishes. Among the menu choices are many meat, fish, ravioli, tofu and vegetables. Of course, chili peppers are ubiquitous and there are several dishes dedicated to Mao Tse-tung, such as the “Mao’s Head” or “Mao’s Braised pork belly” (so loved by him). The most curious (and daring) can take a look at the last part of the menu, “Specialties that you will never choose (but we put them anyway)”: sliced beef lung, spicy crow’s feet, pork legs in hot sauce, slices of kidney skipped with chilli, sautéed pork intestine with onions, chicken durelli in hot sauce and braised pork ears in soy sauce. In short, there is one for everyone as long as they like spicy and tasty cuisine. The choice is wide even for the smallest budgets.