Singaporeans fired up over Mookata pots
A Thai-style steamboat-grill hybrid is gaining popularity and businesses are expanding
MOVE over, steamboats, the Thai-style mookata is fast gaining popularity in the hotpot scene.
Mookata - Moo means pork and kata, skillet, in Thai - refers to a dome-shaped grill with a soup trough that is placed over charcoal embers.
There are no fewer than 13 mookata restaurants in Singapore, and fans of the steamboat-grill hybrid can expect more islandwide this year as owners - most of whom are Singaporeans - open more restaurants.
Most offer mookata set meals which come with raw marinated meat, seafood and vegetables. Many of them also serve classic Thai dishes, such as green curry and tom yum soup.
Chunks of pork fat are placed on the top of the domed grill and diners then cook the ingredients on the sizzling oil which drips down. The lard, plus the marinade and juices from the meat, flavour the soup.
Several stories revolve around the origin of the dish, with some tracing its roots to Korea.
Huay Kwang Thai Kitchen's owner, Mr Patrick Ong, 35, whose wife is Thai, says: "What I understand is that, during wartime, hungry soldiers in Korea cooked raw meat on their helmets. The Thais adopted this for their version of the grill and added a soup trough."
But Singaporean chef Willment Leong, founder chairman of the Thailand Culinary Academy, says the trend is the result of clever marketing.
The 43-year-old, who has been based in Bangkok for 15 years, says: "I wouldn't call it Thai cuisine.
"It's just that Thais like to have barbecue and sukiyaki when they dine out. Thai businessmen thought up this concept to kill two birds with one stone."
Mookata also gained popularity when mookata chain Bar B Q Plaza opened in Thailand back in 1987. It expanded into Malaysia in 2005, in a joint venture with a Malaysian company.
In Singapore, businesses are also expanding, such as the popular Tom Yum Kungfu in Circular Road, which opened a second outlet in Serangoon Garden last week. Looking very much like a cool hipster cafe, the 100-seat restaurant has Thai movie posters on the wall, plays Thai music and has rainbow lights strung through the eatery.
Owner Kelvin Giam, 40, a former interior designer, says: "We chose to open in Serangoon Garden because of the good location, and we wanted an open concept for good ventilation. It's been a full house since we opened."
The popular Jane Thai Restaurant at Orchard Towers, which launched mookata sets this month, is looking to open three more outlets islandwide.
Even non-Thai restaurants are cashing in on the trend. Western restaurant Idle@Dempsey introduced mookata three months ago, in addition to its menu of tapas, pasta and pizza.
The restaurant's assistant general manager, Mr Aaron Hilton Ho, 32, says: "At first, we were uncertain about how the crowd in Dempsey would react... but the response was very positive."
On the appeal of mookata, Claw Mookata director Andrew Lim says: "Grilling meat and having steamboat have been very common in Singapore for a long time. Mookata combines the two and is suitable for group gatherings."
Agreeing, Mr Shaun Lee of MooJaa in Keong Saik Road says: "There's a communal aspect to mookata; family and friends can come together and spend some quality time." MooJaa, too, is looking to open new outlets this year.
The flood of mookata outlets to come is good news for marketing executive Stephanie Tan, 26, who enjoys having gatherings at these restaurants.
She says: "My friends and I like the casual setting for chatting and cooking our food without having to clean up. I feel the set meals and buffets are value for money and we normally add a few more Thai dishes to complete the meal."