By See Foon Chan-Koppen
I am often of two minds about steam boat: that throw-everything-except-the-kitchen-sink into a simmering broth and voila, a hearty meal that warrants whole restaurants dedicated to this form of dining. Throw in the conviviality of friends, jostling for who gets to fish out the best bit first, losing a choice morsel in the melee; and you have the makings of a wonderful evening of fun, food and feasting.
While I enjoy the former, it strikes me that our climate is not really suited to this form of dining and ‘hot pot’ or in Chinese the ‘Fire Pot’ as it is written, is really best enjoyed in colder climes. However in air-conditioned comfort, I rather like the huge variety of ingredients presented, the lack of oil and the general ‘healthiness’ of the meal…a low-fat experience where you’re in control of what goes in and what is fished out.
Chinese Restaurant Syndrome
The one major drawback is the after effects. I am very allergic to MSG and suffer from what is commonly called the ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’. Despite appeals made to the chefs, there have been many a time when I have left the table only to find myself dying of thirst an hour later and waking up the following morning with ankles swollen like tree trunks. Hence I generally avoid steam boat places where they are notoriously known for tarting up their stock with spoonfuls of this ubiquitous flavouring agent.
Complaining about this to my partner-in-foodie-ism Ginla Foo recently, she came up with the idea of pre-ordering a steam boat dinner at our current flavour-of-the-year restaurant, Wong Kok, from Chef/Owner Lum.
No MSG at Wong Kok
This proved to be a brilliant move and Chef Lum rose to the occasion with his usual culinary aplomb. Given the brief to use no MSG, he had simmered the stock from scratch using only natural ingredients and what arrived at the table was a clear broth simmering away, accompanied by heaping plates of a few different greens, mushrooms and a humongous plate of freshly stuffed tofu, home-made dumplings, pork, fish and cuttlefish balls, stuffed shitake, ladies fingers, bitter gourd and a plate of canned Chilean finger-long clams.
This was one of the few times when I helped myself to three helpings of the broth at the end of the meal, confident in the knowledge that I wasn’t going to have my usual allergic reaction. Working out at RM28 person (we were a group of 10) I felt it was a reasonable price to pay for a most satisfying meal. Order 2-3 days in advance.
With my fears about steam boat assuaged, Ginla felt it was time for me to venture further afield into Bercham, to one of the older and more established dedicated steamboat restaurants. This time I was led to Restoran Steamboat Aroi (means delicious in Thai), where you sit at a counter and enjoy your own pot of stock and dip and fish at leisure, knowing that the person next to you is not going to snatch away your prize morsel.
Kelly Chong who owns and runs the restaurant has a pretty good system going. You can order one of the sets and add side orders on an individual basis or you can start with ordering everything à la carte.
There is a choice of clear soup or Tom Yam and a pot of extra Tom Yam paste which is concocted by Kelly herself is put at your side to add extra pizzazz if so desired. There is a dizzying choice of sets and we started with the basic Aroi Special which consists of 2 prawns (very fresh), chicken, cuttlefish, cockles, Tsi Lor or spiny sea snails, clams, jelly fish, fish slices, oyster mushrooms, dumplings, fish balls with dried cuttlefish and Sang Kuang (local turnip) fish balls (all homemade by Kelly), seaweed and a generous serving of greens – RM20. Upgrading from this is the Special Choice which comes with four prawns, small abalone, octopus and golden needle mushrooms – RM26. Further upscale is the Special Choice at RM36 which includes a whole crab. Most of these sets can be shared between two people as they’re quite generous.
For the meat lovers, they have an Australian beef and lamb set that comes with noodles and an egg which can be used either for dipping the meat or cooking in the broth – RM14 each. Side orders of beef and lamb can be ordered at RM7 each.
The dipping sauces at Aroi are interesting. One, a nutty textured sauce has its roots in the original hot pot sauce from Beijing. Additional pungency can be added for those with a taste for the fiery with the chilli sauce. When asked about the cooking broth, Kelly admitted to using a minimal amount of MSG but says that she uses soya beans and Sang Kuang to give the ‘umami’ feel. The next morning, my ankles proved that she was right as they were not the tree trunks I was expecting them to be. So the MSG was tolerable.
Restoran Steamboat Aroi
305 Jalan Bercham, Taman Desa Kenchana, Bercham.
Restoran Wong Kok
11 Persiaran Tokong, Pasir Pinji.
Tel.: 05-2435431/012-522 8380