Gooey melted cheese, usually associated with pizza, pasta and fondue, is stretching its way into steamboats, Korean barbecue hotplates and mookata, Thai-style barbecue steamboat.
At least eight restaurants have started offering melted cheese as a dip for meats and seafood.
Newer entrants include Cheese Story Mookata Buffet and Jackpot K Seafood & Cheese BBQ Buffet, both in Golden Mile Complex, and Hook On Steamboat in Changi Road, which has a dipping pot of cheese-infused chicken stock.
In restaurants serving cheesy Korean barbecues, the cheese is melted either on the grill or in a side compartment, while in mookata, it is placed in the soup trough around the dome-shaped grill.
Most of the restaurants use both mozzarella and cheddar cheeses for their dip. Mozzarella gets stretchy when melted but has a mild, milky flavour, while cheddar cheese is saltier and richer.
Raclette flows Mookata
Raclette cheese, a semi-hard cow's milk cheese, which is commonly used melted in fondue as well as poured over food, is undergoing a revival of sorts here.
Produced in the Alpine regions in France and Switzerland, this cheese is known for its nutty flavour and creamy texture.
It usually comes in wheel-shaped blocks with a thin orange-brown rind. When heated, the soft centre melts and is scraped off onto food.
For years, eateries such as Wine Connection Cheese Bar in Robertson Quay and Cafe Gavroche in Tras Street have been offering it with cold cuts and potatoes.
Now, the cheese has found its way to a coffee shop stall, The Western Co, which is serving dishes such as Hawaiian Raclette Chicken ($13.90) and Crazy Hawaiian Raclette Burger ($13.90).
The Western Co is in Fusion Food Dynasty coffeeshop in Foch Road.
Both dishes feature melted raclette cheese atop a slab of grilled chicken thigh covered with tomato puree and pineapple chunks.
An alternative Swiss cheese, Appenzeller, which is spicier and more pungent, is also used.
The cheesy offerings have been attracting hour-long queues.
Stall owner Larissa Yang, 23, says she sells about 300 servings of raclette-topped dishes daily. When The Sunday Times visited the stall last Thursday, it had run out of raclette cheese and was serving smoked applewood cheese (above) instead.
Ms Yang, a former cafe owner, got the idea of serving raclette cheese from the fondue she ate while studying for a hospitality degree in Montreux, Switzerland, a few years ago.
She also plans to serve raclette cheese with cold cuts and baked potatoes in the next two months.
"By selling dishes with raclette cheese in a coffee shop, I can give diners a sample of expensive cheeses that restaurants charge a premium for."
She adds that customers have been asking to shoot photos and videos of her scraping the cheese.
She spends more than $200 a month buying these cheeses directly from Swiss cheese farms as well as through a Singapore distributor.
Unable to get your hands on a raclette cheese-covered dish at The Western Co? Do not fret.
Supermarket chain Cold Storage will be selling melted raclette cheese over ham or pasta at the cheese counter at its Great World City outlet from Sept 23 to 25. Each serving will cost $9.
It first sold these dishes at the Great World City outlet in July and at its gourmet event Flavours of the World, which was held at Plaza Singapura from July 26 to Aug 7.
More than 20kg of raclette cheese was sold during the event.
Other melted cheeses that will be showcased at the Great World City outlet are gruyere from Switzerland, gouda from the Netherlands, cheddar from the United States and comte from France.
Grilled seafood and meat, as well as fried foods such as sausage and luncheon meat, are dipped into the cheese before being eaten.
According to Mr Kim Jin Wone, 47, owner of Nanta BBQ in Thomson Road, the idea of adding cheese to hotplates originated in South Korea about three years ago.
At his Korean restaurant, which opened in January last year, cheese pork spare rib sets, which consist of gojuchang-seasoned ribs served with cheese and sides such as steamed egg and salsa, are bestsellers. He sells about 1,000kg of spare ribs a month.
The melted cheese trend spread to mookata eateries in Thailand last year, landing here around the same time.
One of the first places to introduce cheese mookata here is buffet restaurant Ladyboy Mookata/ Steamboat Cheese in Geylang Road, which did so last December.
Owner Wilson Solomon Koh, 26, says: "These buffets are meant for cheese lovers. For them, anything that is dipped in cheese will taste nice."
Thai barbecue chain Mookata has been offering Cheesy Grill sets at its Bugis Junction outlet since April. It also has outlets in Yishun and Katong.
Owner Lee Bajin believes that it will sit well with younger diners who frequent the Bugis area.
The 33-year-old says: "Young people are familiar with eating nacho cheese and tortilla chips while watching movies."
He adds that about 30 per cent of his customers, mostly youngsters, go for the Cheesy Grill sets, which come with ingredients such as bacon enoki wraps and bak kwa that can be dipped in cheese.
Another eatery hoping to attract more young customers is Hook On Steamboat in Changi Road, which started serving a lighter version of melted cheese dip four months ago.
The 11-year-old barbecue-cum- steamboat restaurant, which used to be at East Coast Road, offers a pot of cheese mixed with chicken stock, mayonnaise and seasonings such as onion powder.
Diners dip grilled items into the pot - like a cheese fondue.
Co-owner Jason Seah, 33, says: "Cheese sauce can be cloying. Making it lighter means diners do not feel full so fast and can try more items on the buffet line."
Over the past four months, the restaurant has seen youngsters make up 80 per cent of its customers. Previously, they made up slightly more than half of the customers.
Mr Seah says: "Adding cheese into steamboats makes it a visual spectacle, with some customers standing on chairs to stretch the melted cheese from the pot."
At Cheese Story Mookata Buffet in Golden Mile Complex, which opened in June this year, its melted cheese dip sets it apart from the growing number of mookata joints here, says owner Elvis Ooi, 33.
The buffet stall sells 60 to 70 mookata sets daily. The most popular item to pair with cheese is crayfish.
He says: "The cheese helps to mask the fishy flavour of crayfish."
Diners are loving the cheese offerings. Civil servant Wendy Koh, 32, who has been to Cheese Story four times, says: "Meats dipped in cheese are more flavourful."
Polytechnic student Robin Goh, 19, who goes for Korean barbecue every fortnight, and has visited Jackpot K once, says he prefers to dip barbecued items in cheese rather than ssamjang (fermented bean paste).
He says: "Cheese tastes better with firmer meats as the cheese flavours become more apparent when you chew on the meat."
What: Popular dishes include the Cheese Pork Spare Ribs Set A ($58 for two to three people), which has spare ribs with mozzarella and cheddar cheeses topped with shiitake mushrooms.
The Cheese Pork Spare Ribs Set B ($59 for two to three people) has sides such as tortilla chips, salsa and steamed egg. The spare ribs are marinated in a mix of fruit and gojuchang sauce before being char-grilled.
What: Choose from about 30 raw ingredients, including crayfish, salmon, flower crabs and oysters. The grill has an outer trench for melted cheese. The buffet also includes cooked dishes such as Korean fried chicken.
What: This Korean charcoal barbecue chain offers meats including galmaegisal (grilled pork skirt meat) and samgyeopsal (pork belly). The melted mozzarella is placed in a side compartment of the charcoal grill.
Where: 02-01 Plaza Singapura, 68 Orchard Road
Open: 11.30am to 10pm (Sunday to Thursday), 11.30am to 11pm (Friday and Saturday)
Price: From $59++ for a basic pork set for two people and an additional $2 for free flow of cheese. For a la carte meat orders, each serving of cheese costs $2.
HOOK ON STEAMBOAT
What: This steamboat and barbecue buffet comes with a light cheese dip that is mixed with spices and a chicken-based stock. The cheese dip is kept warm in a water bath in the steamboat pot. The buffet includes more than 100 items such as crayfish, tiger prawns, mussels, shabu-shabu beef and free flow of cheese.
Where: 389 Changi Road
Open: 5pm to midnight (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday
What:Choose between mookata and tom yum steamboat with melted cheese, which is placed in one of the soup troughs in the mookata pot. There is free flow of mozzarella or a secret blend of three cheeses.
On the buffet are more than 30 ingredients, including sea bass and pork collar.
For an additional charge, diners can opt for extras such as jumbo prawns ($1.90 each this month). The buffet also comes with dishes such as tom yum spaghetti.
Price: $29.90 (weekday), $32.90 (Friday and weekend)
What: The Cheese Mookata set (for two to three people) comes with more than 20 ingredients, such as prawns, squid, sausage, meats and vegetables. Instead of soup, the trough is filled with melted cheese.
Those who opt for the steamboat buffet (from $13.95 a person) can pay an additional $14.95 for a separate mookata pot filled with melted cheese.
Where: Three outlets including at B1-30 Nex, 23 Serangoon Central
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