It is full steam ahead for the bustling steamboat scene in Singapore.
In the past six months, at least five restaurants have been taking the "steam" in steamboat quite literally, by cooking ingredients in steamers using high-speed steaming technology at high temperatures.
Three of them get their inspiration from the same trend in Hong Kong, popularised by Hong Kong pop star Alan Tam's Super Tai Chung Wah Hot Pot restaurant in Cheung Sha Wan. They are Steam Box in Serangoon Garden Way, Rong Fu Ji Steam Pot Restaurant at The Grandstand and Le Garden Seafood in Chinatown
First, raw rice grains, soup stock and other ingredients are poured into a pot to cook. Then a steaming tray is placed on top to cook everything from meat to seafood to vegetables. Cover the food with a lid, set the timer and leave to cook.
Temperature is also controlled to ensure the food is not overcooked. To prevent the pot from drying out, water is pumped from water containers under the tables. During the meal, the juices from the ingredients drip into the pot, adding flavour to the rice that is slowly cooking to become porridge.
The other two restaurants - House of Seafood in Upper Serangoon Road and Captain K Seafood Tower in Prinsep Street - get their inspiration from South Korea. Both outlets focus mainly on seafood, which is also cooked in steamers.
The difference is that the steamers are stacked and the tower can go up to nine tiers at Captain K.
Instead of having porridge at the bottom, the restaurants offer a soup base, which gets more flavour from the juices of the seafood.
But whether Hong Kong- or Korean-style, the restaurant owners say that the steaming process highlights the original flavours of seafood and other ingredients - most of which are not marinated or seasoned.
As Captain K owner Kenneth Koh, 33, says: "By cooking with steam, if the ingredients are not fresh, people can tell straightaway. You can't mask anything by frying or using sauces."
He also puts a local spin on the Korean concept. The restaurant, which has been hot on social media for its trendy seafood tower, also has a selection of steamboat ingredients such as assorted dumplings, enoki mushrooms, cheese sausage and luncheon meat to add to the soup at the end of the meal.
Over at three-week-old Steam Box, married owners Serene Wong and Eric Ng, both 43, also put their own twist on this steam revolution.
On top of offering meat, seafood and vegetables, dim sum options are also available and the menu is still expanding.
Ms Wong says: "We plan to open 10 outlets by the end of next year. If we open in a mall, our menu may be more focused on dim sum as it suits shoppers who want a quick meal."
UOB executive director Joanne Toh, 50, was dining at Steam Box with her colleagues for the first time.
She says: "It was an interesting experience and the cooking process was user-friendly. It ensured that everything was steamed perfectly. The food was fresh and not fishy. Ending our meal with porridge was certainly saving the best for last."
Sales manager Adeline Chong, 33, who has been to Captain K, says: "I found the seafood very fresh and like that it still had a steamboat element with the soup below. My friends and I added more noodles and vegetables and had a very substantial meal."
CAPTAIN K SEAFOOD TOWER
The Korean wave meets the steamboat craze at Captain K, as layers of seafood are cooked in steamers stacked into a tower. Prices start at $52.90 with three tiers (for two people) to $288.90 for the full nine tiers (for eight people).
The nine-tiered tower includes a layer of lobster, oysters, scallops and langoustines. More seafood can be ordered from the a la carte menu. Once you reach the soup base at the bottom tier, you can add your own ingredients (from $2 to $4 a colour-coded plate). Choose from kombu dashi, Korean kimchi or premium Korean ginseng chicken (add $15) for the soup base.
Ingredients include cheese sausage, enoki mushrooms, prawn dumplings and luncheon meat. Sauces include Thai green chilli, yuzu miso and sambal belacan.
Where: Income@Prinsep, 30 Prinsep Street, 01-02, open: noon to 3pm, 6 to 10pm daily
Unlike the other restaurants, there are no set meals here. Just order from the a la carte menu - some items come in half or full portions.
Highlights include chef- marinated minced pork with premium salted fish ($4.50 or $9); Chinese-style ginger chicken thigh with wolfberry ($4.50 or $9); live clams ($13); and barramundi ($18).
For a porridge base, choose either century egg and pork rib ($15) or clams and dried scallop ($18). Dim sum - to be cooked in the steam pot too - is also available. Options include siew mai ($4.20) and creamy egg custard bun ($4.80). Mix and match your dipping sauce ($2.50 a person) or choose from the housemade sauces - sambal, spicy and sour seafood and black pepper.
Where: 68 Serangoon Garden Way, open: 11am to 3pm, 6 to 11pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday
While the restaurant is known for its black pepper crab and seafood dishes, House of Seafood also offers the Korean-style seafood tower. Prices range from $228++ (for four people) to $438++ (for eight people). Ingredients include live bamboo clams, squid, scallops, mussels and crab, with a seafood soup base.
Where: Two outlets - Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre, 756 Upper Serangoon Road, 03-33, open: 11am to 2pm, 5 to 10.30pm (Sunday to Friday), 11am to 3pm, 5 to 11pm (Saturday); and The Punggol Settlement, 3 Punggol Jetty, 01-01/02, open: 11am to 2pm, 5 to 11pm daily
Probably the earliest restaurant to start on this steam-pot trend, this six-month-old restaurant offers set meals with prices from $78 (for two people) to $198 (for up to six people). Ingredients in the $78 set include a flower crab (below), tiger prawns, pomfret or seabass, bamboo clams, scallops and clams. There is also a choice of beef ribeye or Kurobuta pork, as well as sliced pork belly or chicken chop. Vegetables are included as well as porridge to complete the meal. More items as well as beer and wine can be ordered from the a la carte menu. For a value lunch set, get the $39.90 set for two people. It includes a choice of meat or fish, vegetables and porridge.
Where: The Grandstand, 200 Turf Club Road, 01-14, open: 11.30am to 3pm, 5 to 10.30pm daily
Take your pick from the month-old restaurant's two set options. Set A (from $88 for two people to $238 for six people) includes mussels, scallops and green crab with crab paste. For a more decadent meal, Set B (from $138 for two people to $388 for six people) offers lobster, razor clams and abalone. Both sets include vegetable and meatball platters, tiger prawns, oysters and barramundi. Other a la carte options include geoduck (seasonal price), red garoupa (seasonal price) and marbled goby ($36). The menu also has appetisers such as fried red bean pancake ($8), Chinese chives dumplings ($8) and siew mai ($8).
Where: 36 Temple Street, 01-02, open: 11.30 to 3am daily
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