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 in Singapore 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.
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.
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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.
Where: 01-175 Goldhill Centre, 175 Thomson Road
Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm; 5.30 to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6258-1391 or go to www.facebook.com/NANTABBQ
JACKPOT K SEAFOOD & CHEESE BBQ BUFFET
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.
Where: 01-75 Golden Mile Complex, 5001 Beach Road
Open: Noon to midnight daily
Info: Call 9056-8880 or go to www.facebook.com/Jackpotkbbq
Price: $37.90 a person
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)
Info: Call 9181-2709 or go to www.seorae.com.sg
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
Info: Call 6844-0389 or go to www.facebook.com/hookonsteamboat
Price: From $22.90+ a person
LADYBOY MOOKATA/ STEAMBOAT CHEESE
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.
Where: 644 Geylang Road, Lorong 40 Geylang
Open: 6pm to 2am daily
Info: Call 8444-4487 or go to www.facebook.com/ladyboysg
Price: $29.90 (Monday to Thursday); $32.90 (Friday to Sunday)
CHEESE STORY MOOKATA BUFFET
What: Tuck into more than 50 items, including crayfish, prawns, scallops and oysters, which you dip in melted cheese and satay sauce. The cheese is in a compartment fitted in the trough of the mookata pot kept warm by the soup below.
Where: 02-01 Golden Mile Complex, 5001 Beach Road
Open: 3pm to 6am (Monday to Thursday), noon to 6am (Friday to Sunday)
Info: Call 8678-7876 or go to www.facebook.com/CheeseStoryMookata
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
Open: 11am to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6288-6260 or go to www.charcoalthai.com.sg
Price: $39.95 for the Cheese Mookata set
What: This six-year-old Thai barbecue chain has a Cheesy Grill set, which comprises ingredients such as baby back pork ribs, purple scallops, chicken thigh and bak kwa.
Customers can also top up $9.90++ for four crayfish, limited to one order for each set. Buffet customers (from $18.90++ a person) can pay an additional $3.50++ for a free flow of cheese.
Where: 02-53 Bugis Junction, 200 Victoria Street
Open: 11.30am to 10pm daily
Info: Call 6837-0171 or go to www.mookata.com
Price: From $57.90++ for the Cheesy Grill set which serves two to three people
What: This four-year-old mookata chain started offering cheese mookata in March this year. Besides containing tom yum and chicken stock, the pot also has a compartment for melted cheese.
There are more than 30 items, such as black pepper and garlic chicken, prawns and crayfish.
Where: Three outlets, including at 01-55D Golden Mile Tower, 6001 Beach Road
Open: Various times, go to www.facebook.com/happymookata1987
Price: From $25.90
A version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Times.