Text and images by Catherine Ling @ Makansutra
Steamboat can be a love-hate thing for some people. The cheap Chinese joints leave you jostling for elbow room on crowded five-foot ways, in the sweltering heat and steam from the pot. At specialty restaurants, you still have to cook your own food, and while it’s fun, the results may be less than ideal.
Man Fu Yuan at the InterContinental Singapore is introducing a much more refined way of enjoying steamboat called “The Art of Eating Steamboat”. A senior serving staff will be dedicated to your table throughout the entire session. He will cook the steamboat ingredients from scratch, starting with the stock, made from flambé-ing “kampong chicken” in a Chinese herb-infused wine and then top it with clear soup.
As you watch the soup being made, you get to nibble on crisp, cold lobster sashimi. The soup is served early as a first course, to prime the empty stomach absorb its herbal nutrients.
From then now, the steamboat progresses course by course, almost kaiseki-style. The tureen is kept at a low simmer, and the ingredients will each be slowly poached in the broth. The server ensures that each item is properly cooked to optimum doneness. No more forgotten dumplings getting soggy at the bottom of the pot or overcooked slices of leathery meat or mushy vegetables. This whole process will take at least three hours (depending on how leisurely you eat).
What also sets this steamboat apart are the ingredients used. The meatballs (prawn, dace, cuttlefish, pork, etc) and dumplings are all handmade in-house for better texture.
The beef ball deserves special mention for yielding a supremely light and yet tensile bite. It’s wonderfully aromatic and the chunks of water chestnut within gives it added crunch and sweetness.
Apart form the lobster, lots of fresh seafood is included in the selection. Here, live star garoupa is filleted and ready to be cooked.
Fish in particular benefits from being cooked with an eagle eye. The server gets it just right, and every sliver is tender with a springy bite.
Tiger prawns too, deserve to be cooked just right, and they do it well.
Huge and de-shelled meaty crab claws (these definitely qualify as lazy man’s crabs) also make a sweet addition to the steamboat. With each course, the flavour of the stock becomes more complex and richer.
There are a couple of unusual items like Mexican Spiky Sea Cucumber with Minced Pork, and the decadent African Abalone with Scallop, and Clams with Cabbage dumplings.
The meats are kept to the final part, as they will significantly change the flavour of the soup. The server recommends that the US Prime rib-eye be taken medium rare for best flavour and texture.
The Kurobuta pork pairs well with their specially created dip of 10 ingredients (XO sauce, cooked and raw garlic, sesame oil, chili bean paste). The piquant dip is designed to go well with all the steamboat ingredients.
Each of these is served one after another, and you can custom pick the ingredients you like. The ingredients do vary seasonally, but there should be about 18-20 items to choose from.
The final course is kept as a surprise. This is when all the lobster shells, fish head, fins and tail go in for a good boil to surrender their umami goodness to the broth.
When the stock is ready, the server adds half a bowl of rice, egg and spring onions to create an Egg Drop Pao Fan – the perfect way to enjoy the (by now, very superior) stock. The entire contents are completely ladled out, and nothing is wasted. You start with an empty pot, and end full circle with an empty pot.
This mini-carb final course should ensure a satisfied belly, if you aren’t already full from the many courses prior.
Premium ingredients, bespoke service and expertise in making the best of a steamboat is what “The Art of Eating Steamboat” is about. It sure doesn’t come cheap at S$180++ per person, but it’s an experience that will definitely leave you feeling very pampered.
MAN FU YUAN Hotel InterContinental Singapore 80 Middle Road Singapore 188966 Tel: +65-6825 1062