November 15, 2010 at 2:50 pm

The Chinese have a special dish which in English is called the Steamboat. It is a rather strange name, and gives no clue whatsoever as to what it might be. The Steamboat itself isn’t an extraordinary dish; rather, its charm is in the experience of eating it.

Due to the fun that people have during their Steamboat meal, most Chinese families have Steamboat for the Reunion dinner on Chinese New Year’s Eve. In fact, the Steamboat is so popular, the Reunion dinner in the Hokkien dialect is called “Ooi Lohr”, which I’ve taken to mean “Around the Steamboat Pot” because family members gather around the pot.



No one has to slave over a hot stove the whole day if you’re having Steamboat, although you’ll have to prepare all the ingredients but it’s really quite easy. Anyone can make Steamboat. There is no recipe for it; you just get whatever you want – bite-size fish fillets, flower crabs, prawns, shellfish, squid, fishballs, meatballs, mushrooms, a wide variety of noodles and vegetables like Chinese cabbage, Romaine lettuce, siow pai chai. Unusual as it is for Steamboat, I guess you could even use carrots and sausages if you like!

The ingredients mentioned above are the typical and popular ones of today, but traditionally, it used to be chicken, pork, fishballs and some seafood but people soon found that other things went rather well with the soup too, so even processed food like crabmeat sticks and artificial crab claw (made of white fish), sausages and fried soft tofu are Steamboat staples today.

The Steamboat is actually a do-it-yourself soup that cooks at the table with everyone crowded around, talking, laughing and adding ingredients into a specially constructed pot (“lohr”) with a fire at its base and a funnel in the centre that lets the heat and smoke from the fire out. All around the funnel is where the soup cooks. That pot, however, looks old-fashioned and nowadays people have electric Steamboats and the restaurants have a special table with a pot fitted into the centre.

The best thing about the Steamboat is the soup. When there are so many things going into the soup, you can bet your last dollar that the soup ends up being naturally tasty without having to add any seasoning, not even salt or pepper. It is alright to use just water for the Steamboat soup, although many people like to use chicken broth for that extra natural flavour.

Recently, my brother treated us to a Steamboat dinner with lots of fun at the Xuan Xin Steamboat Restaurant in Jalan Tanjung Tokong. Patrons at Steamboat restaurants usually have a choice of two soups, and at Xuan Xin, we had clear soup and porridge. Also on the menu were Tomyam and a slightly spicy prawn soup, as well as a special soup of the month.

The eat-all-you-can buffet includes drinks, dessert and a Teppanyaki corner where a cook is kept busy the whole night with hungry diners bringing him their choice of marinated squid, meat (chicken, beef and pork) and shredded carrots and onions to be cooked on a large flat grill. I had several small helpings of squid, black pepper beef and honey pork – they were that good!

Waiting for the Teppanyaki, we picked out what we wanted from the extensive buffet line – fresh fish fillets, squid, big prawns, and flower crabs as they infuse the soup and porridge with a fresh natural sweetness unique to seafood. My sister loved the meatballs.

There were several types of noodles but we weren’t interested – we had our seafood porridge. The variety of vegetables and mushrooms were also impressive and these went into our clear seafood soup. Drizzle some fragrant garlic oil, and mmm…. Satisfaction guaranteed.

There were also so many dips to choose from – soya sauce, mild, spicy and sour chilli dips, and savoury peanut sate dip. One word of advice, be careful when you are about to take your first bite or that first sip of soup – it is hot! In fact, it is hotter than piping hot and the food can burn your tongue and blister your mouth.

Needless to say, our soup and porridge were extremely delicious. We had refills of the soup and porridge and we ate so much but we didn’t have the heavy cloying feeling as Steamboat isn’t oily, nor is it creamy. We didn’t really have much room for dessert, but we didn’t mind. Dessert was rather limited with some really soft ice-cream and cut fruits like pineapple and the fruity longan tea boiled with white snow fungus. Hot and slightly sweet, I thought it was the perfect refreshing end to my most satisfying dinner.

Without a doubt, we thoroughly enjoyed our Steamboat dinner even though it wasn’t the Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner. We enjoyed it so very much not only because of the fun we had making our soup and the anticipation of eating it but also because of the company, from whence came laughing banter and excited chattering…and of course, it helped that no one had to do the dishes!


One Response

  1. AT says:

    My wife love steamboats, unfortunately steamboats is just not for me, usually steamboats is buffet style, good for those who have big appetite :)

Leave a Reply