Mookata is apparently of Thai origin, where basically a chunk of pork lard is placed on a metal dome with a moat of stock. It basically works like a 2 in 1 grill and steamboat, where food is slowly cooked over white hot charcoal. I had the impression that it was going to be really smoky and hot, and I was going to sweat it out, but it was not to be.
When one mentions hotpot or barbecues, one always has the hazy image of a crowded, buzzing smoking room full of fumes of heavily marinated meat, and the smell of bubbling, savoury stock filling the air. The stock becomes heavier as you add the sweetness of vegetables and seafood items, and your tummy heaves from the weight you pile on from the immense amount of heavily marinated food you have surrendered yourself here too. You become slightly annoyed at the sweltering atmosphere, cooked up by you busy barbecuing your meats for yourself and your partner while navigating a superficial dinner conversation. A fulfilling meal, yes, but so is the feeling of having completed 2 term papers after not having slept for 48 hours. I'm not sure if that's a happy sort of fulfilling, more of a relief having negotiated that immense amount of food.
But anyway, I digress. At Moojaa, it is quite different. It was filling and lighter than what I expected of a meal of grilled meats over pork lard and rich stock. It was satisfying having to appreciate the flavour and freshness of the ingredients, not intricately blended marinades. It was, well, surprising.
We were also pretty interested at how the e-system ordering works. Not like we tried (mainly because the food was served to us in a food tasting), but apparently if you order through their website on their free Wifi network, you get a free drink! According to our host Sue, it's much faster and less confusing, so chances are that they'll get your order right.
Anyway, the Mookata here at Moojaa uses binchotan, a non-smoky Japanese charcoal that apparently "enhances the flavour of cooking" (or so they say in PR-speak). Not that I know of, but I did note the lack of smoke made my dining experience here a whole lot more pleasant than I was expecting. Not to mention I really appreciate me not smelling like a burnt tree after the whole thing.
edit* — binchotan is apparently made out of high quality Japanese oak, known for its purifying properties (such as removing chemical additives) and odour absorption capabilities. (Source: Wikipedia)
We first started off with a welcome drink of Iced Thai Tea, of which is traditionally renowned for it's saccharine sweetness. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased that Moojaa's rendition is not so, while preserving the creamy full body of the traditional beverage, it is not too sweet for my liking. It went pretty well with the Fried Fish Skin ($6), (it's actually fried salmon skin, so yay to you, salmon lovers!) of which we were told we could eat it in one of two ways — first by itself, or by soaking it in the hotpot stock. I prefer the latter because it soaks up the flavours of the stock and complements the savoury fattiness of the fish skin, followed by a lovely crunch that is still slightly preserved despite being drenched in stock. Just try it.
We had the normal chicken and pork soup base which rightfully tasted like chicken bak kut teh. Pleasant, because I liked the soup's lightness but yet flavourful punch. Important when you don't want everything to taste so heavy in your mouth, and it shouldn't fight for attention with the ingredients. I thought it tasted something like a non-peppery version of bak kut teh. Of course, I can only approximate with my writing. And yes, they offer a tom yum soup base if you desire as well. (duh, Thai establishment mah)
The cheese meat balls ($8) were also a nice touch. The savoury (cheddar?) cheese, with the base of robust meat flavours caused flavour explosion to take place within my mouth. A sure hit with the kids, ya.
Okay, so apparently we were on the 32+/diner a la carte buffet set, and we had the following on the table:
Grey prawns, pork belly, squid, baby scallops, boneless chicken, pork collar, abalone slices (looked like bamboo shoots lol), crab sticks, pork meat balls, pork belly, tofu fishcake with cheese inside, enoki mushrooms, cabbage (plenty), kang kong, tang hoon.
We were also entitled to one plate of kurobuta pork collar slices and US Angus Beef slices.
The one thing I really appreciated was that the meats were seasoned simply, and sparingly light (not like those Korean BBQs where they literally drench everything in their exotic and flavourful marinades). This allowed for the taste of the fresh meat to come through. In short, I knew what meat I was eating.
The pork collar was also notably tender and had a faint sesame accent that made it quite fragrant and uplifting.
I loved the fishcakes with cheese. Enjoyed the explosion of soft savoury and melted cheese exploding in my mouth. (Yes, I enjoy things exploding with flavour in my mouth. I'm just that intense.)
For the Kurobuta pork collar and Angus beef, they were not seasoned (for they were premium items you know!). Other than being very tender, they were nice but nothing to write home about. Or perhaps it could just be me overcooking the meat (oh I have such poor domestic credentials!).
Vegetables and other ingredients were generally quite fresh, other than the prawns. But all was good.
Regarding the cooking, I found it pretty troublesome to balance the meats on the dome. It kept falling into the stock! *angst mode. But then again, where would you find such a novel experience?
In all, I think we enjoyed this meal — a surprisingly light and good take on the smoky, heavy, raucous affair that traditional hotpots/BBQs are associated with. It was a nice surprise, with decently fresh and good ingredients paired with flavour enhancements that were neither too heavy or intense. I would recommend this as a good place to chill out after a hard day at the office if you like hotpot/BBQ.
We thank Shaun and Sue for hosting and inviting us to this food tasting.
(Not to be confused with the other establishment at East Coast Road, Mookata)
25 Keong Saik Road
Reservations: 6536 4780
Mon to Fri 11.30AM-2.30PM (Lunch)
Mon to Sat 5PM-6AM (Dinner)
Sundays 5PM-11PM (Dinner)
Instagram: @MooJaa_Mookata (#MooJaa)