The Chinese may have invented most things under the sun, from gunpowder and umbrellas to top-tier sports and lifestyle brands, but there is one innovation of theirs that stands heads and shoulders above the rest.
I’m talking about steam boat. Wikipedia tells me that people were dumping raw meat into boiling pots of delicious broth as early as the Jin Dynasty (AD 1115 – 1234), and it’s really no surprise that steam boating has stood the test of time.
Steam boat buffet restaurants now abound in Auckland, strategically located around the city so you can get your DIY meat-and-veg fix wherever, whenever. On this particular occasion, the parentals and I had decided to have an impromptu feast at a steam boat place in Newmarket – imaginatively named Yummy Buffet Hot Pot Restaurant – that none of us had been to before. It was a cold, drab Monday night, I had finished work late, and I was in no mood to mess around.
By the way, you know a restaurant means business when it has ‘Yummy’ anywhere in its name. It’s setting high expectations before you even step in the door, practically inviting you to come in and try to prove otherwise. It was a challenge I was more than willing to embrace.
We stepped inside and in the immediate chaos that greeted us, I managed to pick out a perpetually scowling waitress who could seat us. Without a discernible uniform and wearing tired Adidas tracksuits to blend in with 50% of the patrons, it would have been virtually impossible to identify the wait staff were it not for the battered notepads they clutched in their hands.
“Half-half?” she barked at me, and it took me a moment to register that she was asking whether I wanted half plain and half spicy broth. I answered in the affirmative and she promptly brought out one of the most impressive hotpot contraptions I’ve seen in my life.
See, it not only has two grades of spicy steam boat broth, but also a cheeky little hot plate perched on top so you can barbecue your meat as well. It’s genius; pure steam boat nirvana.
That alone would have been enough to get this place bonus points in my book, but the real kicker is the spicy broth.
Look at those big bad chilies just ominously floating there. Observe the opaque redness of that broth. If this place was trying to attract spicy food fiends such as myself, it was doing a laudable job.
Being businesslike and efficient as ever when it comes to food, we got into action straight away. The raw section of the buffet has your standard steam boat fare – a selection of meats, seafood, and vegetables. The cooked section was a bit more interesting, with various cold sliced meats, pork bites seasoned with cumin, and that most quintessential of Chinese dishes, chicken nuggets.
To wash it all down, you have a range of (free) soft drinks at your disposal, as well as a more refined selection of Sour Plum Juice and Chinese ‘Water Melon’ Tea, both of which were off the chain.
The quality of the food itself is pretty good. The spicy cold meat in particular adds a nice balance to the piping hot, freshly cooked food you’re shovelling in your mouth, and the spicy broth is sublime, adding a unique smoky aftertaste to whatever you put in it.
To our utter disappointment, the hot plate turned out to be next to useless – with a circumference only slightly bigger than that of a large saucer, it was difficult to get any meaningful BBQ action happening.
Still, we managed to have a good time, and probably ate a tad more than we intended to. As with any decent buffet experience, you finish the night feeling satisfaction and self-loathing in equal measure, stumbling home and pondering whether that short-lived joy was worth the expansion to your girth.
Verdict: A respectable player in the Auckland steam boat scene, perfect for anyone living nearby wanting a lazy way to stuff themselves with food. However, at $28 a head, you can find better value steam boat elsewhere.
7.2 / 10