SINGAPORE - A steel dome-like structure, with tiny slits, sits in the middle of a steamboat with charcoal burning underneath.
Meat grills on top of the dome while the juices drip slowly into a seafood soup.
That is what mookata (pork skillet in Thai) is all about. An ingenious fusion of Thai steamboat and charcoal-grill dishes, one could say this dish offers the best of both worlds.
Feasting on this half-barbecue-half-steamboat dish is a rising trend here, with many queueing up at established Thai restaurants around the island.
Popular mookata haunts include Tom Yum Kungfu in Circular Road; MooJaa, Mookata Thai BBQ Steamboat in Keong Saik Road and Happy Mookata at Golden Mile Tower.
Owner of MooJaa, Mr Shaun Lee, said that he noticed an upward trend in people enjoying mookata in June last year, so he set up a shop with a partner a month later.
Currently, they see about 150 customers a day at the restaurant, and are planning on opening a second outlet by the fourth quarter of this year.
Over at Tom Yum Kungfu, it is a common sight to see groups of diners waiting by the roadside for their mookata fix.
According to owner Kelvin Giam, around 100 mookata sets are sold on weekdays and up to 150 are ordered on weekends.
Spicy Thai Thai Cafe owner Ron Poh said that the appeal of mookata lies in using charcoal to cook the food, as it helps keep it hot without affecting the food quality.
"Yes, it's more hard work, but it's worth it," said the 48-year-old, who opened the cafe five years ago.
Spicy Thai Thai Cafe serves mookata as well as a range of authentic Thai dishes found in the rural areas of Thailand.
One traditional food item from north-eastern Thailand (known as Isan) is catfish, which most Thai restaurants here do not sell.
Mr Poh said that he imports ingredients on a weekly basis to keep the food fresh.
Barbecued pork neck is another signature dish of the quaint eatery.
A mookata set for two to four people at Spicy Thai Thai Cafe costs $35 each and includes a variety of vegetables, seafood and meat.
Spicy Thai Thai Cafe
Address: Block 115 Aljunied Avenue 2, #01-35
Open: From 11am to midnight daily
Jalan Besar branch
Address: 49 Jalan Besar
Open: From 6pm to 4am every day, except second Tuesday of each month
Popular mookata haunts
Tom Yum Kungfu
This restaurant in Circular Road serves mookata only from 6pm till 10.30pm. Mookata sets for three to four people cost between $38 and $49.
Where: 16/17 Circular Road
Opening hours: Lunch: Monday to Friday, 11.30am-3pm Dinner: Monday to Friday, 6pm-10.30pm; Saturday, 6pm-10.30pm Closed every first Sunday of each month.
Tel: 6536-1646 or SMS 9375-5736
Mooja, Mookata Thai BBQ Steamboat
Mookata sets here are categorised by different meat items: Set Moo (pork) costs $45, set Gai (chicken) costs $45, and King Moo (meat lovers') set costs $60. Their most popular option is the a la carte buffet ($32 per person). Each diner gets one serving of premium meat. MooJaa will open its second outlet by the fourth quarter of this year.
Where: 25 Keong Saik Road
Opening hours: Lunch: Monday to Friday, 11.30am-2pm Dinner: Monday to Saturday, 5pm-6am; Sunday, 5pm-11pm Tel : 6536-4780
This restaurant serves a la carte buffet at $23.90 nett per person with a variety of dishes such as fried nuggets, popcorn chicken, sotong balls and fries. All items are free flow.
Where: 6001 Beach Road, Golden Mile Tower, #01-55D
Opening hours: 6pm-6am daily
Tel: 9380-9028 or 8113-0774