One of the main things I look forward to whenever I visit Thailand is to be able to eat Thai steamboat or Thai suki (hot pot) at Coca, a restaurant which has been going strong for the last 50 years and is now a culinary empire extending to Singapore and even Japan. My mother remembers going to the old Coca restaurant and seeing the founding mama overseeing the place. All I remember from my childhood is rows and rows of tables with bubbling hot pots steaming away as people tried to fish prawn balls from the broth.
Although there are other Thai suki restaurants such as MK which has been gaining a lot of popularity, for my family, Coca is the only place we would consider going to just because of their legendary dipping sauce. Since we left Thailand almost 25 years ago, we've all tried individually to look for this dipping sauce but nothing comes close to it. So what else to do but to buy a ticket to Bangkok and have the real thing? It's also one reason why we always stay near Siam Square because there's a Coca just round the corner. We are obsessed.
The dipping sauce is very spicy, hot, sweet, sour, has a taste of garlic, some vinegar and lots of fresh coriander. The best drool-worthy sauce in the world.
The steamboat (or hot pot) comes with either a chicken or tom yum broth. We chose the chicken broth so that we could benefit from the full flavour of the sauce.
The steamboat is very similar to the Japanese nabe or shabu shabu although the Japanese broth is flavoured with kombu (kelp). You choose from a variety of ingredients to dip and cook in the broth.
We ordered a selection of thinly sliced beef and pork, fresh prawns, soft tofu, enoki mushrooms, prawn balls, fish paste, green noodles and Chinese cabbage.
Our waitress came to help us cook the ingredients and showed us how to scrape the fish paste off the plate in beautiful diamond shapes by first pouring a few spoonfuls of the hot broth onto the past to slightly cook and firm it so that it can be easily scraped off without becoming a messy blob. Classy.
The meat was so thinly sliced they cooked almost instantly. I like adding a few spoonfuls of the sauce to the broth in my bowl to temper the heat.
But dipping straight into the sauce is good too. But way spicier.
This prawn was almost the size of my palm. SO juicy.
And we ended the meal with the addition of green noodles to the broth in which all the meat, fish and vegetables have been cooking.
If you were Japanese, you'd be adding rice.
For drinks, my mum had young coconut juice with strips of the soft, white flesh. Very sweet and refreshing.
And I had my favourite cha yen or Thai iced tea.
We also ordered some tod mun pla or fish cakes on the side.
These were nice but a bit soft. I think my mum's are better.
But it could have been that we were already so full from the steamboat.
Thai suki is healthy and filling and a very social eating experience, a must if you ever visit Bangkok.
Coca Restaurant (Siam Square)
416/3-8 Siam Square
Henri Dunant Rd.
Tel: (02) 251-6337
Coca Restaurant (Surawong)
8 Soi Anumarnrathathon,
Tel: (02) 234-1597
Coca Restaurant (Central World)
4 Central World Plaza, 6 Fl.
B610 Rajdamri Rd.
Tel: (02) 255-6369