Steam Box, a brand-new steam hot pot specialist, is introducing Hong Kong’s hottest food trend “Steam-Potting” — a new way of enjoying steamboat — to Singaporeans. Similar to a hot pot experience, all the ingredients are brought to the table raw. They are then freshly steamed — not boiled — before your eyes using the innovative culinary technique of high-speed steaming. This technology is embraced by many celebrity chefs in Hong Kong. Singaporeans can now enjoy this way of “steampotting” too!
– Gail & Jem
Written by Gill
G: Uncompromising on both flavor and freshness, Steam Box is steamboat “tah” (i.e. “without soup”). With its steaming technology, diners are able to savour the original flavor of the food without worrying about the calories or cholesterol. With the array of fresh food and the addictive sauces, however, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself stuffed after the meal and wondering how this can be considered healthy.
The 90-seater restaurant is named after the high-speed steaming technology that they employ to cook the food. All grease and fat are drained away during cooking, so you can chomp away without guilt.
Sticking to the traditional DIY style for steamboat, the raw food is served in colourful plates. The color of the plates indicate the cooking time, ranging from 2 to 6 minutes. Those who are domestically challenged, do not fret. Quoting Martin Yan, if I can do it, so can you.
Because the food is so fresh, steaming is the best cooking style. The gentle steaming emphasizes the sweetness of the shellfish and the meat retains all its tenderness. If you had ever thought that steamed food is bland, or only for old people who can’t chew, a visit to Steam Box will fix this assumption.
As an accompaniment to the food, Steam Box offers three signature sauces.
First, the staple in every Singaporean home – sambal chilli. A word of warning: Steam Box’s version is not for the faint-hearted. After the first few dunks, I boycotted it completely, because its fiery spice was overpowering all the other flavours.
Next is my personal favourite – the seafood sauce. With its base of lime juice, fish sauce and Asian herbs, this Thai-style sauce gives the seafood a fresh kick that compliments the sweetness of the seafood.
For the meat dishes, the black pepper sauce adds a savory, umami edge. However, the viscosity of the sauce made it more like gravy and is a little heavy for the steamed dishes.
There are also a variety of other condiments available for diners to mix their dipping sauces to their own taste. A popular option is the peanut sauce (essentially sweetened peanut butter), which is reminiscent of Japanese style steamboat. Papa Soh and I combined with the peanut sauce with a healthy chunk of spring onions and garlic, as well as a dash of sesame oil. Pair this sauce with the meat dishes for extra texture.
As with most steamboat places, diners are charged for the sauces. At Steam Box, for $2.50, you will get an endless helping of the sauces and condiments. Children are exempted from charges.
Also, a shout-out to the lemongrass tea is necessary. It’s aromatic, and a great palate cleanser between dishes. Papa Soh, however, felt that the drink was overly sweet and the original taste of lemongrass was obscured.
Now, onto the food!
Top Grade Grain with Century Egg, Pork Rib and Parsley – $15Before you start cooking, the staff will come by to fill the bottom of the steam pot with uncooked rice, chicken stock and clams and scallops (the seafood option), or pork ribs and century eggs (the pork option). The juices from the rest of the meal will drain down to flavor the rice as it cooks, and you’ll be left with a steaming bowl of porridge to end your meal. More about that later.
Not featured: Top Grade Grain with Clam, Dried Scallop and Ginger – $18
When you start cooking the other dishes, a good tip to remember is to begin with the dishes that only require 2 minutes to steam, so that you can fill your stomach while the 6-minute dishes cook.
This was our first batch of cooked food – garlic bamboo clams, mushrooms, cabbage, sweet potatoes and pumpkin. For garlic fans like myself, the bamboo clams are a delight. Stuffed to the brim with fried garlic and glass noodles, the clams were tender and sweet. The noodles added bite and provided a contrast in texture to the clams.
Chef’s Marinated Bamboo Clams – $18 for 2 pieces
We left the veggies and mushrooms cooking for the next few batches, till the point of mushiness. Dunk them in some of the sauces for additional flavour.
Pumpkin – $5 per plate
Wawa cabbage – $6 per plate
Enoki golden mushrooms – $5.60 per plate
Premium shitake mushrooms – $5.60 per plate
Like the clams, the crayfish were of the best quality and freshness. For this particular shellfish, you would have to use your own judgment to gauge if it is fully cooked. We steamed ours as instructed, but when we lifted the lid, it was still translucent and grey. After another 3 more minutes, the crayfish were ready. The meat was pure white and smooth in texture. Juicy and tender, even though we exceeded the directed cooking time, the crayfish contained generous chunks of creamy roe. All in all, the crayfish is heavenly, 10/10 would recommend.
Fresh Crayfish – $25 for 3 to 4 pieces
Another seafood dish Steam Box offers are scallops on a half shell. While the scallops were undeniably fresh, it’s a pity that the ginger slices overpowered the subtle taste of scallops. Not even a soak in the seafood sauce could salvage this dish.
Fresh Scallops – $18 for 4 pieces
The last seafood dish we sampled were the clams. It’s pretty easy to tell when the clams are done, as their shells will pop open. Discard those that refuse to open – those have gone bad. To Steam Box’s credit, we only discarded two clams. Try to scoop the shellfish up with as carefully as possible, so that you don’t lose any of their juices. Each one is a mouthful of the sea and a delight with the seafood sauce.
Fresh Clams – $13 per plate
One of the highly recommended dishes at Steam Box is the Wagyu beef. I was anticipating this dish, partly because it had top grade marbling and partly because I’ve never had steamed beef. Indeed, I was not disappointed, as the beef was tender and glistening with its juices. But because the beef isn’t seasoned beforehand, you’ll have to go to town with the sauces to help it along.
Premium Wagyu Beef – $25 for a big portion and $12.30 for a small portion
Despite the wide range of seafood choices and prized beef, Steam Box’s signature dishes are the humble chicken and pork – the chicken thigh with wolfberries and minced pork with salted fish.
Honestly though, I was not expecting much. The raw chunks of meat were not pretty and steaming did not improve their appearances. But this is where the old adage of not judging a book by its cover comes in.
Marinated with Chinese wine, ginger and sesame oil, the chicken was wonderfully tender. It was juicy and fragrant, with the wolfberries providing little bursts of sweetness. Comforting, delicious and healthy, the chicken is sure to be a hit with the grandparents, though people from all ages would be able to appreciate it.
Chef’s Marinated Ginger Chicken Thigh with Wolfberry – $9 for a big portion, $4.50 for a small portion
The shocker of the night was the minced pork with salted fish. Hands down, it was my favourite and this is surprising, because I’m a huge seafood lover. All the conditions for a gastronomical delight are met: Taste? Check, it was akin to the savoury inside of a xiao long bao, but with even more flavor, thanks to the salted fish. Texture? Check, the pork was minced by hand and contained bits of chestnut, which provided a nice crunch. Just for this dish alone, I would return to Steam Box for another visit.
Chef’s Marinated Minced Pork with Premium Salted Fish – $9 for a big portion, $4.50 for a small portion
True to its Cantonese roots, Steam Box is expanding their menu to include dim sum. Diners can enjoy freshly steamed classics – like siew mai and carrot cake – alongside the other dishes.
Apart from the novelty of steaming your own dim sum, there is a difference in taste as well. Steaming the carrot cake, for example, results in a velvety smooth slab that melts on your tongue. In line with its concept of healthy dining, there is none of the greasiness of pan-frying. The other advantage is that the dim sum is kept piping hot – the delicate skin of the dumplings and siew mai do not get a chance to harden. The downside is that the crimping of the dumplings is chewy, rather than crispy. Having said that, Steam Box’s offerings are decent and are worth a try.
Siew Mai – $4.20
Prawn Dumpling – $4.80
Chives and Pork Dumpling – $4.80
Beancurd Skin Roll – $5.80
Prawn Rice Roll – $5.20
BBQ Pork Rice Roll – $4.80
Special mention must be made of the custard buns, everyone’s favourite dim sum delicacy. Because it is freshly steamed, the rich insides of the custard bun oozed out rather satisfyingly. Savory and sweet, it is the cherry on top of the sundae that is this glorious meal.
Creamy Egg Custard Bun – $4.80
If the custard buns are the cherries, then the porridge must be the rainbow sprinkles. Do you still remember the porridge brewing under your steam pot? It is now ready, having absorbed all the delicious juices from your shellfish, chicken and pork.
A word of warning though, if you like to take your time, it is likely that the porridge would have disintegrated into congee or soup by the time you’re done. Still, it is comforting to slurp after a huge meal (because let’s face it, what is steamboat, if you don’t eat to the point of bursting?)
We recommend the pork option, simply because seafood has such a delicate flavor and it doesn’t come through in the porridge. Also, the texture of the clams after 2 hours of cooking is comparable to the clam chowder in MOS Burger – overcooked and rather rubbery. The dried scallops aren’t much help either.
Contrastingly, the pork and century eggs infuse the porridge with a depth of flavor. The long period of cooking compliments the pork, which falls right off the rib. Even though you are stuffed, your stomach would (and should) make space for this pork porridge, because it is just so good.
If I must point out something negative about Steam Box, it would be the restaurant’s carbon footprint. The steam pots consume an alarming amount of electricity, since the lid is constantly lifted so that diners can serve themselves. Combine that with the generally long duration of a steamboat meal, I shudder to think of the the effect this has on our environment.
All in all, Steam Box is a lovely addition to the Serangoon Gardens alcove. Next time, do your body a favour and swing by Steam Box instead of Chomp Chomp!
68 Serangoon Garden Way
11am – 3pm, 6pm – 11pm Tues-Sun
* Closed on Mondays
* This is an invited media tasting by Steam Box.