It’s amazing what one can come up with left to their own devices at a restaurant. These days, the make-your-own dining concept continues to enjoy increasing popularity. People love having a wide selection of ingredients and toppings before them, as they are free to choose their favourites for whatever it is they are creating. Huat Pot, a new restaurant at Metropoint Center in San Juan, aims to carry over a sense of creativity to noodle soups.
Huat Pot, now open
“The idea of Huat Pot started four years ago,” shares Chef Jonas Ng. “My father noticed that there weren’t really any great hot pot places in the Philippines, which inspired us to work together to bring something special here. We’ve tried various kinds of hot pots from so many places around Asia, but our biggest influence is the Taiwanese style. It’s such a prolific food culture, but for the Taiwanese, it’s nothing out of this world. It’s a normal, everyday dish that has been ingrained into their way of living. This so-called normalcy is the reason that their version is so perfect.”
Raising the bar for hot pot expectation is one of the keys to Huat Pot’s success. They offer an all-you-can-eat dining experience at only P688, which is inclusive of unlimited access to the hot pot, taho (silken tofu dessert), Magnum ice cream, and eleven kinds of drinks. “This isn’t just plain old hot pot anymore,” Ng says proudly. “We want people to learn to expect more from their dining experience.”
The basic setup would be a silver pan with two sections over a heating range. The first order of business would be to choose two from among four different types of soup: Huat Pot, Satay, Mala, and Vegetarian. Upon Chef Ng’s recommendation, we went with the Huat Pot, his own recipe based on chicken stock and pork stock, and the Mala, a spicy broth that he has toned down to a comfortable level to fit the taste preferences of the Filipinos. The Mala, in particular, was the most enjoyable for me. For those who want something a little tamer, the Huat Pot would be the perfect broth to start cooking your ingredients of choice in. “It’s the real thing,” Ng promises. “I’m horribly particular about quality, so we’re not scrimping on anything here.”
The sauce-making station is a wonderful puzzle to solve, especially for first-timers. I asked Chef Ng for his assistance in this department, and he gladly obliged by putting together an amazing concoction of everything he liked: satay-based sauce with coriander, onions, raw egg and a whole slew of other ingredients.
We then moved on to their fresh produce shelf, which houses an amazing collection of some of the best hot pot ingredients one could ever find in the Philippines. Here, you have a wide selection of vegetables, seafood and meat. For our first Huat Pot experience, Ng chose some high-quality Taiwanese noodles, watercress, mustard leaves, sweet potato, taro, lamb, and a slew of prawn, fish and squid balls to mix into our soup. Most of these ingredients are imported, but some are sourced from local providers to ensure freshness.
Cooking your hot pot is not as big as a challenge as it might seem to be. Your placemat serves as your guide; it specifies the number of seconds necessary to completely cook a certain ingredient in your soup. You can safely leave them to soak in the flavours after the indicated time as the soup is absorbed into the ingredients, and staff will simply drop by to top it off.
Even their dessert station can leave one salivating. You have access to unlimited taho with varying syrups such as vanilla, ginger, lemongrass and pandan. You can come and go as you please to raid the Magnum freezer for your favourite flavours—just please don’t take them home.
Partaking of the hot pot is just as fun as preparing it. Combining such high-quality ingredients with fantastic, flavourful broth elevates an ordinary noodle soup experience to something else altogether. Huat Pot clearly succeeds in preparing good, healthy food that people can easily relate to. The concept also allows diners to experiment with ingredients to create that one perfect hot pot.
“It’s an honourable business to be in,” Ng shares. “We get to work with the real superstars in the business—those people who get up at three in the morning to make sure you have the best rice, the freshest seafood. What I am doing is putting food on the table. Everything else I owe to the farmers and the fishermen. I feel fortunate to be able to have all this good produce that people can choose from. And you can come back again and again. Good things can be worth overdoing.”