- Ethnic restaurants in Auckland are taking the cooking from the kitchen to the dining table.
Ethnic restaurants in Auckland are taking the cooking from the kitchen to the dining table.
Hot pots, table-top barbecues and table grills feature strongly in Asian cuisine and many restaurants are bringing the dining style here, says Chinese market research specialist Andrew Zhu.
"A growing number of Asian restaurants are letting customers choose their food and ingredients, and then cook them on the table, to meet this demand," Zhu said.
"Modern Chinese believe in eating well and eating healthy, and they believe food doesn't get better than if it is cooked in front of their very eyes."
On Rosedale Rd, where a new cluster of Chinese restaurants have opened in the past year, many are offering cook on the table options.
Most offer hot-pot meals, where diners cook their choice of sliced meat, dumplings, seafood, tofu and vegetables in a metal pot of simmering broth at the centre of the table.
Some use communal pots and others offer individual options.
Others, like Love Spicy Restaurant, offer chuan chuan xiang meals - where customers pick from a selection of food on skewers - and cook them in a pot of spicy broth at their table.
At Long Time Ago, a Chinese restaurant on Corinthian Drive, Chinese table-top barbecue - or shao kao - is on offer.
Here diners place their selection of skewered barbecue dishes on a table-top rotating grill which can be turned on at the click of a button.
"Asians see eating time as also a way to socialise, because people can chat and have fun as they gather around the table," Zhu said.
Asian-style barbecue is something that is consumed all year round, Zhu said, and hot pots are more popular in the winter.
He attributed the growing demand for this style of dining to recent migrants, more of whom were coming from Beijing and other northern Chinese cities.
"This is an eating style that they are familiar with, and also it gives them nostalgia from home," he said.
In Takapuna, 8 Colours of Korean also changed from being a Korean steak house to a Korean BBQ restaurant.
Tables at the restaurant come with built-in grills or portable gas burners for table-top cooking.
Dr Changzoo Song, a Korean studies specialist at the University of Auckland, said table-top barbecues, or gogigui, were hugely popular in Korea.
This was because most Koreans lived in apartments and did not have backyards for barbecues as we know it in New Zealand.
At Korean barbecue restaurants, meat and ingredients are cooked on gas or charcoal grills on the table.
Song said the bulgogi cuisine (seasoned barbecued beef) originated from the Mongolians in the 13th century, but became popular since American troops arrived during the war in 1945.
"In the past Koreans consumed beef, but that was confined only to rich people," he said.
"With the economic development after the 1960s, Koreans began consuming more beef and it is today the most popular meat for Koreans."
Restaurant owner Jung Han Kim said Korean barbecue restaurants were rising in popularity because "Korean people like barbecue a lot, and New Zealand beef is considered to be very good".
At Love Spicy, diners get to pick from skewered pork ribs, fish balls, squid, tofu and nearly anything else on a stick.
In chuan chuan xiang dining, everything is served and cooked on bamboo sticks in a pot of boiling spicy broth on the table.
Before serving, the cooked skewered ingredient are further seasoned with garlic, black pepper, sichuan pepper and dipped in a sesame paste mix.
Diners are charged according to the number of sticks they consume.
"It is a very famous style of eating in China and a very common street food," said restaurant owner Wenting Ru.
"In Beijing, you can find it in nearly every corner, and I am very happy that it has been very well received here in Auckland too."
Ru said her restaurant had been consistently full since it opened in September.
Maisey Li, 25, an international student from Beijing, said she liked eating chuan chuan xiang and hot pots because it made her feel like "a chef".
"We get to choose whatever meat and vegetables we like, and we can cook it by ourselves in the style we like," Li said.
"I like it because it feels like I am my own chef, and I can cook my dinner how I like it based on my own instincts."
Sean Liu, owner of Long Time Ago Restaurant, has brought shao kao or Chinese barbecue from the busy streets and night markets of Beijing to Albany.
Shao kao meals consist of heavily seasoned barbecued food, such as fish, seafood and meats on skewers, which are flame grilled on a barbecue.
In 2013, outdoor barbecue stands were banned in China because of the heavy smog problems.
More recently shao kao has become popular indoors, where diners can cook their dinner on rotating table-top grills.
"It is a very popular and common food in China, but it is a very interesting style of eating," Liu said.
"People will eat shao kao after work and enjoy it with beer, it is a great way for friends to gather and socialise."
Chinese mother of two Luanne Xu, who has shao kao with the family at least once a month, said she regarded it as a "family activity".
"The children love to put the skewers on to the grill machine and turning on the switch to rotate the skewers," Xu said.
Closer to the city another restaurant, Jiang Yi Hu Grill-lamb Shoulder in Pt Chevalier, lets diners roast whole lamb shoulder on a spit over glowing charcoal at the table.
Be your own chef:
• Chuan chuan xiang (Chinese stick pot): Love Spicy, Unit 18, 96 Rosedale Rd.
• Gogigui (Korean BBQ): 8 Colours of Korean, 138 Hurstmere Rd, Takapuna.
• Shao kao (Chinese BBQ): Long Time Ago, 12b, 14 Corinthian Drive, Albany.
• Table-top spit grill: Jiang Yi Hu Grill-lamb Shoulder, 1180 Great North Rd