MooJaa | Keong Saik Road

I’ve gotta admit: I don’t know what’s Thai about this place.

I love barbecues. I fondly remember the occasional secondary school class get-together at the stretch of barbecues at Marina South. I still miss hitting up the counters of Ang Mo Kio, Ngee Ann City and Marina Squares’ Seoul Garden branches with my MI friends. Alas, good things don’t last, especially the memories you treasure. Marina South has since given way to building Singapore’s new downtown, and Seoul Garden lost its way along the road – introducing cooked items on the menu, and rents crept up on costs, and the lower standard of meats took its toll on all of us, literally. We were all down with food poisoning once.

While Seoul Garden never regained its former glory it had in the early 2000s, barbecues are still popular, this time in different iterations. In an attempt to cash in on the gastronomic facet of the Hallyu wave, barbecue restaurants named after popular Korean dramas sprouted across the island; offering bulgogi, barbecue and Korean dishes that possess little to no regard to authenticity. In spite of a growing expat population, the obsessed locals never notice that no Korean ever eats at these set ups. On the other end of the low-end spectrum is the emergence of Thai barbecue restaurants. The embrace of this trend is generally not as enthusiastic as the “Korean” establishments, but it has been growing under the current. So when Darren asked me if I’d like to check this place out, I didn’t hesitate.

MooJaa is quite oddly placed, to be honest. It’s steps away from the high-end boutique hotel, Naumi Liora, and the Keong Saik Road area is becoming quite the place for mid scale to high-end restaurants. Nevertheless, MooJaa, as well as a famous Nasi Padang stall near it gives the district a very cosmopolitan mix.

For starters, don’t come here if you’re very health conscious. For the appetizers, you’re served a very delicious Fried Salmon Skin which we’re told tastes best if you soak in the broth for about 5 to 7 seconds. You can eat it on its own too, but unlike those you’d find in Thailand or Indonesia and sold by the packets, most have lost their crisp crunch. Instead of oil, pork lard is used to graze the barbecue, which some people will find an aversion towards, but gives the meat and broth an enhanced flavor, and it prevents the ingredients from sticking to the skillet. You could order a la carte, but doing that, on the whole, is not very wise. There are two sets – Set Moo, a pork set; and Set Gai, a chicken set. There’s also an all-you-can-eat buffet for SGD 32+ per person, which includes two servings of Kurobuta Pork and Angus Beef per person.

While there were things to like, such as anything on the menu with cheese in it, as well as the Fried Salmon Skin, I was generally not very satisfied coming out of it. I do think there’s too much hype being placed on the quality, and many Singaporeans are not helping by buying into the hype – pork must be kurobuta, beef must be USDA prime, Angus or wagyu, poultry must come from France – and taking it at face value. Even with my sensitive tastes, I couldn’t discern the kurobuta and Angus, and I believe they’re not what they are said to be.

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