Shabu Shabu at the Imperial Mae Ping

The Imperial Mae Ping is one of the better known hotels in Chiang Mai, but their Shabu Shabu buffet is not as familiar. The all-you-can-eat deal is B. 159 (net) any night other than Wednesdays, when the charge is only B. 99. We decided that we should pay the Imperial Mae Ping a visit.

We were joined by Marina Subhananta from the Imperial Mae Ping’s Public Relations Office, who informed us that by enrolling in their ‘member card programme’ (called the M Club) there were even further discounts available, which would bring the cost down to only B. 120.

The restaurant is on the ground floor of the hotel. It is predominantly decorated in white with some mirrored panels, red topped tables and black tiled floors, and basically exudes Japanese minimalism. The helpful service personnel are also in black with red aprons to heighten the effect.

The Shabu Shabu experience is a variation of the Asian ‘steam boat’ style of eating. A charcoal fired soup steamer is placed in the middle of the table and you indulge yourself by cooking your selected items in the soup stock, and finish up with the enriched soup at the end. Think of it as a ‘soup’ fondue, rather than an oil or cheese one.

Along one wall are the buffet items, and these are extensive. You begin with various sauces, including Japanese vinegar, sweet chilli, salted bean curd, spring onion, bird’s eye chilli, lemon juice, turnip, garlic and soya. Then there are containers with both steamed and fried rice, shrimp crackers and roasted chilli paste.

Turn the corner and you have egg noodles (yellow and green), stuffed bean curd, wontons and fish balls. Moving right along, there is sliced beef, chicken and pork, as well as chopped pigs stomach (for those who have the stomach for it).

Continuing on, there are chicken, beef, shrimp and pork balls, selections of red snapper, squid and jellyfish, a huge selection of vegetables and greens including morning glory, asparagus, celery, spring onion, lettuce, four styles of mushroom, bean curd and eggs. Finally, there is the meat slicing station with plates of wafer thin beef and pork.

We made our selections and repaired to the table, where the steam boat was all set up, stock boiling, and the helpful waitresses had brought some sauces for us to use as dips. The steam boat also comes with a wire strainer and a soup spoon.

From now on, it is up to you. We added the ‘harder’ vegetables to the stock right from the outset, such as baby corn and asparagus and then began adding the meat selections. You can just throw pieces into the stock and retrieve them later with the chopsticks like Madame who is adept at such activities, or place them in the strainer, as I did, and dip it in the soup, so you can easily find the items after a couple of minutes. The thinly sliced meat cooks in two minutes and if dipped in egg beforehand makes it very soft. We had fun and we were filled.

Endless refills of jasmine tea come with the buffet, and local beers are as low as B. 45 (+ +) for draft or B. 115 (+ +) for a glass of house wine.

The overall feeling of the team was that here was a restaurant deal, in an upmarket hotel, that was not going to eat big holes in your wallet. The choices are enormous, so there was something for everyone, no matter what cultural (or culinary) background. During the evening of dipping, dunking and devouring I mentioned that it has always been my feeling that food should be more than nourishment, but should also be fun. Shabu Shabu certainly fits into that equation, and I would recommend that Shabu Shabu should be on your list when looking at entertaining a few people. It is a ‘fun’ experience and for what you get, inexpensive. We enjoyed it, I am sure you will too. Try it!

Shabu Shabu, the Imperial Mae Ping, 153 Sridonchai Road, Chiang Mai, telephone 053 283 900, email [email protected] imperialmaeping.com

Major credit cards accepted and secure parking.