Last night we went to dinner at a popular barbeque restaurant in Lampang, Blue Mukata. It is an all-you-can-eat buffet where you cook the dinner yourself using a metal cooker sitting in the middle of the table, which has burning charcoal in its bottom. It's a very clever device. These are not gas burners piped to every table. No, these devices have hot burning charcoal in the bottom and they are carried to the table on a long forked device by the fire specialist at the restaurant. The metal dome in the middle gets super hot, making a hot surface for cooking sliced meat, especially pork. A large cube of fat is put at the very top of the dome, which then lubricates the cooking surface as the fat gets hot. Meanwhile there is a rim around the dome which holds water poured from a tea pot. This hot water is then used to boil vegetables and eventually make soup.
This was invented by the Thai people, a variation of the Korean barbeque grill and the Chinese hot pot. It is called Mu kratha, meaning pan pork. Thai folks really love pork, my wife's favorite meat by far. The restaurant is a large open pavilion, which is a good thing, as all those charcoal cookers put out a lot of heat. We ate there one afternoon when a cloudburst of rain let loose. The rain was banging on the metal roof and soon making its way through roof imperfections onto the dining area below. It was pretty exciting. We had to move over a few feet to avoid one waterfall of rain. But everyone took it in stride, continuing to cook and eat, while the staff scurried about mopping up the water on the floor and moving tables as needed.
This place also has a freezer with tubs of yummy ice cream. Grab as much as you want of that too. They also had round bite-size eclairs to go with the ice cream. Ohhh my! The total tab for the four of us was just under $7 each (800 baht). That's a good example of how affordable delicious food is in Thailand.
The image of the Mu kratha cooker came from Wikimedia. You can barely see the burning fire at its bottom. Follow the link to the Blue Mukata restaurant above and you can see some even better images taken by Nattakan Ruenpan.