Moo Gra Ta means something roughly equivalent to ‘pork skillet’ in Thai. The ‘Gra Ta’ is a metal dish a bit like a mexican hat. Underneath is a dish or bucket with hot coals. The dish involves cooking pork (and other meats or seafood) on the top part of the hat and then boiling vegetables, noodles, eggs and anything else you can get in the brim of hat, which is filled with stock. The meat is eaten normally with chopstick accompanied by a slightly sweet chilli sauce, whilst the broth made in the brim of the cooking pot is eaten alongside from small bowls with a spoon.
Meat and Vegetables
In the picture above you will see two plates. One with pork, pork liver and squid. The other plate has vegetables to be cooked in the stock. There are no set rules about what you cook, and often in restaurants it is done buffet style with diners picking out their own ingredients to cook.
Origins of the Dish
There are a number of theories where the dish comes from. In other Asian countries, such as Korea they do something similar. A popular explanation is that the cooking style comes from Mongolia, and Moo Gra Ta is regularly referred to as Mongolian Hotpot. Another theory, favoured by many Thais, is that the dish was created by Thai soldiers centuries ago when they were fighting the Cambodians (an enemy of Thailand through the ages). The story goes that the Thai soldiers were low on food and without cooking implements. To feed themselves they hunted in the forests and used their tin hats (then shaped like Gra Ta dishes) to cook foraged meats and to make a basic soup. Legend goes that the discovery of this type cooking gave the Thai soldiers the edge over their Cambodian counterparts, who were also suffering from the same lack of provisions, and allowed them to win a great victory.
Sharing a Moo Gra Ta is a social activity
Moo Gra Ta is a dish to be eaten in a group and it is very popular amongst all social classes in Thailand. Everyone joins in and adds meat, vegetable and other ingredients into the mix and helps out with the cooking process. It is meant to be a communal activity and fun. Meals often last a hour or two with plenty of beer consumed, generally by the adult men. It is also relatively inexpensive. Per person it costs between 100 THB and 150 THB (£2/$3 to £3/$4.5) depending on the restaurant and how fancy the ingredients are. The restaurant we went to in the pictures doesn’t have a name, but its in Thong Nai Pan Noi on the island of Koh Phangan. Its on the way into Thong Nai Pan Noi near the entrance to the Panviman Resort by the large supermarket/builders merchants. This is an Isan restaurant and it is very popular with the staff who work in the local resorts. Virtually no tourists ever go in there which is a shame as the food is excellent, cheap and authentic Thai cuisine.
UPDATE 2020: This restaurant has now moved nearer the beach in Thong Nai Pan Noi and is now next door to the ‘Chat Shop’ on the main road in the village near Buri Rasa Resort.