Style: Taiwanese Hot Pot
Getting the Good: 1) It’s inexpensive – for a family of five our bill was about $65, and my family eats a lot; 2) tasty choice of homemade broths and dipping sauces; and 3) fast, “Aunty” Susan definitely has a system down to get the food out in a timely manner, but . . .
Battling the Bad: 1) the wait because Sweet Home is quite popular you will wait, and wait, my family arrived at 5:30 p.m. on a Sunday and was not seated till 6:20 p.m.; 2) overwhelming/crowded, I think for people not used to Asian-style Hot Pot it can be overwhelming as the small restaurant space is cramped and noisy, moreover you have fourteen choices of broths, and then have to get your own dipping sauces and vegetables at the counter and refrigerator while dodging other patrons and tables. “Aunty” Susan informs me that they are planning on opening another restaurant, so that would definitely alleviate the pressure on their one location because the wait time can seem ridiculous when you are starving.
Bottom line: Save a seat somewhere for me at this crowded hot spot, as I’m coming Home again for tasty broth and delicious dipping sauces.
The Long of It
The Home that Gives you a lot of Simple Tasty Choices
I’ve never been to Taiwan, but I’ve always wanted to go there. It might be due to my interest in Asian affairs from when I studied politics and history for undergrad, but I now know there is an additional reason: if there are establishments like Sweet Home Café over there I definitely want to eat my way across the island.
Sweet Home Café is a Taiwanese-style hot pot restaurant located in the small complex on King Street, across from Honolulu State Stadium Park. Sweet Home Café is homely. It is not elaborate or complex. It is simple and delicious. If you know what Asian hot pot or shabu-shabu is, then Sweet Home is just that and do not expect anything more or less. It is everything you expect when you come home to get a home cooked meal. It’s just that this Home gives you a lot of flavorful choices.
First, you will select the type of broth you will cook your meats and vegetables in. There are fourteen types, guaranteed to suit almost anyone’s palette for Asian-styled broths. Next, you will choose your meats from four types. I suggest getting a little of each unless you do not like lamb or beef tongue. Then you will go to the refrigerator and counter to select your vegetables and dipping sauces. Your bill is tabulated based on color-coded plates of meat and vegetables that you get, similar to kaiten (“revolving”) sushi restaurants.
I ordered the House special, but I discovered it was made from shellfish, which I am allergic to, but the owner and manager, “Aunty” Susan was kind of enough to complement me another one. I enjoyed my broth, it was meaty and tasty, but typically what happens at hot pot places is either the broth is simple chicken stock and the meat and vegetables you cook does not retain any of that flavor or the broth is so laden with salt or MSG and just becomes a salty piece of meat or vegetable. Here the homemade-style broths are enough to coat the meat and vegetables and then mixes nicely with the mostly homemade dipping sauces. The selection of sauces is one of the best parts of this meal: it’s is all about choice.
Sweet Home has about twelve different sauces to dip your broth-soaked meats and vegetables in. They have the typical Asian flavors of sesame and miso, but what is better are the homemade ones. Their homemade Asian-chili sauce had more punch and fire in it than ones find in stores. Nothing beats a sauce mixed to a personal family recipe. Incidentally, I think Sweet Home is appropriately named. Susan informed me that her parents had been doing this for 30 years back in Taiwan. Her father wanted someone to carry on the tradition, and that is what she has done. This place is a nice blend of home and family. My dinner experience was marked by an impromptu singing of “Happy Birthday” not once, but twice for fellow patrons.
To round out this meal the restaurant complements (yes, free!) a bowl of Taiwanese-styled shaved ice. It is almost an analogy of the hot pot you just had, but instead of vegetables and meats, you have a swirling sea of shaved ice, tapioca, condensed milk, and other flavors found in cold Asian treats. It was an enjoyable meal from start to finish, but it doesn’t end there. They will package your leftover broth for you to take with you and enjoy at your own home.