Comparing Cost of Hot Pot in Chez Suanne with AYCE Hot Pot Restaurant

Chinese food is generally cheap. We can often get a good full meal for just $15 and that will be better than average. But there is one type of Chinese food that is uncharacteristically expensive.

It was just last week that I blogged about a hot pot restaurant and I suddenly realized how expensive it had been eating out at hot pot restaurants. So I did a bit of math out of curiosity. I wanted to see how much it really is for one person.

This is how much we spent averaged out per person (before tips):

So I was wondering how much it would cost to make it at home … like, much cheaper compared to eating out.

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So that was our weekend project to get to the bottom of this question.

We did not want to go scouring around town for the best and cheapest ingredients. We took the easy way out. We went to T&T and try to get everything we need in one place.

We realize that some stuff in T&T are more expensive and that we don’t normally get some of the stuff we need here.

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Hehehe … I did not bring my big camera into the store. Instead I brought a point and shoot so that I could steal a few shots of the inside. If I get caught taking pictures in the store, I would probably get thrown out.

We got a few of everything. We got … meat balls, sliced meat, vegetables, mushroom, sauces, hot pot mix. Just to make sure that we compare apple to apple, we also checked the prices of butane gas canisters and burners and pot too.

We got enough food for three people (Arkensen doesn’t want to participate in the project because he did not want hot pot).

For three people, I thought that it would just be $50 or less. But it turned out to be more than that.

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We already have our own gas burner. These types of burner is cheap. Just $14.

The butane gas is just $1.40 a canister. A canister is more than enough for a meal.

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Of all the ingredients we bought, the meat slices were the most expensive and represent a big chunk of the cost. We bought roughly a pound each of lamb shoulder ($11.04) and beef blade chuck ($15.98).

There are two types of sliced meat. The cheaper ones are flat and the more expensive ones are curled into rolls. We bought the more expensive one which is about 25% more than the flat ones.

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We were wondering why the difference in prices for the flat packed ones and the ones that are curled. We noticed that the expiry dates for the curled ones are about 1 week longer than the flat ones. So here is our theory but I need you to tell me what you think.

I think the curled ones are fresher and newly sliced. When they slice the meat, the meat are frozen and it will result naturally in curled rolls. They can’t hold this shape forever. After a few days, it will collapse and that is when the supermarket will repackage it to flat ones. What do you think?

If that is true, then next time you should look for hot pot restaurants that serve curled/rolled meat.

We were wondering if we were to get the meat from a butcher if it would have been cheaper. Anyone knows?

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For the soup base, Suanne could have made it from scratch but we want to take the easy way out. We got the more famous brand, Little Sheep.

We planned to do a two soup hot pot and got one of each, spicy and non-spicy. This is cheap. Only $3 per pack.

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We got half a pound of Fried Crab Nuggets which came to $2.50. The Stuffed Fish Bean Curd Rolls was $3.00 for half a pound. These two was from their fresh meat counter.

As for the Fish Balls with Mixed Seafood, they are frozen and comes in a pack for $3.00. We bought this because they have fillings in it.

Pound for pound these are way cheaper than the sliced meats. There are a LOT to chose from the fresh meat counter (like fish paste!). We could only eat so much and so ended up with these three types.

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The fried bean curd stick was $3.20 per pack.

I did not want Udon but Arkensen wants it. This is $2.00 for 4 packs which we know we will only eat one pack. We also got the Konnyaku Noodles which is $1.50.

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Something for a balanced meal. The spinach was $1.20 a bundle. The enoki mushroom was $1.30.

We also need the green onions and garlic to add to the soup base. The green onion was 60 cents only while the 3-piece garlic bag was 80 cents.

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I don’t care a lot for the Barbecue Sauce but just for the sake of having a sauce, we bought this. This is the most well known brand, the Bull Head BBQ Sauce and is $7.00.

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Again for authenticity and for the sake of comparing apples-to-apples, we also bought plum juice ($2.80).

OK. That is all that we bought. I’ll give you the totals later on this post. We are set …

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We pour the contents of the soup base into the two sections, one spicy, the other not. We put everything in except for the oil.

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To save on the gas canister, Suanne pre-boil the water. First the boiled water, then add in the packets of oil. Close and let boil … and we are all set!

This is the first time we tried the Little Sheep soup base. It was very salty. We reckon that perhaps our pot was too small for the two packets of soup base.

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Here is the fish ball with fillings. This is not too good. If we had time, we would buy this from the stall in the Richmond Public Market which makes excellent meat filled fish balls. And it is bigger and fresher too. The stall name of Fu Yuan Fast Food. You can see a picture of their fish ball here in this post.

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It was a LOT of food and it wasn’t a lot of work since we bought most of the items all ready to be cooked. As a matter of fact we were all already eating 30 minutes after we got home.

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At the end, we have quite a bit of leftovers. I was particularly surprised that we had so much beef left. The lamb shoulder was all gone because we like it better. The beef was quite tough even though we saw enough marbling on it.

So how much did it cost?

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We spent $63 shopping in T&T for this meal. However, we did not eat everything that we bought. So we made guesstimates on how much we consumed and calculated the value that we ate.

So, between the three of us, this meal came to be around $12.00 per person.

Not bad, huh? Especially when you compare to at least $25.oo per person if you eat out at a AYCE hot pot restaurant. Please note that I am assuming you already have the initial one-time “infrastructure” outlay (eg. burner and pot) which will cost about $35.00.

Now, let’s do further analysis and break down the costs of each component.

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The pie chart above represents the dollar breakdown of the food we consumed.

As you can see, the sliced meats represented 42% of the total. So if we try to find a cheaper source, it will have an impact on the cost. Does anyone know where we can get a cheaper source for sliced meat.

The other surprising big item is the soup base which is 19%. This is easily addressed if we boil our own stock with chicken or pork bones. It is a bit more work just to save a couple of dollars. LOL!

The “Meats” represents the meat balls. I won’t save on this because we love it.

Cheh! Celaka punya orang! The sauce is only 1% of the cost and the restaurants charges us $1 per item! Guess I know now what their business model is. All AYCE hot pot restaurants are actually sauce and condiments restaurants in disguise. LOL!

So … there you go! It is at the very least 50% cheaper having hot pot in Chez Suanne compared to the AYCE hot pot restaurants out there.

Thoughts?

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This Post Has 63 Comments

  1. wow…what a thorough comparison, Ben!
    We much prefer to have hot pot at home….not only is it cheaper (our last one was about $6.75 per person) we find it much more comfortable as we love to linger over the pot for hours. Hot Pot is one of the most fun, social and interactive meals in our books!

    hehe…and you don’t have to worry about soup being recycled 🙂

    1. Hi joyluckclub:
      I am eyeing to get your induction thingy for ourselves. Maybe like BR, it’s a guy thing. We don’t get excited with the normal kitchen appliance but when it comes to “technology”, now we are talking. 🙂

      Hi everyone:
      Joyluckclub actually did a piece of cost comparison too at home. Hers is even cheaper … see her post here: http://goo.gl/3w8i1 … oh well, while you are on her site, go check out her other post of me in action. 🙂

      Ben

  2. So if I bring $15, can I come have hotpot at your house? 😀

    1. Hi PinoyGourmet and Kevin: You got to check with Chef Suanne for the reservation. It’ll be $15 but I think Chef Suanne charges like $10 for sauce and condiments. Check with her. It’s her business, not mine. Ben

  3. Reservations for 2 please at Chez Suanne for Dinner tonight 🙂

  4. “Please note that I am assuming you already have the initial one-time “infrastructure” outlay (eg. burner and pot) which will cost about $35.00.

    Now, let’s do further analysis and break down the costs of each component.”

    =====

    Holy cow, I thought for a moment there I’m reading some project justification cost-benefit analysis. Great write-up, Ben !!!!

    This explains why I don’t hot pot in restaurants. The value just isn’t there if I can do it at home. And I do. Also more leisurely and relaxing at home, esp. with guests, where we can pace our eating/cooking and conversing.

  5. You can buy the slice meat at B & S Food Products on 120-8051 Leslie Rd. They are meat shop and much cheaper. I think the curly slice meat are better quality meat than the slice ones. Regarding the soup base for little lamb, yes you are right. You need at least 2L of water for 1 pack of the soup base otherwise it will be super salty. Happy Hot Pot !!!

    1. “B&S Food Products” …… hmmm, sounds kinda fishy. As in bait & switch, LOL

      1. You are so funny, LotusRapper, about the “Bait and Switch”. Keep these wise crack remarks coming! Ben

      2. It’s a good thing this blog is Ben and Suanne’s Chowtimes…..the alternative could be subject to some nasty name calling … (sorry couldn’t resist)

        1. 🙂 Took me a while to catch on to what you’re saying.

    2. i second the B&S recommendation. I used to shop around town for the best meat, frozen tofu and tasty balls (i’m still talking hot pot here lol) but now B&S is pretty much my one stop shopping.

      Can we come for hot pot at your place then? I’ll even tip 20%! 😛

      1. Hi Mo: Wow … big tipper! Suanne love big tippers.

    3. Hi Sharon: Whereabouts is B&S Products? On Leslie Road you said? It is the side road right across from the Superstore is it not? I can’t remember seeing a place like that in that area. Ben

      1. Hi Ben, I googled B&S and its in the same strip mall as De Dutch Pannekok. http://goo.gl/CVgIW

        1. As always … thanks Crispy. I had never noticed B&S in that location before. Ben

  6. Great analysis! We have found it is much cheaper to do hot pot at home, and aside from the prep work, more fun and comfortable too. Usually for the base, we use chicken broth cubes or veggie broth, and I throw in ginger, garlic, spring onion, chilies, like you did, and I have a miso or satay sauce to add some flavour.

    As for the dipping sauces, we juist go crazy making creatings of different flavours: sweet, spicy, savoury, etc.

    Just stumbled across your blog today, and I was touched by your story, going from community kitchen to cooking and restaurant experts. Will be a regular reader from now on.

  7. Nhamm… this makes me wanna eat meat again 🙂

  8. LOL!!! I love our ways of “Chez XXXXX”…our “Chez Buddha”, Suanne’s “Chez Suanne”…when will “Chez Ben” be happening? Hehehe! We should have a blog that unites all the “Chez”…hehehe!

    Good choice on the plum drink, that brand is the only one I buy whenever we have hot pots at home…nothing else.

    I agree, hot pots at home are so much cheaper and more fun! Every time we have hot pots at home, we have enough for three days!

    Nowadays, instead of AYCE hot pots, I just stick with shabu-shabu places such as Pearl Hot Pot. With my usual $12.95 combo, with tax and tips, it’s no more than $17…much cheaper than AYCE.

    1. Hi Buddha Girl: Hehehe … There will never be a Chez Ben. Unless of course if there is a demand for my specialities: instant noodles and sunny side eggs (eggs cracked with one hand!). The plum juice was a random choice but good to know it is a good one. We drank loads of it because the soup was so salty! Ben

  9. There’s also that shop beside Excellent Tofu in Central Square that sells all sorts of ingredients for “HOT POT FUN” at home. Haven’t done any price comparison, though.

    1. Hi JS: Oh yeah … I know that place you mentioned. Thanks! Ben

  10. Safeway and IGA all have meat cutting service for free. If you want to get meat a little cheaper, you can buy a roast at either of those places, ask them to slice it up for you thinly (you have to go during their work hours though when the butcher is in) and use it in hotpot. you can freeze it for a short period to achieve that hot pot effect.

    The rest of the sliced meats can be used for stir-fries. 🙂

    If you get the meat on sale, you can save a lot, IMO.

    Loved the post Ben. I especially loved the pie chart! 🙂

    Chez Suanne wins in my opinion.

  11. LOL!!! Chez Suanne sounds so famous and formal. 🙂 Hot pots at home are definitely cheaper; here in the US it’s also about 50% savings. The hot pot places in US overcharge for pretty much all fillings especially the meat as well as soup base. I like to go the cheap route on soup base at home and either use chicken/pork broth that I’ve been using as a base or start out with water, which by the end of the meal turns into a deeply flavored broth.

  12. :O do you not hotpot at home often?! I’ve never liked going out for hotpot because I know that I can get everything at home and I can eat for as long as I want… and take breaks etc.

    Butcher meats are definitely cheaper! I know of this Korean place on Kingsway that sells really cheap meats. I don’t remember the exact name or how much it is…but I know when my friends and I hotpot, they all go there to get it 😀

    1. Hi Julie: Yeah, it had been a while since we did hot pot at home although we had the pot and stove for a very long time. You can see how new they all look like! Ben

  13. Love all that analysis. Always cheaper to eat at home! I like the Malaysian version where you boil the bones for the soup and add tons of “siew choy” or “wong nga pak”. Most important is the deep fried minced garlic..makes the soup so much more fragrant!!

    1. Hi Chris: Oh yeah, suey choy on hot pot. I remember seeing that now in Malaysian hot pot. That reminds me … we were thinking of doing a laksa hot pot one of these days! Ben

  14. i normally use chicken stock but if you can use just plain water and cabbage. For some reason, cabbage makes the broth really sweet. When i hot pot at home, I usually set up a meat pot and a veggie pot and the veggie pot that started out without any soup base enhancers ends up a lot sweeter than the meat pot. I realized it was the cabbage.

    1. Hi Mo: Yup. Keep it simple. We did not quite like the saltiness of the Little Sheep soup base. Next time we will try it with simpler soup. The cooking will flavour up the soup as we go anyway. Ben

  15. Try using coconut milk for a ridiculously delicious hotpot.

    1. Hi Ryan C: Coconut Milk as a soup base? Never heard of it. I think you need a bit more than just coconut milk right? Ben

  16. Actually anything you cook at home is cheaper than what you can get in a restaurant. We’re paying extra to be served and to avoid cleaning up and doing the dishes after our meal.

  17. you can cut down costs further by using electronic pot/stove to cook the hotpot.

  18. Thank you so much for doing this post! THis is awesome.

  19. one of the best post ever on Chowtimes!!!

    loved the cost breakdown.

    can you do one for AYCE sushi? This is the one AYCE that I think is good value…especially when they have oysters!

    1. Hi Ryan: LOL! AYCE Sushi is kind of hard because we don’t make it at home, not like hot pot. 🙂 Doing the hot pot was easy … I just had to go buy the stuff in one place, cook and then disappear when it is time for cleaning up. Ben

  20. Aiyoh, you swore in Malay. Naughty!

    You didn’t add in labour costs: chef to cook the soup, prep work, waitress wage, overhead. Don’t forget Chef Suanne’s labour as well, gas to T&T blah, blah, blah…

    Re-do analysis!!

    LOL!!

    When I do hot pot, I have tons of left overs as well. Usually eat too much as you can’t see how much you have eaten. I usually do mine ala koay teow th’ng.

    1. Hi Lissa:

      Oh? Is that considered swearing. I don’t think so. I think it is more of cursing than swearing … or is that the same thing. *shrug* Good thing I don’t report to you at work. Redo the analysis?!? You know how much work I put into it and then you tell me it does not measure up. I QUIT!!!

      🙂 Ben

  21. We got a meat slicer for hot pot at home. This way we can get nice cuts of meat, freeze them for a day, then make thin or thicker slices to suit our tastes. I haven’t compared but I think it would be even cheaper. However, it does involve more work, but you are guaranteed of the quality. Sometimes I don’t trust the pre-sliced meats at the stores. 🙂

    1. Out of curiosity, Willie … how much does a meat slicer cost? Ben

    2. I was going to suggest slicing your own meat, but with a knife and not a meat slicer. lol When pork/beef go on sale, we usually stock up our freezers. Then when it comes to hot pot, we slice the slightly thawed meat. It’s cheaper AND you will still have leftover meat for other meals.

  22. Hi Ben,

    Nice pie chart! We do hotpot at home most of the time. We go out when the group gets too big to handle the washing and cleaning up. If it’s just D and me, we get to the point that … we use the stove in the kitchen to do our hotpot. Just use 2 bar stools and it’s right next to the stove, fridge and the sink! LOL
    I usually make my own soup base with simple things like chicken bone with some tomato, napa cabbage and mushroom. Instead of making a spicy soup base, we use spicy dipping sauce (fresh chili, XO sauce, chili paste…etc).

    Winnie

    1. Hi Winnie: Yeah, I like the pie chart’s colors. Actually, this is nothing special. I used MS Excel to create the table and chart. They just have really pretty templates for these in their 2007 version. Hehehe … you and D are lazy! I have never come across anyone eating off the pot on the stove. 🙂 Ben

  23. Hankook Meat at 3514 Kingsway, Vancouver (Korean) has very fresh meats for hotpot, & at very good prices. Chexk it out.

    1. I second this. My Korean friends always buy from this store.

      The small korean restaurant a couple of doors down isn’t too bad either.

  24. Oops, sorry for the typo. I mean check it out.

    1. You are such a perfectionist, Ease. 🙂

  25. I think going with the homemade broth would be cheaper and better tasting, but what do you put in it (other than simmering meat on the bone)?

    When you go to the restaurants there are always ingredients I’m not familiar with, like goji berries and things.

    1. Hi etranger, one of the soup base with goji berry I can think of is the drunken chicken hotpot. For this soup base, you can boil chicken bones with “tong gwei” which can be bought from Chinese herbal shop. Add the goji berries when you start the hotpot so that they don’t disintegrate. Chinese always add a few slices of ginger in soup to get rid of the fishy taste. Of course, if it’s drunken chicken soup, you have to add some cooking wine to it according to your preference.

  26. Very good analysis, Ben! For some people, the ambiance, customer service, and (relative) laziness of eating hot pot at a restaurant would provide them with the appeal. But for a lot of people that kind of service just isn’t worth the large amount of money.

    I know for myself and my friends, sometimes having hot pot at someone’s house is a different kind of experience than eating out. But looking at our wallets, I think eating in is a better choice for now 🙂

  27. This is super interesting. Here in Toronto, hot pot per person averages to be about $25 after tax and tip on weekends. But I do find that they give a lot more variety than what one might purchase for home. Oysters, shrimp, fish, more veggies, more meat selection, etc. – so I guess that’s why I don’t mind paying. I think I enjoy both ‘at home’ and ‘dining out’ hot pot for their own reasons.

    As for the BBQ (Satay) sauce you mentioned, I recommend the Kimlan brand instead. Compared to Bull Head I find it a lot more aromatic.

    1. Hi Melissa: It seems like hot pot is quite a few dollars cheaper in Toronto than in Vancouver. I’ve never been to that part of the country before and would love to do that one day. Ben

      1. DO come! Bring the whole fam! We’ll do dinner. =D

        1. *clap* *clap* *clap* Deal! 🙂

  28. Hi Ben!

    I read your post and I have to say that you did get a lot of food :), but I noticed that you said that your soup base was quite salty. My husband and I have tried that exact same soup base from the little sheep and honestly one packet of the soup base is good enough for your one pot. I noticed that one side was spicy and the other was not so I assume you placed both packets in their respective side of the pot and I’m sure your base was super salty. Next time, just use both sides with one type of soup base and you’ll see that it’s not so bad and actually really good. Also, I have the exact same can of satay sauce in my fridge. If you want a really quick way of making hot pot all you need is to heat up some oil in your pot, add some garlic and satay sauce… let it fry a little so it becomes fragrant and then add your chicken stock and voila! You got yourself some damn good satay soup base! lol.

    1. Hi Anna: Yes we did use one pack for each half of the hot. Your way of preparing the soup base sounded do delicious! Ben

  29. I bought the Little Sheep Hot Pot soup base for the first time. Since you mentioned it was too salty, I thought of using a portion of the powder. Instructions were to use the whole pack for 6 cups of water. I used 8 cups of water for half of the pack (50g). I preboiled the soup first before placing it in the hot pot. It wasn’t salty at all but the MSG still lingers after a couple of hours. Yuck!

  30. The best way to buy meat is to purchase a larger cut yourself partially freeze and slice thinly you will get much higher quality for cheaper as the pre sliced meats are generally tougher low quality cuts which they slice very thin across the grain so it does not seem so tough over cooking them will also make them tough eat just when the pink is gone. I would recommend a tri tip roast not too expensive but very flavourful and very tender when sliced across the grain.

  31. I personally loved hotpot…I even picked up 小肥羊hot pot base too, mind you, it’s a package for 4 people serving…so you trying to fit that into a 鴛鴦鍋 is a serious mistake! I cooked up a huge pot (and I mean huge!) of it and it tastes wonders.

    However I have an issue finding the electrical element that they have though, any thoughts?

    Hotpot is not really hotpot if you can’t have it on the table, right?

    1. Hi Ceci: Incidentally, the next post I am going to write about is the Little Sheep Hot Pot I had in Beijing. Sorry, I don’t understand your question about “finding the electrical element”. Ben

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