I have always wanted the main purpose of this blog to be highlighting great local places to eat. But every once in a while I think it’s worth giving a shout-out to something beyond the borders of the Capital District that must be tried whenever you can get the chance. This week, it’s hot pot in New York City.
When I returned from my recent weekend trip to NYC, I did a quick online search to see if any local places offer hot pot, and it appears that a couple might – possibly Shining Rainbow or Northeast Chinese Restaurant. I don’t have any experience with these places, but I would assume it’s not quite the same experience or the same scale that you can get in the City.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, hot pot is essentially Chinese cuisine that you cook at the table in a pot of boiling broth and oils. We went to 99 Favor Taste in Chinatown, which appears to also have a location in Brooklyn, and it was truly fantastic. It looked like some tables had cooking space for a large pot (you can get dividers to have two or three compartments in the pot for separate mixes), but our table had an individual burner and small pot for each person. You pay around twenty dollars and it’s all you can eat – you just keep ordering platters of delicious meats and vegetables and making whatever combinations you like. There was also a “sauce bar” where you could mix various ingredients to make a dipping sauce for the food after cooking – things like soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili paste, sesame paste, peanut butter, cilantro, etc.
Everyone at our table either chose the original broth (left) or the spicy broth (right). The spicy broth had a fair amount of kick to it, and was a bit heavier with oils than the regular broth. Plus it had some dangerous bits of chili peppers that could get scooped into your food if you weren’t careful when you transferred it from the pot to your plate.
For our mix-ins, we ordered lots of meat (little rolled up batches of thin sliced lamb and beef), spinach and bok choy for some greens, silken tofu, lotus root, a couple types of noodle (udon and rice), mushrooms, fish balls, and fish tofu. I had never even heard of fish tofu before this weekend, and to be honest I’m still not completely sure what it is. The name is pretty spot on – it has the texture of tofu and the taste of fish. I still have mixed feelings about it.
The ingredients tasted great, and I loved that everyone could personalize their meal. The thin cuts of meat meant that everything cooked pretty quickly. The only exception was the fish balls, some of which were a little frozen on the inside and took a few minutes. I particularly liked adding lots of udon noodles to my dish, as they really soaked up the flavors of the broth. At one point I added a drizzle of a spicy, peanut based sauce that I had concocted to my cooked noodles and it was perfection.
My only minor complaints were that some of the cuts of meat had a little too much fat on them, and some of the ingredients were a little tough to eat with only chopsticks (I’m looking at you, silken tofu). After sitting for a couple of hours around a table with eight or nine sizzling pots of food, you also leave smelling a bit like a fragrant hot pot yourself for the rest of the day.
Regardless, I really recommend adding this to your list of food places to try. The degree of customization is fun, and if you really want to get crazy, there were quite a few more adventurous ingredients that we didn’t go for – things like chicken gizzard, tripe, etc. For twenty dollars you can get a pretty remarkable amount of food. If I had to do this again, I probably would have not eaten anything all day in preparation. And it’s just a fun communal experience with some friends, sharing ingredients, comparing your final meals, and chatting around the table.