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Lunch Special at Ninji Mala Hot Pot, Newark

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  • Melanie Wong Feb 27, 2006 02:49 AM
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The requests for hot pot and Taiwanese places on the board reminded me to post about my lunch at Ninji Mala Hot Pot last month. Both KK and tanspace have recommended the place highly, so I made a point to check it out when I had some shopping to do at the Lion in Newark. Some signs in the window promoted a lunch special for $7.99. I stepped in to ask if it were possible for just one person to have hot pot, soon I was sitting down for lunch.

The broths come in regular and numbing spicy (ma la). When I asked for ma la, my waiter sized me up then shook his head. I persisted, telling him that I liked hot food. He reluctantly agreed but said that he'd order mine "mild spicy". With that act, he might have saved my life. The mild spicy broth was one of the hottest things I've ever been served, still it was incredibly delicious for seasoning my food as well. The induction cooktop was a welcome change from sterno, as I dislike the smell of burning fuel on my tabletop, and it was easy to adjust the cooking temperature as well. I did miss being able to drink the broth after cooking my food in it though.

I picked lamb as my choice of meat, which was good quality, semi-frozen and sliced very thin. I also ordered an extra side of prawns to hedge my bets. The pot of broth hid many rectangles of firm tofu saturated with fiery seasonings. They tasted great once I learned to live with the pain. With these and the plate of fresh accompaniments (fish balls, surimi, mushrooms, fried tofu balls, napa cabbage, spinach, baby corn, cellophane noodles, and more that I'm forgetting), I was more than stuffed. The many glasses of water I downed to quench the flames probably took up much of my eating capacity.

A side bar holds condiments for mixing your own dipping sauce. The sesame paste and garlic-infused sacha sauce were great and my own blend was heavy on these elements.

This was a great rec and I'll add myself to the list of fans now.

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  1. You can also request a water based broth (no spice) which was what I had my first and only time there. I can imagine even the mild spicy can reduce one to talking like Marlon Brando in the Godfather.

    Their Ninji beef is also great (two kinds of beef, regular and this version, can't remember the difference but Ninji tasted better maybe a bit more marbling). If memory serves, they also have sour cabbage which makes the broth heartier, kind of like the Chang Bai style hot pot but not quite. I suppose sour cabbage won't mix well with mah lah, but would work great in plain water broth. Old Mandarin on Vicente in SF offers sour cabbage side dish for their Beijing style hotpot as well.

    3 Replies
    1. re: KK

      What, you didn't go for the hot stuff?!? (gg)

      One of the downsides of being a solo diner for hot pot is that you can't get one of those divided pots with both kinds of stock. The mala stock had some gritty sediment from all the ground spices that stuck to the food when it touched the bottom of the pot. The aroma of this hot stock was wonderful, could clear up any head cold.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Oh yes the yin yang or yeen yeung hot pot aka two soup stocks. Hot pot is better enjoyed with family/friends. Mini hot pots are nice but just not the same.

        I was with my wife on my first visit who couldn't take a hint of spice, so the lack of spicy broth was made up via my own custom made dipping sauce mix. Much better that way.

        Ninji should have little or no relation to the famous Taiwanese brand of hot pot soup stocks, which you can get at select Chinese supermarkets. The Marina market by San Mateo/Foster City for example carries Ninji Mala hotpot soup stock in the frozen foods section, never tried it but you can recreate the experience partly at home. Supposed to be very famous in Taiwan.

        1. re: KK

          Ninji is indeed quite famous and their chili sauce is the one my Mom uses for wontons in red chili oil. we get ours from Marina or Ranch 99 in Cupertino. hot stuff

    2. Nice TR, Melanie! Makes the top of my head sweat remembering my one and only trip thus far to Ninji Mala. Great way to fill up your stomach as well as clear sinuses and pores. Next time I have a case of the flu, I may very well try to punish the germs by eating there.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Eugene Park
        m
        Melanie Wong

        Someone emailed asking if the menu was translated into English yet. I think so, do you recall?

        I forgot to mention that I had an iced Hong Kong-style milk tea. I knew I'd need some dairy to help put out the flames. The tea was good. I consumed all the ice cubes too.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Sorry, can't remember if the menu was translated or not. I went with a Taiwanese buddy, and he did all the ordering. I also think the spiciness put my brain cells in a state of temporary numbness while I was there. Either that, or they were overloaded by the sweat gushing from the top of my head.

          1. re: Eugene Park
            m
            Melanie Wong

            When a dish can make someone with a Korean name sweat like that, take our word for it, this is HOT!

      2. Is that special every day, even on weekends?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Yummy
          m
          Melanie Wong

          Sorry, don't know, but I suspect not. If you call to find out, please post the info here.

        2. Had dinner here last night - it was fantastic.

          Three of us ordered the divided hot pot, with medium spicy broth. The plain broth had napa cabbage, fish balls, surimi, tomato, and fried tofu already simmering in it. The spicy broth came with cubes of firm tofu.

          We ordered lamb, tendon, Ninji beef, and shrimp for our proteins, and spinach, winter melon, black mushroom, and cellophane noodles to complete it.

          My favorites were the lamb, the tendon (I was surprised at how quickly it absorbed the flavor of the broth... always thought it took hours of simmering to do that), the winter melon, and the cellophane noodles. For me, the best part of hot pot is at the end, when you put in the noodles to absorb the rest of the broth - the noodles were amazing, and they absorbed so much that we only left a little bit of broth at the bottom of the pan.

          The menu is in English and Chinese (check off boxes with ingredients grouped by price). Dinner for 3, with beer, tax and tip came to $28/pp.

          4 Replies
          1. re: daveena

            Sounds great. Does the spicy broth have cumin in it?

            1. re: DezzerSF

              I don't think so... but honestly, if it did, I probably wouldn't have been able to tell. That broth was potent stuff. I used it to cook the meat, but then chased the meat with large amounts of vegetables cooking in the mild broth. We were all kind of euphoric with pain after dinner.

              1. re: daveena

                Glad you survived the heat to tell us about it!

                Not sure if it has cumin or not. There are a lot of gritty ground up spices and roasted cumin could well be in there.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  The spicy broth at Little Sheep Mongolian was heavy on the cumin but I'm looking for something less cumin-y and more heat intense like you've described. Seems like a trip is in order.