Boyle McCauley News

Since 1979 • April-May 2024 • Circulation 5000


Hot Pot Without the Hot Pot

A bowl of Mala Tang at 98 Spicy House. John Hooper

98 Spicy House
10636 – 98 Street
(587) 409-1999

A half dozen tables and a few food coolers fill up the space at Spicy 98, a new place on 98 street. Sparsely decorated with a wallpapered feature wall and various American and European placards, the place was well-lit with a few bare bulbs. The benches had thoughtfully-placed cushions, and the TV in the corner broadcasting Asian shows was at a thoughtfully low volume.

But it’s the food that’s most important, and this place specializes in Mala Tang, a cousin to hot pot. As explained to me, it’s a hot pot restaurant without the hot pot. There are no bubbling vats of steaming broth at each table, nor carts of all-you-can-eat foodstuffs roaming the aisles. Rather, one selects the ingredients for dinner, and it is prepared elsewhere with the signature spicy soup. It’s priced by the pound ($12/lb).

A modest selection of frozen meats – fish balls, crab sticks, prawn dumplings, or sausages – were available for the choosing. The veggies were limited to mushrooms (three kinds, though), bamboo, bean sprouts, and greens. A choice of rice, ramen, or udon noodles filled out the bowl.

There were signs listing the ingredients, but they weren’t necessarily aligned with the food. Nevertheless, my server was helpful in explaining what things were and how much would be enough.

The rich, dark, pork broth was inherently spicy with pepper, not just the addition of chilli sauce. It was balanced with some cooling sesame seeds (as well as some of the ingredients I selected). Everything was cooked to right the right level – not over-cooked or undercooked like I do at a traditional table hot pot!

The various balls were tasty, firm, and flavourful. The fried cheese ball was a special surprise. But the dumplings, cubes, and sticks were the best part. Tofu cubes increased the textural variety, the shrimp dumplings had solid shrimp meat, and the crab sticks were firm and delicious. I should have gone stronger on the two pieces of greens as they shrank quite a bit when cooked.

It’s possible to get a less spicy version, without the soup, which is more sweet and sour ($13/lb) and there’s a range of appetizers or snacks available as well.

Mala Tang is like hot pot lite, minus the “all you can eat” temptation. 98 Spicy House is open six days a week (Mon. Tues, Thurs. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Fri., Sat., Sun. 12-11 p.m., closed Wednesdays).

John lives in Boyle Street.

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