Splish-splash, I was giving my meat and veggies a (boiling, delicious) bath… only to all of a sudden be told that I wasn’t splish-splashing, but shabu shabu-ing! As it turns out, the onomatopoeia is, in Japanese, shabu shabu! Anyway you swish it, shabu shabu is a satisfying, hearty meal popular across the land, and it all started in Osaka, Japan.
Shabu shabu and sukiyaki are often served at the same restaurants, and why not? They both use the same or similar hot pot style cooking arrangement, and both contain thinly sliced meat (even thinner in the case of shabu shabu) and cut vegetables. However, that’s where the similarities end.
Shabu shabu has a broth that is more savory than the sweeter sukiyaki style, and there’s usually a lot more of it in the hot pot too. With a boiling clear soup in front of you, your job as a shabu shabu diner is to quickly run the meat through the soup, one piece at a time, and without ever letting it out of your chopsticks’ hold. Since the meat is so thin, it cooks up in mere seconds. From boiling soup, make a quick pit stop into a ponzu or sesame dipping sauce before delivering the payload to your mouth. Repeat the process in similar fashion for the vegetables, though depending on the vegetable, they may take a number of seconds longer than the beef to cook.
Tofu, cabbage, carrots, an assortment of mushrooms, green onions: These are all frequently spotted vegetables at a shabu shabu dinner, but the list is not written in stone. The soup itself gets it’s savory flavors from konbu (Japanese seaweed), sake, soy sauce, and maybe even some ponzu. Regional variations are a plenty, which is part of the fun! The meat is usually beef, but pork is also common. Occasionally, envelope pushing things like lamb may even happen, but it’s a very unusual occurrence. Many restaurants even offer all-you-can-eat shabu shabu, if you’re game!
Looking to try shabu shabu in Tokyo?
Japan Gourmetpedia recommends using our sister site, Tokyo Dinner Ticket, to find the perfect restaurant.