Day 15: Shabu shabu
I’m starting to think that perhaps there are some Japanese foods I like purely for the name, regardless of how they taste.
Even before I tried shabu shabu, I had decided I would embrace it. I mean how can you not love a food that has an onomatopoeia for a name – in this case, the sound of swishing a thin piece of meat through boiling water. Shabu shabu.
Luckily it is also delicious and has already become one of my favourite dining experiences in Japan. Let’s go back to the start and I’ll explain how it works.
Shabu shabu is a form of ‘cook yourself’ food. On the table you’ll have a big pot of broth that sits over a heater. On the side, you’ll have a selection of thin slices of raw meat and chopped vegetables.
Once the broth is hot enough, you boil the food in it. The meat normally only needs a few seconds and you should only wave it through a couple of times and then eat it, without it ever leaving your chopsticks.
The vegetables normally need a bit longer, though, so you can dump them in the water and leave them for a couple of minutes while they get nice and soft.
Normally with shabu shabu you would also want to dip the cooked food in something before you put it into your mouth. The two most popular accompaniments are sesame sauce or ponzu (a citrus flavoured sauce) but you could also have minced garlic, ginger, curry powder or a range of other things.
Shabu shabu is quite similar to another dish you may have heard of called sukiyaki. The main difference is in the broth which is used. The Sukiyaki pot has a mixture that includes soy sauce and sugar, whereas the shabu shabu one is quite simple.
In the end I had a dinner where we had a selection of both shabu shabu and sukiyaki on the table. I went with a couple of friends because this is a meal best eaten with good company and we ate more than our fair share at this restaurant in Tokyo’s Shinjuku area!
In a lot of the shabu shabu restaurants, you pay a fixed fee for an all-you-can-eat or pre-arranged amount of food. This one was a very good deal and was 2400 yen (US$24.40) for each person for as much as we could handle. At other places, the price can easily be four times that depending on the quality of the meat and the atmosphere.
This is a dining experience I would highly recommend in Japan with a group of friends or family. Oh, and this restaurant did a reasonable all-you-can-drink deal too! 🙂