Nov 30, 2017
Shabu-shabu, the one food you have to try in Japan
Everyone I know who has been to Japan always yearns for the foods they ate while here. The biggest and most popular being ramen. There are such a plethora of restaurants all over the country with variations from broth to noodle to toppings. And while it is hard to get a good bowl of ramen outside of this country, when I left for home after having lived here a year studying abroad, ramen was not on the top of my list of things I desired to eat. No instead it was shabu-shabu, a hot pot style of meal in which you swish, ie shabu, thinly sliced meat and vegetables in mildly boiling broth. Not to be confused with nabe, which means pot, where the vegetables are left to simmer. Nabe is also delicious, however, shabushabu is more about the experience than the food, which is why it is hard to enjoy outside of Japan. A shabu pot is deftly designed in a yin-yang style fashion so that the partaker may have two types of broth in which to “shabu" their meat. Proper etiquette predicates that one should delicately swish the meat back and forth in the broth until it has just turned a grayish-brown. Then dip the meat in a sesame dipping sauce before drying it off slightly on one's rice. I, however, don't care about being proper and tend to shove my meat onto one side and let it over boil to mush, completely melting all the fat off of it before squishing it in my bowl of tangy ponzu where I let it cool off until I'm ready to eat it. It's basically the same for my vegetables except I tend to vary between the two dipping sauces depending on my mood as the meal progresses.
There is creamy sesame in one and tangy ponzu in the other.
I've noticed that most of my Japanese friends seem to not mind or notice the blatant disregard when it comes to shabu-shabu etiquette. I was also one of those kids in elementary school who dipped their hamburgers in their chocolate milk. But that is how I like my meats and why I enjoy shabu-shabu. It takes very little time to get to the overcooked stage and it is fun to chat with friends while letting everything cook. Most shabu restaurants I've been to are all-you-can-eat, so everyone just takes their time enjoying the meal and I get to fill up more on vegetables than meat. This was especially important when I was studying abroad and a vegetarian. Shabu-shabu was one of the rare places I really could eat all that I wanted. They also typically serve tofu, so there was a non-meat protein option. And when I was with absolutely obliging friends, they left the meat to be boiled only on one half of the yin-yang, so one half was completely scum free. However, if you are of the meat-eating variety, it's very easy to scoop the scum off periodically as you are meant to do with the scum skimmer.
Shabushabu is one of those great places to entertain a guest or have a meal when meeting someone for the first time. Like yakiniku or many okonomiyaki restaurants, because the guests are the ones to cook the meal, there are no awkward silences. Instead, everyone enjoys a healthy meal and if you can’t think of something to say then help pass the meat and sauces around. I highly recommend trying shabushabu while here, so please do look for a shabushabu place on your adventures in Japan.
American step mom with beautiful Brazilian babies. Raising them in Japan. I'm a crafter too