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Shabu-shabu is a delicious Japanese dish of thin slices of meat or fish, cooked quickly in hot broth, along with vegetables, tofu, and noodles. This complete guide covers the differences between sukiyaki and shabu-shabu, a recipe, recommended restaurants in Japan, and typical hot pot ingredients.
Photo by Pixta
Shabu-shabu is a Japanese hotpot dish said to have originated from Chinese hotpot cuisine. The current form of shabu-shabu in Japan was developed in 1952 at Eiraku-cho Suehiro Honten, a restaurant in Osaka.
In shabu-shabu, thinly sliced beef is briefly dipped in a pot of seasoned broth. This is just long enough to cook it. After, the beef is dipped in a condiment, such as a ponzu (citrus) sauce or sesame sauce, and eaten. Variations like pork shabu-shabu and seafood shabu-shabu are also common, and vegetables are also often part of the meal.
Fans of Japanese food may be wondering now if we are not also referring to sukiyaki, another staple hot pot cuisine in Japan. Shabu-shabu and sukiyaki are two similar dishes.
Sukiyaki is an original Japanese hotpot dish also containing thinly sliced beef, which is cooked in a shallow pan. It usually contains shirataki (konyaku potato starch) noodles, green onions, mushrooms, carrots, and other vegetables, which are simmered in a salty-sweet sauce. The ingredients are then dipped in a separate dish containing a scrambled raw egg, and then eaten.
While shabu-shabu and sukiyaki are similar, as both are hotpot dishes featuring thin slices of beef, and similar vegetables, they differ in that the meat in sukiyaki is meant to be fully cooked - either by first grilling it or by allowing it to boil in the sauce. The meat in shabu-shabu is essentially parboiled in the hot stock or sauce and isn't typically eaten with eggs or a soy sauce-based sauce.
Continue reading for a basic guide on how to enjoy shabu-shabu, great restaurants in Japan with Halal and vegetarian options, common ingredients, and other details on this dish.
At shabu-shabu restaurants, customers cook the meal themselves by dipping the ingredients in the soup. We’ll explain how to cook shabu-shabu to help first-timers who might otherwise be confused.
The first step is to heat up the soup. Turn on the burner and bring the soup to a gentle simmer, but don’t allow the soup to start boiling. The waiter or waitress will often do this for you at many restaurants.
Once the broth is hot enough (simmering), dip a piece of meat in the soup to cook it. Pick up a slice with your chopsticks, get a good grip, and swish it through the soup carefully.
Lightly swish the meat from side to side. The onomatopoeic sound of the meat being swirled around is “shabu-shabu” in Japanese, which is one explanation for this dish's name. If you cook the meat for too long, it will toughen up, so take it out of the soup soon after it changes color.
Ponzu and sesame sauces are considered standard, but there are no strict rules about dipping sauces. Many different varieties will be offered by restaurants, so you can enjoy different flavors.
For vegetables like cabbage, negi green onion, mushrooms, tofu, and noodles, drop them in the pot and pull them out when they’ve cooked through. Don’t put everything in at once; gradually add the other ingredients in as you eat so you can enjoy the meal at a leisurely pace.
If you are cooking yuba (tofu skin) or mochi, be aware that these ingredients cook quickly, like the meat slices. Swish them around as mentioned above.
Some scum will bubble to the surface after you put meat into the soup. Carefully skim it off with a netted spoon so you can enjoy the shabu-shabu to the very end. It’s particularly noticeable with beef, so take special care when you’re putting beef into the pot.
This is the standard way to eat shabu-shabu.
Shabusen has English, Chinese and Thai menus available, and serves exceptional ramen to add to the nabe pot at end of the meal.
Nabe-zo is a chain restaurant that specializes in all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu and sukiyaki courses. English menus are available. Customers can have chicken shabu-shabu, as well as the slightly more unusual beef tongue shabu-shabu. Read the official page for more.
Eiraku-cho Suehiro is the restaurant known for innovating shabu-shabu around 60 years ago. Eiraku-cho carefully selects Wagyu beef cuts for its dishes. The elegantly charming building has private rooms for customers to unwind, and also serves lunch. Located in Osaka, it is a special, one-of-a-kind culinary destination.
Enjoy all the shabu-shabu you can eat at a reasonable price (ranging from around 3,000 to 5,000 yen per person) at Onyasai. This is a chain restaurant with many locations throughout Tokyo and Japan. The menu features a variety of soups and sauces for shabu-shabu, so customers can savor different flavors.
Halal Wagyu Shabushabu Nagomi is a shabu-shabu restaurant in Asakusa offering various courses of Japanese beef varieties as well as vegetable-only shabu-shabu. It is certified as halal and is located conveniently near major sightseeing. Prices range from around 7,000 yen to 19,000 yen, depending on the
This is the standard for most shabu-shabu recipes, and there are many high-class restaurants serve carefully-chosen, domestic Japanese beef cuts such as wagyu.
Pork shabu-shabu, also known as ton-shabu, is on most menus at shabu-shabu restaurants. The taste of pork pairs perfectly with ponzu or sesame sauce.
There are plenty of places where you can enjoy chicken shabu-shabu, which is light on the stomach compared to other meats.
Recipes that don’t feature beef, pork, or chicken are also commonly available at shabu-shabu restaurants. Some can even be vegetarian and vegan, depending on the broth.
Vegetables are mainly simmered in shabu-shabu recipes, but some vegetables like daikon radishes, carrots and lettuce are delicious when they are treated like meat and quickly swished around in the pot. When served, lettuce leaves are cut to the same size as meat, while carrots and radishes are peeled and sliced very thinly. Some restaurants, like Shangri La's Secret have vegan and vegetarian broths and shabu-shabu courses available.
Restaurants will cut fish for shabu-shabu even thinner than slices of sashimi. Some varieties include amberjack, rudderfish, and sea bream. Sometimes there will be rarer seafood items, like crab and octopus, available on the menu.
Eat seafood shabu-shabu just like meat, by gripping a slice of fish with your chopsticks and lightly swirling it around in the soup. Cook it to your preferred level of doneness. The fish should be fresh enough to be served as sashimi, so once the surface changes color, you can eat it. We recommend cooking fish only until it is rare.
For all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu courses, you can often order an unlimited amount of side vegetables, tofu, and noodles. Below are some common ingredients that taste great in hot pot.
Chinese cabbage’s delicious sweetness really comes out when heated. It’s a vital vegetable for any shabu-shabu pot.
When cooked down until soft, thick white onions taste rich and delicious, while sweet green onions have a satisfying snap to them.
Mizuna greens retain their crisp and delicious texture even when cooked.
Mushrooms add depth to the broth’s flavor and make it even tastier, and they also absorb some of the broth, making them delicious in their own right. People often use varieties like enoki, shimeji, shiitake, and eringi in shabu-shabu.
Warm tofu adds a mildness to shabu-shabu and is an indispensable ingredient.
This vegetable, which has a similar aroma to garlic, is a stamina booster. It softens easily, so it’s ready to eat as soon as it goes limp in your chopsticks.
These are starchy noodles that turn transparent when cooked, eaten with dipping sauce. They have a characteristic slipperiness. If cooked for too long, they will disintegrate, so be careful.
These thin slices of mochi cook very quickly, so be careful not to let them get too soft.
Ponzu dipping sauce is made from dashi, soy sauce, and juice from citrus fruits. Its slightly-acidic aroma is sure to stir up the appetite. It’s well-suited to seafood shabu-shabu, but naturally, it goes with meat and vegetables too.
This combination of ponzu and grated daikon radish is also suited for seafood shabu-shabu.
This spicy combination of soy sauce and grated ginger goes perfectly with both meat and fish.
This blend of sesame paste and dashi soy sauce really draws out the sweetness of vegetables.
Made of miso paste dissolved in sesame sauce, this goes best with pork.
Made from shredded plums, this goes great with vegetables and lends a lightness to otherwise greasy meats like pork. You won’t be able to get enough of its sour flavors.
Feel free to add grated onion, garlic, chili oil and other condiments to your dipping sauce to suit your preferences.
After eating all the meat and vegetables, the soup will still be left in the pot, full of the flavors the other ingredients have left behind. This leftover soup is used as the base for various dishes called “shime,” which means “the end of the meal.” Below are some ways you can enjoy shine using rice, ramen, and udon.
A type of rice porridge, ojiya is made by adding rice to the soup and bringing it to a boil. Other delicious possible additions include beaten egg and cheese.
Japan’s most popular noodle dish, ramen is a staple, as it goes well with any type of broth.
Udon noodles are exceptional for their ability to absorb soup, and we particularly recommend hearty udon noodles when eating shabu-shabu in the winter.
Making shabu-shabu at home or in Japan is simple, and does not require much work on the part of the chef. The three things you need are ingredients for the pot, dashi soup, and dipping sauce. Get these things ready and you’ll be almost done with the preparation.
If you’re making kombu (kelp) dashi broth, which is suitable for vegetarians and vegans, put a piece of kombu in an earthenware pot or shabu-shabu filled with water. Bring the water to a boil to draw out the dashi flavor. Take out the kombu right before the water reaches its boiling point.
Shabu-shabu usually features slices of beef or pork, while seafood variations use slices of amberjack or rudderfish, cut even thinner than sashimi. Japanese supermarkets also sell all-in-one shabu-shabu ingredient packs, which contain all sorts of other ingredients, including Chinese cabbage, onions, lettuce, mushrooms (shiitake, enoki, and shimeji are delicious), and tofu.
Used along with condiments (such as onion, grated radish, and grated chili peppers), ponzu and sesame are two common dipping sauce flavors (known as "tare" in Japanese). These can also be purchased at supermarkets in Japan.