Translated by Lester Somera
Shabu-Shabu, Sukiyaki, Hot Pot: The Differences, Recipes, And More!
Shabu-shabu is a delicious Japanese dish consisting of thin slices of meat or fish, briefly swirled around in hot broth. How do you make it, and where can you try it in Tokyo? Let's find out!
Written by ニコ
What Is Shabu-Shabu?
Shabu-shabu is a Japanese hotpot dish.
Thinly sliced beef is briefly dipped in a pot of special soup - just long enough to cook it through - then dipped in a condiment, such as ponzu and sesame sauce, and eaten. Recent variations like pork shabu-shabu and seafood shabu-shabu also exist, and vegetables like Chinese cabbage and mushrooms are commonly eaten along with the main meat.
The History of Shabu-Shabu
It is said that shabu-shabu originated from Chinese hotpot cuisine. However, the current form of shabu-shabu was developed in 1952 by the head of Eiraku-cho Suehiro Honten in Osaka. There are a plethora of shabu-shabu restaurants, and the dish is also a fixture on dinner tables in many homes.
You can find shabu-shabu on menus at Japanese restaurants, specialty shabu-shabu restaurants that specialize in hotpot cuisine, as well as at reasonably-priced chain restaurants. Some of these restaurants have all-you-can-eat plans, where customers pay for a set course menu and can eat as much as they like within a given time limit.
Shabu Shabu and Sukiyaki - What's the Difference?
Fans of Japanese food may be wondering now if we are not also referring to sukiyaki, another staple cuisine in Japan. Sukiyaki is an original Japanese hotpot dish also containing thinly sliced beef, which is cooked in a shallow pan and features shirataki (konyaku) noodles, green onions, mushrooms, carrots, and other vegetables cooked in a salty-sweet sauce. The ingredients are then dipped in a separate dish containing a scrambled raw egg and eaten.
While they do seem similar, both being hotpot dishes featuring thin slices of beef, and similar vegetables, they differ in that the meat in sukiyaki is meant to be fully cook - either by first grilling it or by allowing it to boil in the sauce - while 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.
A Japanese Cuisine Staple: How To Eat Sukiyaki has more about sukiyaki and its cooking styles.
We’ve put together a shabu-shabu guide for international visitors who want to enjoy this delicious dish during their trip.
Table Of Contents:
1. Shabu-Shabu Recipes
2. How To Cook and Eat Shabu-Shabu
3. Meat Varieties in Shabu-shabu
4. Shabu-Shabu Without Meat
5. Other Shabu-Shabu Ingredients
6. Shabu-Shabu Sauces
7. Shabu-Shabu “Shime”
8. Shabu-Shabu Prices
9. Shabu-Shabu Restaurants
Making shabu-shabu is simple, and does not require much work on the part of the chef. The three things you need are ingredients to drop in 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-dashi broth, put a piece of kombu in an earthenware pot or shabu-shabu filled with water, and bring the water to a boil to draw out the dashi flavor. Take out the kombu right before the water reaches its boiling point. For more information about dashi, check out our dashi and tsuyu article.
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 - edible chrysanthemums and tofu.
The Shabu-shabu Dipping Sauce (Tare)
How to Cook and Eat Shabu-Shabu
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 out first-timers who might otherwise be confused.
1. Heat Up the Soup
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.
2. Take a Slice of Meat With Your Chopsticks and Swirl It Around in the Soup
Dip the 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 its 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.
3. Dip It and Dig In
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 taste variations.
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.
Some scum will bubble to the surface after you put meat into the soup. Carefully skim it off 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. For more information, check out Don't Know Shabu-Shabu? Here's a Guide to this Delicious Dish.
Meat Varieties in Shabu-Shabu
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 definitely a mainstay on shabu-shabu restaurant menus. 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.
Shabu-Shabu Without Meat
Recipes that don’t feature beef, pork or chicken are also commonly available at shabu-shabu restaurants nowadays.
1. Vegetable Shabu-Shabu
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.
2. Seafood Shabu-Shabu
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.
How To Eat Seafood Shabu-shabu
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.
Other Shabu-Shabu Ingredients
1. Chinese Cabbage
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.
3. Mizuna (Japanese Mustard Greens)
Mizuna greens retain their crisp and delicious texture even when cooked.
4. Various Mushrooms
Mushrooms add a 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.
6. Nira (Garlic Chives)
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.
7. Kuzukiri (Arrowroot Noodles) and Maroni (Potato Starch Noodles)
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.
8. Mochi Slices
These thin slices of mochi cook quickly, so be careful not to let them get too soft.
Dipping Sauce (Tare) Varieties
1. Ponzu Sauce
This dipping sauce is made from dashi, soy sauce and juice from citrus fruits, and its acidic aroma is sure to stir up the appetite. It’s well-suited to seafood shabu-shabu, but naturally, it goes with meat too. Check out Ponzu - Japanese Encyclopedia for more information.
2. Oroshidare Sauce
This combination of ponzu and grated daikon radish is also suited for seafood shabu-shabu.
3. Soy Ginger Sauce
This spicy combination of soy sauce and grated ginger goes perfectly with both meat and fish.
4. Sesame Sauce
This blend of sesame paste and dashi soy sauce really draws out the sweetness of vegetables.
5. Miso Sesame Sauce
Made of miso paste dissolved in sesame sauce, this goes best with pork.
6. Plum Sauce
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.
7. Other Condiments
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, 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.” Soup dishes other than shabu-shabu also make use of leftover soup for shime, as it’s a waste of perfectly good soup otherwise.
Also known as zousui, 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 shime dish, as it goes well with any type of broth.
Udon noodles are exceptional for their ability to absorb soup, and we particularly recommend them when eating shabu-shabu in the winter.
There are plenty of shabu-shabu restaurants that offer set course menus. You can expect courses that come with two or three small dishes to cost around 6000 yen for one person. Courses with wagyu beef will cost an extra 1500 yen.
Comparatively reasonable places have courses that cost 3000 to 4000 yen a head, and other places offer a la carte selections.
Shabusen has English, Chinese and Thai menus available, and serves exceptional ramen as the shime dish at the end of the meal. Read more about Shabusen here.
This restaurant specializes in all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu and sukiyaki courses, and English menus are available. Customers can have chicken shabu-shabu, as well as the slightly more unusual beef tongue shabu-shabu. There are branches in various locations outside of Shinjuku as well. Read the official page for more.
Address: Tokyo, Shinjuku, Shinjuku 3-5-4 Rainbow Vigil 7F
Access: 3 minute walk from Shinjuku 3-Chome Station
Hours: M-F 11:30-15:00, 17:00-23:00 (last order 22:30), Weekends/holidays 11:30-23:00 (last order 22:30)
Closed: New Year’s holiday
Price range: 100 minute all-you-can-eat course 2500 yen-5900 yen
Phone: 03-5362-7792 Information 050-5570-4837 For reservations
Eiraku-cho Suehiro Honten
As the restaurant that innovated shabu-shabu 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.
Address: Osaka, Osaka, Kita, Sonezaki Shinchi 1-11-11
Access: JR Tozai Line, Kitashinchi Station 11-41 Exit (one minute walk), JR Osaka Station (eight-minute walk), Subway Midosuji Line, Umeda Station (ten-minute walk)
Hours: Lunch 11:30-14:00 (L.O.13:30), Dinner 17:00-22:00 (L.O.21:00)
Closed: Every Sunday, New Year’s (12/31-1/3)
Price range: 10,000 yen (typical average), 8000 yen (average for parties), 2000 yen (average for lunch)
Website: Eiraku-cho Suehiro Honten
Enjoy all the shabu-shabu you can eat at a reasonable price at Onyasai. A chain restaurant with plenty of locations, the menu features a variety of soups and sauces for shabu-shabu, so customers can savor different flavors.
Halal-Friendly Shabu-Shabu At Hanasaka Ji-San
Hanasaka Ji-San is the only wagyu beef shabu-shabu restaurant in Tokyo that is certified as halal. It is popular with Muslims living in Japan as well as visitors from abroad. For more information, see The First Halal Hot Pot Restaurant, "Hanasaka Jī-san" In Shibuya.
Address: Tokyo, Shibuya, Sakuragaoka-cho 3−22, Sakuraya Building B1F
Hours: M-F, Lunch 11:30 - 15:00 / Dinner 17:00 - midnight
Nearest Station: JR Shibuya Station
Access: JR Shibuya Station, west exit (3 minute walk)
Price range: 4000 - 5000 yen
Website: Hanasaka Ji-San