Continuing on with the nabemono theme, this week I’m taking a closer look at shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ).
Shabu shabu is another Japanese hot pot dish. It consists of a pot of simmering broth (traditionally konbu dashi – seaweed stock), and plates of raw, assorted meats and vegetables. Shabu shabu is different from other nabemonos in that the ingredients are cooked in intervals, as fast as the diner would like, rather than all at once in the pot. Also, while other nabemonos may have no dipping sauce, or only very few, a variety of sauces can accompany shabu shabu.
What’s in a Name?
Unlike some of the dishes in my previous posts, the origins of this name is simple: it’s named after the Japanese onomatopoeia for “swish swish” – the sound that you hear when you swish the raw meat through the stock to cook it.
A (Short) History in the Swish
Likewise the history of shabu shabu is relatively simple and short. While shabu shabu has roots in the Mongolian hot pot dish of shuan yang rou (lit. ‘briefly cooked mutton’), the shabu shabu as we know it today first appeared in 1952. It was invented by he owner of a restaurant in Osaka called Suehiro Honten (スエヒロ本店). It became very popular throughout the Kansai region after WWII, and it slowly spread nationwide.
The original Mongolian hot pot would not have done well in Japan, since mutton did not agree with the palates of many Japanese, sheep are rarely bred in Japan, and the seasonings and sauces were too bold. Instead the Japanese replaced the mutton with thin slices of beef, preferably marbled beef like wagyu (和牛 – lit. “Japanese beef”). Like sukiyaki, beef was the protein of choice because it represented Japan’s newfound prosperity and modernisation.
How to Eat Shabu Shabu
Of course you could just throw whatever you fancy, in whatever you fancy, but you’ll probably end up with overcooked, chewy meat, and a dish that’s not exactly shabu shabu.
Traditionally (you’ll see this word used a lot here), shabu shabu is served in a donabe (土鍋 – an earthenware or clay pot) on a portable stove. It’s more common to see a saucepan nowadays.
Traditional ingredients (all raw) include: thinly sliced beef (usually marbled – supermarkets will have sliced beef labelled as “shabu shabu beef”), tofu, Chinese cabbage, kikuna (菊菜 – edible chrysanthemum leaves), carrot, shiitake, and enoki (two varieties of Japanese mushrooms). The meat and other ingredients are sliced or cut into bite-sized portions and placed on two seperate plates on the table.
As mentioned, the broth is traditionally a konbu dashi. Unlike sukiyaki, the broth is only meant to be lightly flavoured. The natural umami in the konbu enhances the flavours of the shabu shabu ingredients. No seasoning is added as the ingredients are dipped in sauces before consumption. However it’s common to see flavoured broths today, such as tomato, spicy, or hearty chicken.
The pot of broth is kept at a simmer on a portable stove at the table. It’s important not to let the broth go to a rolling boil as then it will be extremely easy to overcook your ingredients. Diners pick up whatever ingredients they want and cook it themselves in the pot. With the meat, one should always keep hold of it in the chopsticks, swishing it a few times through the broth, lest they lose it in the brothy depths. Small strainers may be on hand so diners can fish out longer-cooking ingredients. Ingredients should be cooked as consumed. Throwing all the ingredients in together lowers the broth temperature and increases cooking time. This also increases the risk of overcooking. And it also means you’re now eating something more similar to oden.
As per the broth and ingredients, there are a variety of dipping sauces you can have with your shabu shabu today, but the traditional two sauces are: ponzu, and gomadare. Ponzu (ポン酢) is a sauce made from soy sauce and citrus juice (usually from yuzu juice. Yuzu (柚子) is a Japanese lemon). Gomadare (胡麻垂れ) is a sesame sauce. Usually vegetables are dipped in the ponzu, and meat in the gomadare. There are also condiments known as yakumi (薬味) to go with the cooked ingredients. Usual yakumi include: sliced spring onion, momiji oroshi (紅葉おろし – daikon stuffed with chilli then grated), minced garlic, and grated ginger. The sauces and yakumi are an important flavour agent since the broth is fairly plain.
Each diner will have a bowl of rice that acts as a placeholder for your cooked ingredients, as well as the essential carbohydrate to accompany your ingredients. Once an ingredient is cooked, dip it in a sauce and place it on your bowl of rice. Start eating once you’ve gathered a few portions. The rice will have absorbed the flavour of the sauce by this time.
Once all the ingredients are cooked and finished, a shime is added. Shime (締め) means “the end”, or as a general food term, “the last meal eaten”. In Japanese hot pot cooking, shime refers to the addition of a carbohydrate to the remaining broth. This is usually rice or noodles like udon or harusame (春雨 – bean starch noodles). The broth will have become packed full of flavour from having various ingredients cooked in it, and carbohydrates are excellent flavour carriers. When the shime is finished, this signals the end of the meal.
No surprise there are many variations on the traditional shabu shabu. Shabu shabu will imply beef as the main ingredient; therefore if another ingredient is the main one, the first “shabu” will be replaced by the ingredient’s name. You’ll commonly see variations according to geographical location:
- Hokkaido: tako-shabu (ocotpus); you-shabu (lamb)
- Nagoya: tori-shabu (chicken, especially with the regional Nagoya cochin chicken)
- Toyama: buri-shabu (yellowtail – a type of fish)
- Yamaguchi: tecchiri (鉄ちり) – pufferfish cooked shabu shabu style
- Kagoshima and Okinawa: buta-shabu (pork, especially with the regional black pork called kurobuta)
There’s also a cold-style called rei shabu (冷しゃぶ), or hiyashi shabu (冷やししゃぶ). The meat is cooked and cooled, then served with a variety of raw or cooked vegetables, or on top of a salad, with a sauce drizzled over.
Shabu shabu is a great dish to have with friends or family, since the tableside cooking allows lots of opportunities for conversation and laughter. And on a cold winter night, there’s nothing better than food and warmth all rolled in one package.
Well I expect you to be a swishing expert now! I’m off to make myself some crackle crackle.
Chan, N 2011, ‘Shabu Shabu Recipe しゃぶしゃぶ’, Just One Cookbook, 2 December, viewed 14 August 2017, <http://www.justonecookbook.com/shabu-shabu/>.
Grunavi 2017, ‘What is Shabu Shabu? A Guide to Japan’s Swishiest Dish’, Gurinavi, 9 May, viewed 14 August 2017, <https://gurunavi.com/en/japanfoodie/2017/05/what-is-shabu-shabu.html?__ngt__=TT0d6659756006ac1e4ae01dccU1SJOEQDH8EiSO0H3N9j>.
Ishige, N 2011, The History and Culture of Japanese Food, Routledge, New York, pp. 233.
Savor Japan, n.d., ‘How to Eat Shabu-Shabu: a guide to Japanese hot pot heaven’, viewed 14 August 2017, <https://savorjapan.com/column/cuisine/shabu-shabu/how-to-eat-shabu-shabu-a-guide-to-japanese-hot-pot-heaven/>.
Somera, L (translator) 2016, ‘Don’t Know Shabu-Shabu? Here’s a Guide to This Delicious Dish’, Matcha, 16 February, viewed 14 August 2017, <https://matcha-jp.com/en/1486>.
Steintrager, MO 2014, ‘You’re Eating it Wrong: shabu-shabu’, Zagat, 4 August, viewed 14 August 2017, <https://www.zagat.com/b/youre-eating-it-wrong-shabu-shabu>.
Ref 1: http://discovertorrance.com/restaurants-bakeries/king-shabu-shabu/
Ref 2: http://www.souschef.co.uk/black-donabe-cooking-pot.html
Ref 3: https://www.japancentre.com/en/pages/26-yuzu
Ref 4: http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-rei-shabu-cold-pork-salad-japanese-summer-cuisine-113660781.html