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Shabu-Shabu: An Introduction to the Famous Japanese Hot Pot Dish—How to Eat it, How to Make it, and General Etiquette

When you talk about Japanese hot pot dishes (nabe), one of the first that comes to mind is shabu-shabu. It is a superb nabe dish that you find yourself craving when winter comes. It is so popular that you will find specialist shabu-shabu restaurants all over Japan. This article will introduce you to the different types of shabu-shabu, tell you how to eat it, introduce shabu-shabu etiquette, and even tell you how to make it so you can enjoy it at home!

What is Shabu-Shabu?

Shabu-shabu is made using thinly sliced meat that is briefly immersed in a simmering pot of stock (dashi) to cook, then dipped in sauce and eaten. If you get your timing right, the meat will be wonderfully tender and delicious. Shabu-shabu was created in Japan in 1952. There are various theories, but many believe its origins lie in Chinese hot pot cooking. Incidentally, the word shabu-shabu originated from a fairly mundane sound—the sound of hand towels being washed. The then owner of a high-class, family-run, meat restaurant in Osaka was trying to think of a name that would help the product become widely known. At that very moment, he overheard the ‘shabu-shabu’ sound of someone washing hand towels in the background and so the name was born. 

Varieties of Shabu-Shabu

Shabu-shabu is mostly made with beef, pork, or chicken, but depending on the restaurant and the area, you may find horse, lamb, duck, or wild boar. Why not try it with different meats and see which you like best? While shabu-shabu can be enjoyed at home as an everyday meal, there are also many high-end restaurants offering it with the best quality wagyu beef. 

A Few More Ways to Try Shabu-Shabu

You can also try shabu-shabu using ingredients other than meat. Seafoods such as lean, meaty Yellowtail, sweet, extravagant crab, and the uniquely light and textured pike-conger (hamo) are well-suited to the dish. Try out a few to find your favorite option. 

Common Sauces and Ingredients for Shabu-Shabu

As mentioned previously, meat is the star of shabu-shabu, but other important ingredients include Chinese cabbage, mizuna (Japanese mustard greens) and spring onions⁠—all vegetables that cook quickly and absorb flavor easily. Other common additions are carrots, for color, and shitake mushrooms, for flavor. Tofu, with its delicate flavor, is another good addition. The most popular sauces are 'gomadare’ (a sesame-based sauce) and 'ponzu’ (a citrus-based sauce). The sweetness of the gomadare and the sharpness of the ponzu, both make good accompaniments to the dish. 

How to Make Great Shabu-shabu and How to Eat it!

[The Best Way to Make it]
Want to make great shabu-shabu at home? Use the following tips to help you. You need very finely sliced meat that will cook quickly. It also helps to cut your other ingredients into bite-size pieces to make them easier to eat. It is fine just to immerse your meat in hot water, but it will taste even better if you make dashi stock from kombu kelp. 

[The Best Way to Eat it]
With beef, move the meat back and forth in the pot two or three times. When it is a light pink color, it is ready to eat. Make sure other meats are well-done before you eat them. To avoid overcooking the meat, try to only cook the portion that you are ready to eat. If you leave the meat in for too long, more and more scum will start to float on top of the stock. Try to regularly remove the scum or the shabu-shabu will start to smell. 

Everything You Need to Know About Shabu-Shabu Etiquette

It is best to start with the meat first. A more enhanced flavor will be produced when the meat and stock come together. Be careful not to add too much sauce, as the flavors of the shabu-shabu ingredients are a major part of the dish. It will spoil it if you add so much sauce that you can’t taste the original flavor of the ingredients. Follow shabu-shabu etiquette to properly enjoy the flavors of the dish.

Whether at home or in a restaurant, make sure you get to try some shabu-shabu.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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