The more you know the better it gets! Japan’s Unique Nabe Meals, Sukiyaki and Shabu Shabu
Japan, a country blessed with different foods from the mountains and the sea, has many kinds of nabe (hot pot) meals that use regional ingredients. Among them are the dishes eaten during celebratory occasions, sukiyaki and shabu shabu. But do you know how to properly eat them?
1. What kind of meal is sukiyaki?
Sukiyaki is a Japanese nabe meal that uses thinly sliced beef, vegetables, tofu, mushrooms, and other ingredients boiled in a shallow metal pot. The salty-sweet sauce seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, and other ingredients goes well with the beef, and when it's eaten with scrambled raw egg, the richness of the flavors spread throughout your mouth. This raw scrambled egg is considered a chic way of eating among foreign travelers, and it makes sukiyaki a popular meal along with sushi and ramen.
*It seems like the name "sukiyaki" comes from ancient times when farmers would cook meats like venison and wild boar on the metal part of spades, called "suki" in Japanese. After that when civilization continued developing, it changed to the current way of cooking. It seems like the name "sukiyaki" was given to it during the Edo period.
There are two ways to make sukiyaki!
Actually, the way people in Kansai and people in Kanto make sukiyaki changes a little bit. In Kansai, they keep the etymology of the name and chop up a piece of beef tallow (a rendered form of beef fat) and use it to grill the surface of the meat. Afterwards it is boiled with the vegetables and seasonings. On the other hand, in Kanto, the meat isn't grilled. The soup is made with a seasoning base called "warishita" made with soy sauce, sake, sugar, and other ingredients, and then once it's boiling, the meat and vegetables are added to it. The seasoning doesn't change, the difference between the Kansai grill-type and the Kanto boil-type is a regional difference typical of Japan.
How to eat sukiyaki from start to finish
Depending on the restaurant, there may be warishita already prepared. If there isn't any prepared, please ask the restaurant employee to teach you how to make it. If you have warishita prepared, pour in the amount that you desire and fill up half the pot with vegetables and tofu. Once it starts boiling you can add the beef. When you do this, make sure to separate the shirataki noodles (made from konjac yam) from the meat, because the water content of the noodles will make the beef chewy. When the beef becomes speckled with pink, turn it over. That's when it's best to eat! Please eat it by dipping the beef into your scrambled raw egg. The taste will spread throughout your mouth and you'll unknowingly break into a grin.
It's delicious to eat sukiyaki as a side dish with white rice, but there's also "shime," where you put carbohydrates in the pot towards the end of your meal for another fashionable way to enjoy it. A standard shime is to boil udon in the remaining rich sukiyaki soup for "udon-suki." Of course, you can also cook white rice in it to make a dish called "zousui". Please enjoy the various ways of eating sukiyaki!
Restaurants to enjoy sukiyaki #1: Kisoji
This Japanese restaurant is a nationwide chain that mostly has branches in Kanto. You can enjoy shabu shabu and sukiyaki in the restaurant's calm interior. Their beef, carefully chosen from all around the country, will allow you to enjoy the true deliciousness of Japanese beef, so it's a restaurant recommended for sukiyaki beginners. The price changes depending on the menu and size of the meal, but lunch is around 3,000 JPY - 9,000 JPY, and dinner is around 5,000 JPY - 10,000 JPY.
Restaurants to enjoy sukiyaki #2: Morita-ya Tokyo Marunouchi Branch
Morita-ya is a Kansai-style sukiyaki restaurant whose main branch is in Kyoto. Their sukiyaki is made with Kuroge brand Japanese beef raised on the company's own farm and their original warishita for a high-class meal that uses the best qualities of the meat. The way Morita-ya's warishita is made is by adding the soy sauce and sugar as the meat grills, and the employee will make it for you so being able to learn how they make it is another one of its charms. The price changes on the dish and the size, but lunch is around 5,400 JPY - 9,000 JPY and dinner is around 7,000 JPY - 12,000 JPY.
2. What kind of dish is shabu shabu?
Thinly sliced meat or fish is dipped into boiling broth a few times, then dipped into sesame sauce or ponzu and eaten with boiled vegetables. The way to be able to enjoy shabu shabu deliciously is by not boiling it too much and just quickly let it lightly swim in the broth. It's a healthy nabe meal because you eat not just meat but also plenty of vegetables.
How to eat shabu shabu
First, after the broth in the pot starts boiling, pick up a thin slice of meat with your chopsticks and dip it into the broth 2-3 times. Make sure to start with meat! The meat's juices will melt into the broth so when you cook vegetables it'll be even more delicious. If it's beef, once it's a light pink, that's the perfect time to eat it. Eat pork and chicken when it's completely cooked.
Place the vegetables that you're going to eat in the pot to boil. Leeks, Chinese cabbage, carrots, and other hard-to-cook vegetables should be put in early. Gently add the tofu so it doesn't fall apart, and once it starts floating it's ready to eat. The vegetables should be eaten in order for maximum deliciousness, so if you're not sure what to eat next, please ask a restaurant employee.
How to enjoy shabu shabu to the very end
When you turn over the meat in the pot, bubble-like scum will float to the surface. This is the proteins in the meat hardening. It stinks, so every so often please scoop it up using a sieve and a pot of water so you can enjoy the refreshing broth to the very end. Also, if you dip the meat in the scrambled egg before you cook it, the meat stays soft and is even more delicious.
Also, if the ingredients get too soft, they lose flavor and texture, so please take them out of the pot before that happens. When you finish eating all the ingredients, just like sukiyaki, you can put udon or rice in the remaining broth. It's standard to add bainiku (plum pulp) or yuzukosho (a paste made from yuzu zest and chili peppers) to your taste. You can enjoy an entirely different flavor this way, so please try it.
Restaurants to enjoy shabu shabu #1: Shabu Shabu On-Yasai
Shabu Shabu On-Yasai is a popular restaurant where you can enjoy a wide variety of ingredients for reasonable prices. They use carefully selected branded beef and you can choose more than 20 types of vegetables to match it with. Also, their pot is made with a partition so you can have two types of broth cooking at the same time, and there are 10 types from which to choose. They have an all-you-can-eat course as well, so that's recommended for people that simply want to enjoy shabu shabu until they're full. The price changes depending on order and size, but you can usually enjoy it from 3,000 JPY - 6,000 JPY per person.
Restaurants to enjoy shabu shabu #2: Zakuro
If you want to eat the best meat, you should go to one of the 4 branches of Zakuro in Tokyo. If you eat their selected Kuroge brand Japanese beef when there's still a little red showing, you'll be able to taste the match between the meat's sweetness and the restaurant's rich sesame sauce and you'll feel the loveliness of Japanese food. You can also enjoy other meals outside of shabu shabu, so this is a restaurant for people that want to have a variety of traditional Japanese dishes. The price changes depending on the meals and the amount, but it usually costs around 5,000 JPY to 15,000 JPY per person.
Both sukiyaki and shabu shabu are beloved Japanese nabe dishes, but they each have their own specific cooking techniques. It's great to eat it at home with your friends and family, but you can also eat it in restaurants. Please enjoy the richness of this Japanese culture.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.