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One of the many things I wanted to eat in Japan this time around was shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu is a meal of thinly sliced beef that is cooked in water at the table. We’d eaten it at Naoto’s colleague’s house a long time ago and it’s fun and tasty so it’s been on my Tokyo wish list to try the real deal.
We found a shabu-shabu restaurant in Oka-san’s (Naoto’s mom’s) neighborhood and popped in for lunch one afternoon. It was a long lunch, but everything was presented so beautifully that it was nice to take some time to savor the presentation, the food and the company. While we enjoyed tiny dishes of salads and appetizer bites, our server brought out a big heavy pot of water seasoned with citrus and turned on the burner. Once the water was boiling, she brought out a tray of thinly sliced beef and a basket of vegetables. The vegetables are pictured above through the steam of the water. We had cabbage, mushrooms, seaweed, scallions, carrots, tofu and bean sprouts. Have you ever seen such a romantic basket of vegetables?
The beef is sliced so thinly it is almost see-through, allowing it to cook quickly in the hot water. You pick up a slice with chopsticks and put it in the water (still holding on!) Once you’ve swished it into a figure eight, the beef is cooked. Swish, swish…that’s all it takes. To me, the best part is the dipping sauces–a thick sesame sauce and a ponzu (citrus) sauce–for the meat and vegetables. The ponzu sauce is so tangy and a perfect match with the savory beef!
Most of the vegetables took a little bit longer to cook, so we left them in the water while we swished the beef and ate them with the sauces in between bites.
Once all of the beef and vegetables were eaten, the server brought out another dish of thin glass noodles to cook in the shabu shabu broth. I ate those noodles with the ponzu sauce as well. And, even though our meal was enormous, I couldn’t resist sakura ice cream for dessert. It was vacation after all.