A Lesson In: How to Eat Shabu-Shabu

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After a long, cold day on the slopes (or let’s be real, in the office), I often crave something spicy, simmering and satiating. That’s why I was so excited to try shabu-shabu, which immediately checked all the boxes to become my go-to winter dish.

If you’re familiar with Japanese cuisine, you may already know all about this unique dish. But up until last week, I’d never heard of it. If you’re the same as me, keep reading to find out what you need to know about this tasty, savory meal.

What is shabu-shabu?

Here’s the short story: shabu-shabu is a type of Japanese hot pot. You’re served a pot of boiling water, plenty of spices and flavorings, along with slices of raw meat (beef, chicken or seafood are the usual options) and lots of fresh veggies.

Similar to fondue, you’ll cook these ingredients tableside during your meal. It’s an interactive — and insanely delicious — dining experience. But I’ll admit: it is a little confusing if you’ve never done it before.

As shabu-shabu gains recognition in America, I figured we should give Dishing readers a proper introduction. Plus, we’re lucky to have two great restaurants serving it in Park City: Shabu on Main Street and Kuchu Shabu in Kimball Junction.

Recently, I stopped by Kuchu Shabu to get the full rundown of how to properly make shabu-shabu. Owner Rich Robison lived in Asia for more than 20 years — and eats it regularly in his restaurant — so I knew he was an expert. (Here are more of our faves from Kuchu Shabu.)

How to make shabu-shabu

1. Spice it up. 

As mentioned, shabu-shabu starts with a big pot of plain water. So you have to spice it up as it starts to boil. To my water we added sesame oil, soy sauce, chili oil, garlic, onion and green onions — all of which come as condiments when you order shabu-shabu.

Traditionally, shabu-shabu is cooked with daikon (a radish) or kombu (a type of seaweed), which are both available by request at Kuchu Shabu.

2. Make your own sauce.

Kuchu Shabu SaucesAfter we threw our fresh veggies in the pot, we created our own dipping sauces as they cooked. The two usual sauce styles are ponzu, a citrusy soy sauce, and goma-tare, a type of sesame sauce. We also spiced those up with some chili oil and Japanese pepper. Generally, ponzu is used for vegetables and the sesame sauce for meat, although this depends on one’s own personal tastes, according to Savor Japan.

3. Cook it as long as you’d like to. 

The cool thing about shabu-shabu is that you don’t have to worry about overdone (or undercooked) meat, since you monitor it yourself. But one word of wisdom: cook only enough meat at a time for one or two bites, rather than all at once.

The point of this dining experience is to slow down, chat with your company and enjoy the meal at a leisurely pace, after all. Plus, adding too many items to the pot at once can lower the temperature of the boiling broth and interrupt cooking.

4. Eat your veggies.

I loved the tender wagyu beef we had, but I must admit that the diverse array of veggies also took center stage — especially the variety of mushrooms. The leafy greens, such as spinach and cabbage, also tasted great mixed into my bowl of rice. Plus, it helped me feel a little healthier as I downed a (literal) pot of food.

5. Don’t be afraid to get messy. 

As you eat, you’ll lift the cooked meat and veggies out of the pot, dip them in sauce, and then mix them with rice. So, as to be expected, things can get a little messy. Don’t worry about it; it’s normal — and yes, it’s pretty darn fun too.

Finally, know that your servers are highly knowledgeable and experienced in cooking shabu-shabu. They can help you create just the right amount of heat, and help you create flavorful dipping sauces. We highly recommend grabbing some shabu-shabu on a cold night at either Shabu or Kuchu Shabu — you can’t go wrong!

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About Author

Locke Hughes is a freelance journalist currently based in Park City, who used to live in NYC until the mountains called. She believes long hikes and hot yoga — as well as wine and delicious food — play an important role in a happy life. Follow her outdoors and eating adventures on Instagram @lockehughes.

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