On Saturday night we went to Katie’s favourite restaurant. A shabu shabu restaurant in Sakura-shimachi. Shabu shabu is a great meal. It’s a sort of hot pot type thing where you cook everything yourself at your own table. The hob is built into the table because, as I mentioned earlier, most restaurants in Japan specialise in one type of cuisine, so this place is pretty confident that every customer who comes in will want shabu shabu at their table. Our pot was split in two and we had a clear broth and a creamy (I think rice-based) broth. You choose what you want in your shabu shabu (beef, pork, fish, veg etc) and you then have 90 minutes to eat as much of it as you can. A lot of places have time limited all-you-can-eat/drink deals. This is because Japanese people are not as horrifically greedy as us Westerners and don’t seem to take the all-you-can-consume offer as some demented challenge. I don’t know about you but I find it very hard to leave an all-you-can-eat buffet before the point where I feel physically ill because I’ve eaten way more than I could ever comfortably fit inside my digestive system. It’s a combination of greed and my overwhelming sense of good value. If I pay £11 for an all-you-can-eat buffet, I want to make sure I eat way more than £11 worth of food, even if it makes me really unwell. I CAN’T STOP THIS.
Anyway, we had 90 minutes. You get the broth bubbling then you add the veg that will take some time to cook or will improve the flavour of the broth (mushrooms, carrots etc). Then you get your thinly sliced meat (we chose beef)and you dip it into the broth for a few seconds to cook, swishing it around. FUN TRIVIA: The name ‘shabu shabu’ comes from the sound you make as you swish the meat in the broth. You then take out your cooked meat and dip in into one of the 2 amazing sauces you get with shabu shabu. One is a ponzu type sauce, sort of soy and citrusy and the other is made from ground sesame seeds and is like a sort of sesame paste. Either way, it is DAMNED DELICIOUS.
When you run out of meat you just shout “sumimasen!” and a waiter will come and replenish your stock. It’s an incredible system. When your 90 minutes is up you can choose either rice or noodles and they’ll bring them to you to soak up what is left of the broth and you end your meal eating noodles and vegetables in broth just in case you weren’t full.
I’m sorry to any vegetarians who read this. You can get a veg version, I think, but I can’t imagine it’s as exciting. But there are plenty of exciting vegetarian things to eat in Japan – worry not! A good idea when you go places is to ask for ‘monk’s food’ as they tend to not eat any meat.
We’ve found a place in London that does a reasonable shabu shabu. It’s here: Sensuru and when you call them they say “hello, Japanese restaurant”. The actual name of the place is a mystery. On one menu inside it has written Suru, Tsenuru, Sensuru and Tsuru in different places. Tsu knows. It’s £16pp and it’s not all you can eat, but it’s not a bad approximation.