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Shabu-shabu is a cooking technique typically used in Japanese cuisine. Inspired by the ancient Chinese hot pot cooking method, shabu-shabu was introduced to Osaka, in Japan, in the early twentieth century.
The name shabu-shabu recalls the noise the meat makes when it is dipped and stirred around in the kombu alga broth – dashi – left to boil in a pot – called donable – which is placed at the centre of the table or close to each diner. This dish is a popular kind of nabemono, or Japanese hot pot. Finely sliced, tender slices of pork, beef or any other ingredients decided by the chef, comprising goose, crab and lobster, are dipped into the liquid. Great Japanese chefs use the best meat of all: wagyu.
It is up to the guest to use chopsticks to pick up the slice and place it in the broth. As soon as the meat turns a lighter colour, which takes no more than 20 seconds, it is “fished” out of the broth and eaten with one of the sauces provided. To serve it at home, you need a portable burner or a hotplate.
Shabu-shabu is rapidly catching on among gourmets as an experience of pure conviviality. Here are some Shabu-shabu restaurants around the world which serve it in the traditional manner or with some variations on the theme.
In the starred restaurant Imafuku located in the Minato district of Tokyo, only the best wagyu gets to become shabu-shabu, in one version of which, ox tongue is used: a delight for the palate. The sauces and broth are combined with Alba white truffle. A meal in this establishment is an experience to share with a few select diners since the restaurant is divided into rooms containing no more than two or three tables and the execution of this dish requires the maximum concentration.
Also in Tokyo, situated next to Roppongi station, Onohan is specialized in shabu-shabu black Berkshire pork, from Kagoshima province, this being a valuable species appreciated worldwide.
Ginsato in the luxurious Ginza district stands proudly as one of the renowned restaurants specialized in sukiyaki and shabu-shabu. Here they serve the best A4 and A5 wagyu beef from the prefecture of Yamagata, as well as exclusive Omi meat from the Shiga prefecture, sought after for its inimitable texture of fat infiltrations. Don’t miss Ginsato’s exclusive mushi-shabu, made in a wood vessel that confers a subtle aroma of cypress which teams up beautifully with the home-made ponzu and sesame sauces.
Multi-starred chef Masayoshi Takayama, acclaimed by the New York Times, has put shabu-shabu on the menu of his Masa restaurant in New York. Another high-profile and high-cost version is that of chef Terrance Brennan, owner of several restaurants in town: he has created a foie gras shabu-shabu.
In Milan, Wicky Priyan, the first chef to bring it to Italy, has created a dish for his Wicky’s Cuisine restaurant called Gyuniku No Mizu-Taki (“gyuniku no”, beef; “mizu-taki”, dipping). He uses Kobe beef in the dashi broth, enriched with shiitake mushrooms, leeks, mizuna (salad) and tiny Italian spinach leaves. Once cooked, the meat is plunged into one of Wicky’s sauces, a fusion of Asian and Mediterranean flavours: nampla, literally “fish sauce”, Italian anchovy dripping or colatura, capers from Salina, Calabrian chilli pepper, honey and dashi.
This section would not be complete without mentioning the interpretations of two Michelin-starred Italian chefs. Moreno Cedroni with his shabu-shabu of tuna and tiny fried peppers and the Cerea brothers of the Vittorio restaurant with a shabu-shabu of scampi, gin-flavoured creamed pears and lime granita.
In Singapore it is possible to taste a Japanese shabu-shabu with a French twist at Sakurazaka’s, where the dashi is substituted by bouillabaisse. For an excellent gourmet version, try Shabu-Shabu Gen, served in the venue run by Chef Kunio Aoki, who also owns a twin restaurant in Djakarta (Indonesia). For his version of shabu-shabu, Kunio Aoki uses wagyu beef with kurobuta and Iberian pork meats.