What is shabu-shabu? Simply put, this mysteriously-named dish is a popular style of nabemono, or Japanese hot pot, featuring paper-thin slices of tender meat and fresh vegetables cooked together in a large open pot. Unlike other types of hot pot, where the ingredients are cooked together before serving, shabu-shabu ingredients are served raw and cooked tableside during the meal, similar to fondue.
This particular way of eating hot pot dining originated in Osaka during the 1950s but has since spread all across Japan and even to other countries. It gets its name from the Japanese onomatopoeia for “swish, swish,” as each piece of meat is lightly swished around in boiling broth before eating.
Shabu-shabu can be eaten at specialty restaurants or enjoyed at home, especially during the winter, but a summer version called hiyashi shabu or rei shabu (chilled shabu-shabu) also exists.
The best thing about shabu-shabu is that the ingredients can be customized to one’s own taste and preferences, from a decadent meal of A5-ranked wagyu beef to a healthy vegetarian spread full of fresh produce.
Learn how to eat shabu shabu like a master with this video, and read on for more information.
Shabu Shabu Equipment
The main items required for shabu-shabu are a large Japanese pot called a nabe and a way to cook the meal tableside. For home cooking, a portable burner or hot plate works, while many shabu-shabu specialty restaurants actually have induction heating (IH) cooktops built directly into their tables.
It is useful to keep a ladle handy to scoop out hard-to-pick-up items like noodles as well as a small skimmer to skim froth from the surface of the broth during cooking. When dining in a group, it’s also polite to use a pair of cooking and serving chopsticks separate from everyone’s own chopsticks, as touching communal food with one’s personal chopsticks can be considered rude outside of an informal family meal. In addition, each diner should have their own bowls of dipping sauce to customize to their individual tastes.
Shabu Shabu Ingredients
The traditional broth for shabu-shabu is a simple dashi made from kombu seaweed, with no additional flavors added since the meat and vegetables are dipped in sauce before eating. However, it’s becoming more popular for restaurants to offer shabu shabu with flavored hot pot broth such as kimchi broth, tomato dashi, and even soy collagen broth. A split nabe pot with a divider down the center can also be used to cook with two different kinds of broth at once.
Shabu-shabu is eaten with a variety of thinly sliced meats and fresh vegetables. Paper-thin slices of beef and pork are the most common offerings, but chicken, seafood, and even lamb are served in some restaurants. Tofu is another good protein option that is also suitable for vegetarians. For the vegetables, napa cabbage, onion, carrot, and mushrooms are fairly standard, in addition to seasonal produce like tender spring greens, sweet summer corn, and autumn yams.
One thing about how to eat shabu-shabu which sets it apart from other kinds of Japanese hot pot meals is that it involves dipping meat and vegetables into a large variety of assorted sauces. The two main styles of shabu-shabu dipping sauce are ponzu, a citrusy soy sauce, and goma-tare, a type of sesame sauce. Condiments like sliced green onions, grated daikon radish, shichimi pepper, and chili oil can all be added to customize the flavor.
Shabu-shabu is usually enjoyed with a bowl of rice. Typically, plain steamed white rice is offered, but sprouted brown rice is a good choice for a healthier option. Noodles can also be enjoyed with shabu-shabu such as harusame, a type of thin glass noodle, or thick udon noodles, which can be added to the soup pot at the end of the meal.
How to Eat Shabu-shabu
First, the server will bring a pot of broth to the table. Cover the nabe pot and allow the broth to come to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer for cooking. During the meal, try to keep the broth at a low boil to prevent overcooking.
Then, add vegetables to the pot and cook briefly to add flavor to the broth. Harder vegetables like carrots will take longer to cook, while leafy vegetables tend to cook more quickly.
Next, cook the meat and seafood, swishing the pieces lightly through the broth or submerging them briefly. Cook only enough meat at a time for one or two bites, rather than trying to cook everything at once. Shabu-shabu should be enjoyed like fondue, with the ingredients cooked over the course of the meal. In addition, adding too many items to the nabe pot at once can lower the temperature of the boiling broth and interrupt cooking.
Remove the cooked meat and vegetables from the pot and dip them into the various sauces. Generally, ponzu is used for vegetables and sesame sauce for meat, although this can be varied according to one’s own personal tastes.
Enjoy the cooked meat and vegetables dipped simply in sauce, or eat them together with rice.
At the end of the meal, rice or udon noodles mixed with raw beaten egg can be added to the broth for everyone to share as a finisher.
What is Shabu-shabu? It’s a Simple, Social and Sumptuous Feast
Shabu-shabu is a perfect option for a delicious and uniquely Japanese meal with a fun, social element to it, easy to make and even easier to eat. Try making it at home for a group dinner, or check out Savor Japan's shabu-shabu restaurant listings, the very best guide to Japanese hotpot restaurants and beyond.