Shabu Shabu, the Japanese hot pot dish is now hitting the mainstream in the UAE.
Any dish that has survived 1000 years must be good. That we know.
And, finally, from Satwa to the Dubai Marina, the popularity of shabu shabu (Japanese hot pot) seems to be gaining traction right here in the UAE.
So what is the low down?
Basically, this dish is a more upmarket street food. You will get a large, steaming cooking pot of stock -every restaurant has their own secret recipe – sunk into the middle of your table. And you basically get to do the cooking. Adding any number of meats, vegetables and sauces. Simmering it into tasty deliciousness.
Popularised in Osaka, Japan in the early 20th century but originating from China, there is a multitude of different varieties from the whole of Asia, you will never get bored experimenting with endless flavour combinations. So, a word of advice, when trying shabu-shabu don’t just stick to the Japanese version. Experiment with the Chinese, Vietnamese varieties and beyond.
So, what goes into a traditional shabu shabu?
OK, ready for some Japanese vocab?
Traditionally, the dish is cooked in a kombu dashi, which is a sea kelp broth, with a very subtle yet umami (savoury) flavour. This is the most common broth and is perfect for vegetarians. However, there are a number of other options, we recommend trying the ichiban dashi made from dried kelp and bonito, a type of smoked tuna. Unlike modern shabu-shabu, the original is incredibly simple with shitake mushrooms, spring onions and a few leaves of cabbage which are added to the boiling liquid. A good slug of sake is added and then you just dip in very thinly sliced, top quality beef.
But the real secret is the dipping sauces. These really give the tangible zing. Elevating the dish from the ordinary to the sublime.
Sesame dipping sauce is our personal favourite, with the lovely acidity of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. If you want something a little different then try a ponzu sauce, which will give you a citrus punch with the saltiness of soy. Or perhaps a goma sauce.
Options. Options. Options.
In the most traditional form of shabu shabu, the cooking pots are sparingly filled with veggies and the intense flavours come from a well-cooked dashi. But the whole point of this dish is customisation. You leave out the ingredients you don’t want but add in more of the stuff you do.
If you revel in choice, this is going to a winner with some outlets boasting over 40 different options for you to try. It may seem like a good idea to shove as much into the pot as possible, don’t get carried away. Remember less is more.
Dashi options abound. Lamb stock with pickled cabbage gives you for a lovely meaty and fermented taste or, if you yearn for the exotic, then how about a spicy miso dashi flavoured with ginger and the spicy heat of Korean gochujang sauce?
The thinly sliced beef can be replaced with any conceivable meat or fish – think fresh tuna, mussels or succulent pork. Udon or buckwheat noodles may be added for a bit of extra carbohydrate oomph.
So go and try something different this weekend. You will get to have your ‘five a day’ while trying a new dish with oodles of character and history.