Last night we went to dinner with some of my husband’s co-workers from Atlanta who are in town this week for a meeting. Another one of the meeting attendees who is native Japanese took us all to a traditional Japanese restaurant for Shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu is a meal of thinly sliced beef which you cook at the table in a pot of boiling broth. I have had Shabu-shabu once before on a previous trip to Japan. It is an expensive meal because of the high quality of the beef used for this cooking process — so we won’t be doing this very often — but it is very delicious, and a fun way to spend an evening.
The restaurant was set up with individual rooms and each had a low table large enough to accommodate a group of 8 to 10 persons. We removed our shoes in the entryway (slippers were available) and then sat at the table. Traditionally, the table is low to the ground and you sit on cushions on the floor. This restaurant — probably to accommodate non-Japanese who are not used to sitting on the floor — had what at first appeared to be a low table, but then there was a well below the table where you could put your feet.
The table had two gas hot plates. Each had a pot of water with a kombu leaf in it. While we waited for the water to come to a boil, they brought plates of salad and appetizers — and beer and sake, of course. Appetizers included little squares of marinated tofu, some with tiny little cooked shrimp on top, some with fish roe on top, or kamaage-shirasu — a tiny, white, boiled, baby sardine (Google it… very tasty, but a little disturbing — I have seen these in the supermarket, and wondered what they were.) Then, they brought plates of paper-thin sliced beef. Once the water was simmering, we took chopsticks and swished the beef around in the water — shabu-shabu — hence, the name. lol. We had bowls of seasoned broth to dip the meat in before we ate it.
While we cooked the meat, they brought plates of vegetables and rice noodles. We cooked them, and ate them dipped in the seasoned broth, and by that time the cooking water in the pot was like soup stock. They brought more noodles, and we finished up by eating the cooking broth as a noodle soup. The whole process took a couple of hours… It was a very leisurely and enjoyable time to spend together cooking a meal at table. I highly recommend it!