Out of the fire into the Hot Pot
Outside this little shop there had got to be a dozen groups of people all lurking over a small clipboard. Some individuals staring at the board then to the people inside this little shop, almost willing time forward. I looked at my partner with a hungry stomach and quizzical eyes. She says trust me, I say I am hungry.
I stand in front of a popular shabu-shabu house in Little Tokyo. What is this cuisine? Shabu-shabu is a meal eaten in a hot pot style. The meal consists of thinly sliced meat, with cuts of vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, onions, carrots and mushrooms, and usually some very flavorful dipping sauces. The dinner takes these raw slices of meat and submerges them in the boiling hot waters, at times swishing them back and forth to cook through. In fact the name shabu-shabu directly translates to “swish swish”.
The first round of patrons leaves the shop and the crowd and my party is waved in a designated an area. The water in front of me hits a boil and a huge plate of meat strips is placed in my area. I watch my experienced friend as she adeptly picks up one of these slices of meat and proceeds to build a stew. In go the meat, then some noodles, cabbage, tofu, green onions, and a very generous portion of garlic. I proceed to do the same, with even more garlic. I am enveloped by a steam of flavor.
Now the fun begins. In less than a few minutes we all take out these bits of boiled flavorful goodness. Two sauce bowls are provided, one a tangy ponzu sauce, the other a nutty sesame sauce. I found the tangy ponzu goes well with the protein while the creamy sesame sauce compliments everything else.
This savory way of eating can be traced to 20th century Japan to a restraint called Suehiro in Osaka, they later registered the name as a trademark in 1955. Going forward to the 1990s it turns out that the Shabu-Shabu house that I am eating at in Los Angeles was the first of its kind to specialize in North America.
And their years of business shows. So what is the big deal with Shabu-Shabu? Is it the tasty wagyu steak, the savory sauces, or the tender vegetables. I say it’s the adventure of eating good food in a great atmosphere. Everyone was savoring, and .smiling, and swishing.