Shabu Shabu, The Magic of Korean Style Hot Pot
Shabu Shabu - The Magic of Korean Style Hot Pot
-by Brad Lewis, CKC guest blogger
This was my first “table-cooking” experience in Korea, and it turned out to be one of my favorites of all the Korean cuisines I tried. First of all, dining in Korea is much more than the food itself, it’s a total experience. I found out quickly why they have heated floors: because you sit on them very often! And with table-cooking, tables aren’t just boring and flat, but right in the middle is a stove (or in some cases a kind of wood charcoal grill). And around this stove where the big skillet goes (for Shabu Shabu) are placed many small plates and bowls of various sauces and side dishes like kimchi – a colorful spread.
But things really heat up, and get entertaining when the soupy base is poured into the skillet, along with slices of all varieties of fresh mushrooms, various greens for “wrapping,” and other ingredients. Then plates of thinly sliced raw beef, cold and fresh, are piled upon small plates and ready for the main event. It’s just a matter of time before the Shabu Shabu soupy mix is boiling in aromatic expectancy of the final ingredient.
Thus the real fun of Shabu Shabu begins. It actually is fun, and good chopsticks practice. The basic move is to grab a slice of the raw beef with the chopsticks and submerge it in the bubbling hot cauldron of soupy, mushroom-filled goodness. Like magic, the meat is cooked within seconds. You control how rare or well done. That is, IF you can find your soaking slice of beef again if you lost chopstick contact – a little like fishing at this point. Then, the final challenge: grab the beef, pinch a mushroom or two, onions (perhaps using your plate to contain the ingredients before capturing them all with the tips of your chopsticks), dipping them in a sauce, perhaps adding a little piece of garlic, and putting the whole delicious combination in your mouth. Of course one can also create a lettuce wrap as well – also highly recommended. Then, repeat process.
It doesn’t get old. Warning, however. Don’t get too over-zealous (and stuffed) too quickly, because this main stage of the meal is only stage one! Next, a healthy batch of noodles is added to the hot pot and cooked, for all to share. Then, to top it off, stage three is some amazing fried rice, cooked right before your eyes. The magic of Shabu Shabu, complete in three scrumptious acts.
Legend has it that Shabu Shabu originated among the nomadic warring tribes of early Asia, perhaps sustaining the prolific armies of Genghis Khan. The word “shabu” refers to the sound of water being stirred. Mongol warriors, it is said, boiled water in their metal helmets and then stirred in slices of raw meat. Vegetables or herbs too, perhaps? Bottom line: Shabu Shabu is a meal of historic proportions, and one you too won’t soon forget.