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What Is Shabu Shabu? A Complete Guide

What Is Shabu Shabu? A Complete Guide

What Is Shabu Shabu? A Complete Guide

Have you ever heard of shabu shabu? If you’ve had this wonderful dish, cozy, warm memories of friends or family likely rush to the front of your mind. If you haven’t heard of it, you’re in for a real treat!

Shabu shabu is a Japanese hotpot dish. It’s not dissimilar to fondue. 

Bite-sized vegetables and thin slices of beef and other meats are cooked one by one in a pot of simmering broth. This dish is healthy, full of flavor, and fun to eat with the people you love. 

Let’s take a deep dive into what shabu shabu is and how you can enjoy it!


What Does “Shabu Shabu” Mean? 

Shabu shabu gets its name from a Japanese onomatopoeia “shabu-shabu” means “swish swish.” It refers to the pleasant sound the meat and veggies make in the broth. 

The dish is a specific type of Japanese hotpot. The guest is served with a pot of boiling stock over a flame and thin slices of beef, along with other vegetables like Chinese cabbage, chrysanthemum leaves, carrots, negi (Japanese scallions), enoki mushrooms, and shiitake mushrooms. It’s also often served with udon noodles or a bowl of rice. 

You simply place a piece of meat or vegetable in the boiling broth until it’s cooked. Then you fish it out with your chopsticks and enjoy! Shabu shabu is also often served with ponzu sauce for dipping.


What Are the Origins of the Shabu Shabu Dish?

This dish is actually relatively new compared to other famous Japanese dishes. Shabu shabu didn’t hit the scene until the middle of the mid-20th century at a steakhouse called Suehiro

There are a few different theories on how the dish came about. But the most common theory is that it was adapted from a spicy pot dish from Beijing in which lamb meat was boiled. 

The restaurant decided to use beef instead of lamb, slice the meat thinly instead of using big chunks of meat, and use a copper pot to have better heat conduction. They then added a sesame sauce for dipping, and there you have it! 


What Kind of Meat Is Typically Used for Shabu Shabu?

You can use all sorts of different types of meat for shabu shabu: beef, pork, tofu, shrimp, or various types of seafood. The main thing that matters is that you slice your meat very thinly to quickly cook in the broth. 

The most common meats used, however, are beef and pork.



Beef is the most common protein used in shabu shabu, as it is the most popular ingredient in higher-end restaurants. Beef can be thinly sliced with a rich umami flavor and pairs beautifully with the dashi stock and vegetables. 



Pork is another great option for shabu shabu. It’s rich and savory, but you have to get the right cut. Make sure that your pork has a good amount of fat that will melt with the broth.



If you plan to add tofu to your shabu shabu menu, opt for firm tofu and cut into 1-inch cubes or thin slices. Make sure to use firm tofu as soft variants will be difficult to grab with chopsticks. 


Shrimp and Seafood

Seafood is also another popular ingredient in shabu shabu. Some popular seafood options include scallop, squid, and tiger prawns.  

How Can I Make Shabu Shabu? 

Shabu shabu is actually not that difficult to make. With the right tools and ingredients, you can easily have your own shabu shabu experience in your own home. There’s no complex cooking methods when it comes to eating, only delicious eating!


Gather Your Ingredients 

First thing’s first, you need to get all your ingredients together. All the ingredients are on display here, so it’s best to get high-quality, fresh ingredients as delicious as possible. 

That way, every bite is an enjoyable experience. 

Meat comes first. Shabu shabu is commonly made with high-quality, well-marbled beef, but if you don’t eat meat, tofu goes great with this dish too. In fact, you might want to add tofu anyway! 

If you’re going with beef, you’re going to want to get some beef with high-quality marbling. If you can get your hands on some wagyu beef, that’s the best option. The extra fat makes the beef tender and enriches the broth each time you cook a piece. 

For your vegetables, you can use all sorts of delicious options. 

  • Napa cabbage
  • Onions, spring onions, or leeks
  • Carrots
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Bok choy

Any of these veggies work great, but you’re not limited to just those. Choose your favorite veggies and enjoy shabu shabu however you like.


Prepare Your Broth 

After your ingredients are cut, and your udon or rice is cooked, it’s time to make your broth. For this dish, you can use chicken stock, soybean milk stock, or spicy red pepper stock, but we’re going to go with dashi for this recipe. 

Dashi is a simple Japanese stock that is rich with umami. Did we mention that it’s vegan, so it’s friendly for all diets? All you need to make your own dashi is kombu (dried kelp) and some water. Place the kombu aside and cook the broth fresh at the table.

Prepare Your Sauce 

Then, serve up your dipping sauces. Each person should have their own serving of sauce. It’s best to serve your guests a variety of sauces for options. Ponzu sauce is a great choice. It’s a delicious sauce made from soy sauce, citrus, mirin, and rice vinegar. 

You can also serve up some garnishes on the side. Green onions work great to add into the udon soup!


Make Your Udon Noodles 

We’re going to make udon noodles for this recipe. Having a lovely udon soup to finish off your meal is one of the best parts about shabu shabu. 

Cook up your udon noodles however your package describes and then drain them out. Serve the noodles in a bowl to each person and you’re ready. 

If you don’t prefer udon noodles, you can also serve up a bowl of white rice or other types of noodles, like shirataki noodles. It also pairs deliciously with broth.


Prep Vegetables 

Now it’s time to prepare your vegetables. All you need to do for this step is to cut your vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Remember, each piece is cooked individually in the broth and then eaten straight away, so they must be in bite-sized pieces. 


Prepare Your Meat as Desired 

You’ll want to slice your beef as thin as you can, about an eighth of an inch, so that it can cook quickly in the broth. Put your beef in the freezer for 30 minutes. 

This will help it get firm so you can easily slice. Then get your sharpest knife and slice thinly, trying to slice through with one motion, not sawing back and forth for a clean slice of a beef.

If you plan to add tofu, make sure you get extra firm tofu so that it’s easy to grip with chopsticks. Press your block of tofu for about thirty minutes to get out all the juices. Then, dice your tofu into cubes about an inch wide or less. 

Simmer the Broth and Add Ingredients 

Now it’s time to get that broth going. Get your pot and your portable burner and put it out on the table. Fill the pot with water and place your kombu.

Set the burner to medium heat, and wait for your broth to simmer. Once the bubbles start rising, you can discard your kombu. Then adjust the heat to make it a nice, low simmer, and you’re ready to begin.

At this point, add all of the chopped vegetables and tofu to the broth. They will take about ten to 15 minutes to cook, so they need to get going quickly. 

While the vegetables and tofu are cooking, it’s time for everybody to gather around the pot and enjoy. While the veggies are still cooking, you’re welcome to cook the slices of meat. Simply grab one piece of meat with your chopsticks and swish it around in the broth for about ten seconds, and it should be cooked. 

Then dip it in your sauce and eat it right away! 

After the veggies and tofu are cooked, grab them with your chopsticks and enjoy those too. Spoon out some broth onto your udon noodles for a rich and delicious soup.


The Bottom Line 

Shabu shabu is an incredibly delicious and fun meal that can be enjoyed with friends and family for a memorable meal. Not only that, but it’s super easy to make right in your own home. 

So for the next special occasion in your house, try making shabu shabu!

If you need Asian ingredients, check out Umamicart. We deliver high-quality groceries straight to your door, so you can cook delicious meals like shabu shabu at home with the best ingredients out there!


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