One of the many reasons why I love Korea, is the food. One of the many things I will miss about Korea, is the food. One of my many favorites meals here, is shabu-shabu. I was reading an article (looking for shabu shabu restaurants in Toronto) and loved when the writer said, the dish is so good it is deserved to be named twice.
Shabu shabu originates from Japan and the name is supposed to be reminiscent of the swishing sound the broth makes while cooking the food. The dish is also closely related to the Chinese version, called a hot pot. In Korea, when I am going out for shabu shabu, it's a good idea to fast before hand, because it is quite the production from beginning to end.
Just as I am about to leave Korea, my old coteacher Mrs.Kim and a few other teachers from Osan showed me THE BEST shabu shabu restaurant. I actually took a friend back a week later, it was that good. I had to get one more fix before I left the country.
This is how the whole meal plays out. A big pot of broth is brought to the table and put on a burner. Sometimes there is nothing in the broth, but in this particular restaurant it came with a few pieces of deokk (rice cake), a few small fish cakes, some tofu, and a bit of cabbage. Next came a large platter filled with veggies. On one half was an assortment of leafy greens, shoots, mushrooms, onions, and a pair of scissors to cut them all down to bite sized. On the other half of the plate was more veggies (carrots, cabbage, onion, pineapple) but these were chopped up into small pieces, more on that in a minute. On the next platter is the finely sliced and rolled up pieces of beef. Lastly, is another big plate with noodles and jumbo mandu (dumplings). Of course along with these platters are the typical array of Korean banchan, side dishes. There were a few salads and a big plate of water kimchi, and each person gets their own set of 3 bowls of different sauces. One had a lemon flavor, one was spicy and another was a mystery, but very tasty.
The first thing to go in is the big veggies, followed by the meat, which takes less than a few minutes to cook in the boiling broth. Another item on the table is a stand of dried rice paper and a big bowl of hot water. The rice paper is submersed in water for a moment and then it's ready to be filled. You dip your chopsticks in the pot and pick out whatever you want in your rice paper. Once it's full, but not too full, because these are one bite delights, it's wrapped up, dipped in your sauce of choice, and down the hatch it goes. Repeat this process as many times as you can. The platters are full of veggies and meat, and the pot isn't very big so it is constantly being filled. It's a work for your food type of meal, and lots of fun with a good group of people. You can substitute the rice paper wraps for some of the leafy greens and make a wrap with it, or you can just eat straight out of the pot, piece by piece.
Once your veggie and meat plates have dwindled down to nothing and the broth has taken on a fuller flavor, it's time for the next part. In go the noodles and the mandu. It tastes just that much better because of everything that has been cooked in the broth throughout the meal. The noodles are infused with lots of delicious flavor.
At this point in the meal I am usually so full I can barely move, but most Korean meals traditionally end with rice being served at the end. This signifies the last of the dishes have been brought out. But at the shabu shabu restaurant it's done with a twist, and I pretty sure this is unique to Korea. Instead of just serving each person their small rice bowl, there is just one larger one brought out. The server comes over and scoops out any left over noodles from the pot and all but about 2 inches of broth. In goes the rice (usually with bits of seaweed and maybe an egg too) and it is all mixed in. In Korea, there is a soup called juk, which translates to a thick porridge, from a rice base. The server slowly adds in a bit more of the broth. There are also tons of small chunks of meat and veggies left from the meal to add to the taste. The juk cooks for about 5 minutes till it is a thick consistency, and then it's time to dig in, again. This version of rice is a lot more interesting than just a plain bowl of it served. So even though, after sampling so many different foods through the meal I have started to resemble one of the big dumplings, there is always rooms for a little more. So down goes the soup.
Shabu shabu is an interactive, fun, do-it-yourself kind of meal. Not to mention cheap (in Korea). At this restaurant in Osan, it was 12,000 won per person (just over 10 bucks). It works for 2 people, or a huge group. There is lots of reaching and sharing and everyone takes part in the meal. It is similar to Korean BBQ because you cook your own food, but the soup element is unique. And I love soup! I am aiming to recreate this meal at home with friends and see how it goes down.
|This is where all the magic happens.|
|Meat platter, veggie platter, and dumplings and noodles.|
|Rice paper dipped in water to make wraps.|
|Bowl full of deliciousness.|
|Dumplings, noodles, and some sprouts.|
|Juk, Korean porridge soup.|