While we were living in South Korea, the “English” teachers, took Devon and I to this fantastic restaurant and introduced us to Shabu Shabu; it quickly became our favorite Korean dish. This meal supposedly originally came to Korea with the invading Mongols.
All of us had had Shabu Shabu in Japan, and in theory it could be the same dish, but this is definitely one item that trumps the one from Japan. In Japan, the waitress brings you a plate of mushrooms, vegetables, and meat, you dump the whole mess into a pot of boiling clear, unseasoned broth, and when you are ready, you eat it. It’s not bad, in fact it’s pretty good, especially on a cold winter’s day. However the Korean dish is so much more.
One thing that is fantastic in Korea is that if you look like a foreigner, the waiters and waitresses will help you do everything. Even though the burner is situated in the middle of the table, so that you can have full control over your meal, they will show you (read do it for you) what to do.
How to Eat Shabu Shabu – Korean Style
First you are brought a two-tiered wooden plate, and on the bottom tier there are lettuce leaves, a ball of rice, topped with a few roasted sesame seeds, carefully arranged into bite-sized portions. On the top level you have finely sliced beef, frozen and rolled into a tube. Meanwhile the broth, well-seasoned with kimchee and red pepper is boiling rapidly in the pot.
You take your chopsticks, pick up one tube of beef, and carefully swish it back and forth through the broth until it is completely cooked. This takes only a matter of seconds, but the difficult part here is not loosening your grip on your chopsticks, lest you will lose your meat!
When the meat is cooked, you can dip it in the soy sauce and drop it on one of the rice/lettuce portions, then pile it with bean paste, onions, and whatever else you want to put on it, then shove the entire thing into your mouth. Repeat this until all your lettuce, rice, and meat has been consumed. Delicious!
Shabu Shabu Noodles and Rice!
Oh, we’re not done yet. You still have your soup to eat. While you’ve been swishing and eating your beef, the vegetables have been cooking, and they are just about ready. Now you put the noodles in the pot and chat for about 5-7 minutes. At that point, have someone ladle out the soup. Be careful, those noodles are long and you will need to use the scissors to cut them into manageable lengths or you will splatter yourself with a red broth that is impossible to get out of your blouse (yes, that is experience talking).
When your belly and taste buds just can’t take anymore, you have the option of adding rice and seaweed flakes to the remaining mixture; this is cooked scraping the sides to get every last morsel of spice and food to kind of fry your rice. This is a yummy end to the meal, if you can make it that long. Jim and I were only able to do this twice in three years!
Shabu Shabu is not just a meal, but an experience. Don’t pass up the chance to go. Our favorite restaurant, which is pictured here, is a chain and they have restaurants located all over Korea, so there’s no excuse for you not to find one!
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.