This week we decided it was time for my husband to experience his first Shabu Shabu right here in Boston Massachusetts.
I first tried Shabu Shabu myself in Osaka, Japan 4 years ago whilst touring the country for a little over 3 months, and absolutely fell in love with it instantly. After all of this time I’m almost angry at myself for never exposing my husband to such a fantastically beautiful thing, but of course there are so many delicious foods around the world that I want to share with my husband that I sometimes just get too carried away, and it falls back into the ‘future’ category.
This week in Boston however, we where going to shabu shabu our way into food comas and regret nothing as my husband discovered a whole new admiration and love for this beautiful art of interactive dining.
So let’s start by answering the first question my husband asked me when I mentioned the idea; What is Shabu Shabu?
Shabu shabu is the Japanese onomatopoeia of the ‘swish swish’ sound that your thinly sliced meat makes while cooking in a delectable hotpot full of broth; it is literally the noise of your food whilst you cook it yourself.
Simple right? Well, not really because there’s so much more to Shabu shabu then just it’s name and the cooking of meat.
A Shabu shabu hotpot is a big boiling bowl of broth that is placed upon a personal grill (or shared grill if you’re a big party) which is left to simmer throughout the whole meal as the diners cook away, absorbing flavors, and fat, and concentrating the broth as the meal goes on.
As far as the broth goes the world is your oyster. Each restaurant is different, so search ahead of time to find a broth you like the look of. Previously I’ve seen broths that are Tonkotsu based, traditional dashi based, spicy Kimchee based, spicy Mongolian, miso broths, vegetable broths, herbal broths, and the list is honestly never ending.
When using a Shabu shabu method of cooking it’s said to be extremely healthy. Unlike most hot pot dishes you do not cook everything all at once, instead you cook the ingredients one by one until there’s nothing left. The reason it’s healthier is because when the fatty meat is lowered into the steaming (flavor of choice) broth, the fat almost melts off of it and leaves the meat lighter than when it entered (sometimes taking only a few seconds to cook) which makes it very lean, tender, and delicious; the fats that fall off are consumed by the simmering broth to add even more flavor for the next ingredient to take a molten bath.
As the meal continues, and dipping commences, the broth turns into a rich, flavorful, elixir that is irresistible.
Typically most people use all kinds of thinly sliced beef for Shabu Shabu, but it’s also very common to have lamb, duck, pork, chicken, salmon, lobster, mussels, and shrimp to name a few.
If you’re not so into the meat then you can of course do a vegetarian option.
Each Shabu Shabu arrives with many vegetables; I’ve mostly found myself sat with a plate full of mushrooms, corn, tofu, tomatoes, bok choy, sweet potato, onions, and cabbage on all my Shabu adventures to date.
Usually I add a few vegetables early on so they can cook thoroughly and flavor the broth a little more to start the meat dipping. You will also find at your table that you get small portions of hoisin sauce, fresh garlic, sesame oil, fresh ginger, scallions, and red bean curd to add for more flavor to the broth – I usually add these right away… minus the red bean curd.
Another fun thing about Shabu Shabu is that you get a choice of sticky rice, udon, or vermicelli noodles at most places so that when all the meat and veg are gone, you can ladle the mouthwatering broth of your creation on top of a starchy mountain to finish the meal on a solid note.
Shabu Shabu really is an almost therapeutic experience and the flavors and satisfaction it delivers are above and beyond just a normal night out for dinner.
There’s so much to Shabu Shabu, but I hope – like my husband – after hearing this short ‘in a nutshell’ description that you’ll be exited to come along for the ride.
Our restaurant of choice this week in Boston was Shabu-Zen in the heart of Boston’s bustling Chinatown.
Not only did it hold the best reviews in town, but I liked their menu layout. A lot of people search for ‘all you can eat’ which is absolutely fine because I do it too, but make sure you check the reviews because not all meat is good meat.
Here at Shabu-Zen it is an a-la-carte menu, which means instead of it being all you can eat you simply get the dish and quantity that you ordered – no more, no less.
Some people may turn their nose up at a-la-carte and say they’re not getting as much of a deal for their money and bash a place because it isn’t all you can eat, but I can honestly express that that says a lot about you as a person and not a lot about the restaurant or any fault.
A-la-carte like the one at Shabu-Zen is beautiful because you get what you pay for. The quality of the ingredients are exceptionally fresh, and as a whole it’s a clean, and professional establishment that has earned its reviews with hard work, amazing food, and customer satisfaction.
I’m not saying that all you can eat is bad, because I’ll be the first to get in line and chow down until my pants pop open. All I’m saying is that sometimes if you don’t do your homework first, you may end up eating all you can eat meat that isn’t very good or doesn’t have the same quality because of the price and sheer amount, leaving you with not such a great value/experience for your money after all… but take my word for it there are some fabulous all you can eats out there that will blow your mind – it’s just finding them and paying that extra penny.
After making a reservation we entered Shabu-Zen as a party of 5, and asked to be seated with separate hotpots in order to have our own Shabu dining experience.
We where seated in the middle of the restaurant on the corner of the main hotpot bar (picture for reference underneath) which made for great communication and a great view of everyone’s hotpot in the party for a fun time.
It didn’t take long to look over the menu before deciding what we wanted.
My husband and I both ordered the A9 Prime Grade deluxe meat combo consisting of prime grade ribeye and boneless short rib (as did most of the table) and a portion of beef tongue to share with a large sake.
I chose the Chinese spicy Mongolian broth and my husband chose the Korean kimchee broth.
Take a look at the menus for yourself and think about how you would construct your perfect Shabu meal if you where right there with us.
In all honesty I wish I could try everything on the menu; there was just too many great things that I wished I had the time and money to really get into, but I also knew that our choices where solid and we where confident in our experience being a great one.
Sat at that table watching everyone get lost in conversation, I felt an almost electric current of excitement of what was to come, and the look of happiness that would be on my husbands face when he finally tried Shabu Shabu; it will forever be my favorite look.
As my husband asked questions, and eagerly looked at other customers dishes arriving around us along the center bar, I could tell just from sitting next to him that his excitement was radiating into my already excited self.
It wasn’t long before our sake arrived and I must admit I was expecting a large carafe of sake, and not the whole bottle that almost measured up to 1 liter.
Before I could even get the words out of my mouth my husband read my mind and answered my question.
“I knew it was the whole bottle when I ordered.”
And just like that I realized I was glad we had the whole bottle too. It was hot, it was delicious, and we sipped away happily until the end of the meal when the bottle ran dry.
It was a Gekkeikan sake, which you can now find all across America at certain stores, and is one of the oldest and most popular brands in Japan that is now also brewed in the states. It’s inexpensive, very tasty, great quality for the price, and great heated up for a cold day like today.
After around 3 sipping shots of sake each our hotpot broths and meat began to arrive; our little L shaped side of the bar became a banquet table for 5 hungry patrons, which had other customers turning heads.
It was a beautiful sight, almost a crime to disturb, but as the grill clicked into action we began to flavor our hotpots ready for a fan-dip-tastic time.
My broth was already filled with delicious ingredients like star anise, chillies, cardamom pods, and different herbs.
My husband followed suit as I added the garlic, scallion, and a tiny drop of the sweet soy dipping sauce.
It didn’t take long before the broth began to boil; already my husband decided that so far he liked it immensely without even trying to meat – a great sign.
I started with the ribeye and worked my way through until I finished with the short rib.
I enjoyed it so much so that I took zero pictures of the meat when it was actually cooked, but I did get some awesome videos that I will be posting to Instagram (@ AHangryWife) in the next few days, and you should totally check them out to see the transformation of the meat as it’s cooked in the broth; you won’t believe how mouthwateringly good it is. Alternatively, you can also visit my Instagram page RIGHT NOW and click on my Boston, Massachusetts story where you will find the live posts from our trip to Shabu-Zen.
The beef tongue (pictured above) arrived almost halfway through our ribeye and short rib plate, and without any hesitation we plucked it piece by piece into our rotation of dipping and eating rather flawlessly.
Each piece of beef whether it was tongue, short rib, or rib eye, was so tender and juicy that I could have eaten it until I exploded.
My spicy Mongolian broth held quite a spice punch to it which was balanced out with the addition of mushrooms and bok choy; it was so flavorful with all the different spices and herbs that every time the meat touched the broth for just the few seconds it took to cook, it almost gave the meat a flash taste of heat and the perfect seasoning to make it even more flavorsome than it already was. The addition of the sweet soy dipping sauce is also a staple at Shabu Shabu, and if the broth already didn’t give you enough flavor then the extra dip into the cool dipping sauce afterwards – on the way to your mouth – will really seal the deal; it’s like the final wax on an already beautifully finished car, necessary and unavoidable to get the perfect result. Also, the dipping sauce definitely cools the meat from the broths molten lava finish to a manageable warmth that makes it chow down ready, and trust me… you won’t want to wait when it tastes this good!
The quality was exceptional from the start and the beef was so fresh and thinly sliced that it really carried in the taste; I encountered zero fatty sections, zero tough grizzle, and only found myself eating strips of meat that practically melted in my mouth and disintegrated beautifully on the way to my stomach with that hearty beef flavor we all know and love.
By this point in the meal my vegetables had been simmering away in the broth for a while, allowing them to collect all of the flavors of the beef fat and brothy goodness along the way. As each tender bite of vegetable touched my lips I wondered how I never liked my greens as a child – maybe if my Mother had known about Shabu Shabu I’d have been plowing down vegetables since my early days – ha.
(Mum, if you’re reading this then brace yourself for a Shabu Shabu experience in the near future, it’s happening!)
My husband was also eating more vegetables than I’ve ever seen him eat since the day I met him, and every time he tried a new meat I’d hear his sighs of appreciation and happiness at just how good Shabu Shabu really was.
As our plates of beef began to dwindle our friend offered a strip of lamb each for my husband and myself to try.
I’ll admit 100% that I am obsessed with lamb entirely – as is my husband – but I have yet to have it in Shabu Shabu.
I had stayed away from lamb after ordering so much beef, but as I dipped that strand of meat into my flavorful broth for a mere second or two, I placed it into my mouth at the same time as my husband did his, and right there and then our world exploded.
It was perfect. Just like the beef, the lamb held all of its delicious flavor, but took on the seasoning and heat from the broth, making it so tasty and tender that it became VERY apparent we where ordering another dish tonight.
In seconds the waiter had taken our request and left for the kitchen, it wasn’t long before our huge plate of lamb appeared right in front of us.
I must say we didn’t expect to get a plate quite as big as the one we received, but it was easily destroyed between the two of us.
Every piece of meat whether it was beef or lamb, seemed to get better and better with every bite.
The thinness of each piece was so delicate that it really didn’t feel as though you where filling up at all, and instead could continue to feast like a king to your hearts content.
I also like that although the lamb looked fattier naturally, it did not have a fatty texture in any way. In fact, the fat melted so beautiful in those few seconds of dipping that it only intensified the flavors more, tenderizing it beautifully, and I knew I’d found a new Shabu love.
After a few more minutes all of our meat was gone, along with the vegetables, and we decided we had outdone ourselves on a great time.
There was only one thing left to do and that was to add the broth to our udon noodles for the final curtain call of the night.
With each ladle of broth I watched the noodles absorb the goodness, and moved in for the kill.
After dipping all of my meat and vegetables first in the lava broth, and then into the sweet dipping sauce, I took note of the flavor which I had grown to love, and decided to add a little sweet dipping sauce to the udon as well.
It was a marriage made in heaven.
Slurping away I finished the bowl in minutes, my husband doing the same, and right there and then I realized that I was full in the most comfortable and beautiful way.
It had been an excellent meal, my husband had expressed his new found love throughout the entirety, and we had added another dinner date to the list of many favorites that would never get old.
Finally introducing my husband to Shabu shabu was one of most rewarding and happy moments of our foodie experiences in Boston. I love it even more now that he loves it too, and once again I’m grateful to have such an awesome best friend and husband by my side, not to mention fantastic foodie friends who joined us for the trip.
If you haven’t tried the beauty that is Shabu shabu yet then I strongly recommend you get yourself out and about to experience it for yourself.
If you’re in Boston I 100% would recommend Shabu-Zen, and I’d recommend getting the A9 with beef tongue and lamb to absolutely blow your mind.
Remember, if you’d love to see the meat being cooked and the finished product – which I know you absolutely will – then go check out my Instagram page @ AHangryWife for LIVE videos on my Boston, Massachusetts story, and in upcoming posts over the next few days! You won’t regret it.
Thank you to Shabu Zen for such an amazing evening of fun interactive dining, with great service, exceptional food quality, and a happiness that only a good meal can give.
Until next time,