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Hot Pot/Shabu-Shabu

Some know it as Chinese hot pot. The Japanese call it shabu-shabu. Others still refer to it as Chinese fondue. Whatever you call it, it is an event that celebrates food and communal love. Just like Americans love to get together to barbeque, it is an Asian tradition to gather around a hot pot during the winter. The simple act of boiling food in water brings a sense of warmth and joy to the folk who eat this meal regularly. With its easy preparation and promises of good times, you too should gather some loved ones together for a hot pot.

When it comes to hot pot or shabu shabu ingredients, the utmost importance goes to the freshness of the food. Beef, thinly sliced, is often the prime example of this principle. Have meat sliced thinly, so it would not require much time in the hot water to cook. As you hold the beef between your chopsticks and dip it into the water, move it around to get all the surface of the meat cooked. The resulting swish-swish sound is the where shabu-shabu got its name.

Required Hardware

You may have seen shabu-shabu and hot pot restaurants cropping up around your area, but it it really easy to get these meals set up in your own home. You'll need a pot, first and foremost. Here's where the magic happens. Any pot that will fit liters of water and a lot of food would work. For shabu-shabu, something like this wok will be ideal.

What you need next is a heating element. For this, you may use either an portable electric or gas stove. Burners using butane canisters, such as the shown on on the left, are preferred for its high heat output and adjustability. Or get this Oyama Hot Pot, an all-in-one solution, and call it a day. Lastly, you would need a big table and plenty of chairs.


The next element, and perhaps the most important, is the broth. This is where all your ingredients will be submerged. However, there is no wrong ways to go about the broth, only many right ways.

Different regions in China prefer different style of broths in their hot pot. There is also ma la, or numbingly spicy, broth, from the province of Sichuan. The power of peppercorns impart a heat so intense that it coats your tongue literally numbs your tongue due to the spiciness. Sounds tortuous, but it has its (fervent) followers.

Shabu-shabu broths also have many variations, but it can be as simple as adding some kombu dashi into the water as it boils. You can add as piece of kombu, or dried seaweed to the water to get the broth a savory flavor that will round out your cooked ingredients.

It's in the Dip

Once you've got the meats and veggies cooked, it's time to focus on your dipping sauces. Sure beef can taste good medium rare straight out of the broth, but a good dipping sauce can make it divine. The sauces can differ depending on if you're doing a Japanese shabu-shabu or a Chinese-style hot pot, as the culinary traditions differ in their taste preferences. 

On the Chinese spectrum, you seen many sauces packing a savory punch with the help of bean paste. Hoisin sauce, a sweet and savory sauce, is also a good component for a dipping sauce. Anyone looking for a bit of spice will be remiss not to include either chili paste or Sriracha sauce. The old standbys of soy sauce and sesame oil provide a pared-down taste for which to dip your cooked meats and veggies.

Shabu-shabu purists will lean towards a ponzu sauce, a light and tangy soy dressing cut with sake, or goma-dare, a savory sesame sauce. Since shabu-shabu is less chaotic flavor wise, diners tends to stick to the tried-and-true flavors, which compliments the beef very well.

Shopping List

After hitting up Asian Food Grocer, hit up your local grocers for the necessary meat and vegetables.
Here's a list of items suitable for hot pot, by no means exhaustive.

Firm Tofu
Assorted mushrooms (shiitake, button, enoki)
Napa cabbage
Chinese greens
Thin slices of beef
Beef balls
Uncooked shrimp
Rice Noodles 
Cellophane noodles / bean thread noodles

Laid out on the table, the spread will look inviting and scrumptious to your dinner guests. Time to dip in and swish-swish your way to deliciousness! There is no rhyme or reason for choosing what to put in the pot and what to eat in what order. The only thing you have to pay attention to is to not leave the meat in there to cook for too long, as certain things can get chewy if overdone. In a way, hot pot becomes a game of time-management. Dig out the morsels of food at the peak of its doneness for maximum points!

Slotted spoons or strainers are handy tools for fishing morsels out of the broth for consumption, without getting liquid into your sauce and risk dilution. Some items cook very quick. Thin slices of beef especially; it is at its most tender when there is still some pink showing. It shouldn't take more than a few second for a slice of beef to be ready to eat.

Finally, savor the broth that. It has been infused with all the flavor of all the greens, meat, and seafood that has been cooked in it. Enjoy! By the end of the meal, lasting upwards of an hour or more, you would have enjoyed a wide range of foods right in front of your eyes. And you would've enjoyed the company of your family and friends. And isn't that what matters most?  

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