Japanese hot pot

Taiwanese hot pot will always be my first love, but it’s also been my gateway hot pot. After getting very comfortable eating hot pot in Taiwan, I wanted to explore. I have tried and loved Sichuan hot pot, Thai hot pot, Korean hot pot, and Japanese hot pot. When it came to making hot pot at home, however, it was always Taiwanese-style hot pot made with a canned-chicken-broth base and plenty of sacha dipping sauce.

Until now. I saw the lovely photos from Just One Cookbook’s shabu shabu recipe and realized we hadn’t yet made Japanese hot pot at home. Then on one of my walks around town, I noticed that there was a “Japanese-imported hot pot ingredients” store. The stars were aligning: It was time to make shabu-shabu at home.

The biggest difference between Japanese hot pot, or shabu shabu, and Chinese hot pot seems to be the intensity of the flavor. A Chinese hot pot meal can be very salty and is often spicy or sour (my mouth is watering just thinking about it!), whereas Japanese hot pot uses a more delicately flavored broth and dipping sauces. After our very filling shabu-shabu meal, I concluded that Japanese hot pot was much more of a comfort food, a wonderful meal for Sunday evening, whereas Chinese hot pot is more of a Friday night, party-time kind of dinner.

I suspect Japanese hot pot is also healthier, but I haven’t done the math. It’s certainly easy to make hot pot unhealthy (and delicious) by adding lots of fatty meat to the broth and using salty or sugary ingredients for the dipping sauce.

Additionally, Japanese hot pot is usually cooked and served in a clay pot called a donabe, while Chinese hot pot is usually made in a conventional metal pot. You can also serve all the ingredients already cooked and artfully arranged, like a hearty soup, but then you miss all the fun of tabletop cooking!

I followed Just One Cookbook’s example and made a simple kombu seaweed broth for a base. I definitely did not make my own dipping sauces, however. We got a very delicious sesame dipping sauce and ponzu from the aforementioned hot pot store.

Our haul from the store also included lots of interesting processed shapes (kamaboko) made of meat, fish, eggs, tofu, etc. Mr. Tabletop Cook was against buying this fish-paste stuff printed with Santa Clauses and Christmas trees on account of it not being Christmas anymore, but I prevailed. I had never seen anything so…ridiculous? …adorable? as a hot-pot ingredient before!

Anyway, I am not going to give you a hot pot recipe with numbers and all, but I will give you some suggestions for ingredients and dipping sauces and some tips for serving it up, which is all you really need. Just remember that if you want to stay within the parameters of shabu-shabu and avoid going into “Chinese hot pot” territory, keep it light, fresh, and stay avoid adding hot sauce.

Japanese hot pot equipment

  • Donabe (clay pot for cooking)
  • Portable gas burner
  • OR Electric hot pot
  • OR Electric fondue pot
  • Wire skimmer to pull out ingredients
  • Tongs to add or remove ingredients from the pot
  • Each guest will need a bowl for hot pot, a small bowl or two (think pinch bowls) for dipping sauces, and chopsticks.

Japanese hot pot ingredients

  • Beef, sliced credit-card thin
  • Pork, sliced credit-card thin
  • Napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage), chopped in two-inch pieces
  • Carrots, sliced about 1/4 in thick
  • Chrysanthemum greens, chopped in two-inch pieces
  • Firm tofu, cubed
  • Enoki mushrooms (straw mushrooms)
  • Shiitake mushrooms, stalks removed
  • Shimeji mushrooms, stalks removed
  • Processed, pre-cooked hot pot balls and shapes
  • Udon noodles

This list is not exhaustive or exclusive! Hot pot is really whatever you put in it. Check out our Chinese hot pot recipes for more ideas about meats and vegetables that taste excellent cooked in broth and dipped in sauce! Bok choy, button mushrooms, corn-on-the-cob, Korean rice cakes…don’t let anyone else tell you what doesn’t go in your hot pot! Don’t let anybody dull your sparkle!

For the broth

  • a three-inch (or so) piece of dried Japanese kombu seaweed

Dipping sauces

  • Ponzu sauce, store-bought or homemade
  • Sesame dipping sauce, store-bought or homemade
  • To make and serve

Directions

Fill a pot about halfway with water and put it on the stove. Put the piece of seaweed in the water and let it soak for 15 minutes or until it’s soft and pliable. Then turn up the heat until the water is boiling. Turn down the heat to a simmer and discard the seaweed. (You could eat it, it’s just thick and chewy and not great.)

Pro-tip: I made an additional pot of this broth and left it on the stove while we were eating. That way I could refill the hot pot with hot broth instead of water as the liquid cooked off.

While the water is heating up, clean, prepare, and plate your proteins and vegetables. Pour everybody a glass of wine, or better yet, sake.

Pour the broth into your donabe, hot pot, or fondue pot and turn up the heat.

Everyone can add a few ingredients at a time and remove them as they are cooked. The thin slices of meat should cook in the hot broth with a quick swish-swish (which makes the sound “shabu-shabu” according to the person who coined the name for this dish).

Dip the cooked ingredients in your choice of dipping sauces and enjoy.

Repeat steps 5 and 6 until there’s nothing left!

Do the dishes, then put on your comfy pants so you can drink wine and watch movies until bedtime.