Sunday, November 4, 2012
Hot pots are a classic cold weather comfort food in many cuisines. The Japanese are no different, enjoying a host of delicious "nabemono" (hot pot) dishes. Sukiyaki and shabu shabu are two popular meat-based hot pots. Both involve DIY cooking tableside, and both have a faithful foodie following in the non-Japanese world.
Beef and pork are relatively new additions to Japanese cuisine as the consumption of meat was taboo until the 19th century. Thinly sliced beef is usually used in shabu shabu and sukiyaki, although pork and seafood versions exist. Variations are common, depending on where in Japan you order and eat your hot pot. As always, every town has a distinct version that's a little bit different from the one in the neighbouring village.....
Sukiyaki is believed to have started here in the Kansai area
Sukiyaki has a sweeter, richer taste than shabu shabu. Sukiyaki is cooked in a sauce of mirin (sweet cooking wine), soy, sake and sugar. Lots of flavour is present in the sauce which is absorbed by the ingredients as they cook.
In Tokyo and the east, the sauce is prepared first and then the beef, veggies tofu etc. added after. In Osaka and Kansai (western) Japan, the beef is usually seared first and then the sauce ingredients added. Solid morsels coming out of the sukiyaki pot in both areas are often dipped into a small dish of lightly beaten raw egg before being eaten.
Shabu shabu is different. It starts with dashi, a light stock made from seaweed and dried bonito (tuna). The ingredients are cooked quickly in the shabu shabu pot and their original flavour is preserved. Little or no sugar or salt is traditionally used while cooking.
Immediately after cooking, the meat and other items are usually dipped into a flavourful sauce before being eaten. Ponzu( a citrus soy mix) is popular; others prefer a creamy sesame dip. The well seasoned sauces compliment the delicate flavours of the simply cooked ingredients.
Thais have developed their own variation of sukiyaki. The broth is usually a chicken stock with fish sauce and an egg added. The dipping sauce for the solid ingredients in the hot pot is predictable spicy and packed with fresh Thai herbs like cilantro and lemongrass. Kaffir lime and sesame oil are popular additions as well.
While premium cuts of meat are used in Japan, "Thai suki" incorporates fish balls, chicken and seafood. "Thai suki" restaurants are very popular with young Thais and families.
You may not be able to pronounce it, but "jjigae" is the Korean's tasty riff on the hot pot theme. "Jjigae" may incorporate meat, seafood, veggies, and some feature tofu as a key ingredient.
"Budue Jjigae" is also known as "army base stew". During the Korean war, food was always in short supply and nothing went to waste. Surpluses and leftovers from the U.S. army bases were combined with kim chi and whatever could be grown or scrounged locally to make stews. Hot dogs, bacon and Spam bubbled away in a spicy soup. It's still a great way to use up leftovers...
Hot pots can be prepared at home and Mori Mori Grocery has everything you need. Pre-sliced beef and pork, stocks, fishcakes and more can be found on our shelves and in our freezers. Have a great week, keep warm and enjoy your hot pot!