Popularly known as the ‘Land of Rising Sun’, Japan is a vibrant country that offers infinite options for eager holidaymakers and adventurous travelers. As I have always claimed, the most important aspect of Japanese travel is its huge culinary variety. Many scrumptious dishes of this country are popular across the world for their amazing flavor and serving style, but since most people are familiar with and/or have tried only sushi (and perhaps the dishes I’ve described in earlier posts), I would like to announce a fresh culinary battle: Shabu-Shabu vs. Yakiniku. These two Japanese food items are guaranteed to leave you mesmerized till the next time you travel in Japan (yes, there will most definitely be a next time).
Shabu-Shabu, literally translating to “swish-swish,” is an item where thinner, usually higher quality slices of meat are “swished” momentarily inside large pots containing steaming water, or seaweed (“combu”), or salt based soup. They are instantly cooked, after which they are dipped into one of many sauces, “tare,” to choose from – vinegar, sesame, salt, and more. As usual, a bowl of hot white rice cooked to perfection is always there, held in the palm of your free hand – or in my case gulped down immediately and waiting for seconds. Besides the meat, Shabu-Shabu restaurants offer seafood and vegetables as well to cook inside the pots. When done eating, if still hungry and/or drunk, it is a Japanese custom to add rice or noodles to the now rich tasting soup to finish off the meal – and fight off the following day’s hangover.
Yakiniku is another popular Japanese way of preparing bite sized meat and veggies on griddles. It is actually a Korean-style barbecue, thus more widely known. With Yakiniku, translating to “fried meat,” small pieces of meat (not as thin as Shabu-Shabu), mainly beef and pork, together with raw vegetables are cooked on a grill platter throughout the period of meal, few pieces at a time. Then, these mouth-watering chunks of meat are plunged in the sauce/tare, which is made of soy sauce mixed with fruit juice, garlic, sugar and sake. Once prepared, Yakiniku is served with…yep, rice, as well as with Korean side dishes like Yukhoe and Kimchi. This luscious Japanese dish goes oh too well with beer – be careful.
Due to the increasing popularity of these two culinary items of Japan, sometimes it seems like there is a sort of competition going on between the two, but perhaps I could be making that up to dramatize things. That being said, they do compete for the same niche of party or celebration meals, as both are relatively expensive (Shabu-Shabu more than Yakiniku). Interestingly, some people prefer Shabu-Shabu for lunch, while leaving Yakiniku for dinner. I would say that Yakiniku and Japanese restaurants serving it are more tourist-friendly, and many relate more to the stronger taste of fried BBQ meat. On the other hand, you would have to look much harder than your local Korea-town for an authentic Shabu-Shabu experience.
So, what will it be?
Josh Shulman, Author of All-You-Can Japan (http://smartjapantravel.wordpress.com)