I love foods from Asia. Curry mee from Malaysia, tom yam soups from Thailand, and of course, Japan's shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu is a variation on a hot pot. A heated soup base becomes the repository for all sorts of additions. For the vegetarians corn, carrots, Chinese cabbage, mushrooms, etc., along with tofu, make up the dish. For others, paper-thin slices of beef, salmon, shrimp, and scallops are used, along with the vegetables. Shabu-shabu translates as "swish swish." You put the item in the soup base and swish it around until it's cooked. Then you dip it in ponzu or sesame seed sauce before eating. Shabu-shabu is served with a bowl of steamed white rice or noodles. Once the meat and vegetables have been eaten, you mix the broth from the pot with the remaining rice.
Assuming that the restaurant is using high-quality, super fresh ingredients, the basis on which to judge shabu-shabu has to be the broth. The shabu-shabu restaurants with which I am familiar give several options for the soup base. As I thought about shabu-shabu, I realized that I have visited four shabu-shabu restaurants in the greater Boston area.
My first shabu-shabu experience was at Kaze Shabu Shabu Restaurant, located in Boston's Chinatown (http://www.kazeshabushabu.com/). I went with my good friend, Aimee Thompson. I remember the feeling of excitement as I looked around and saw fellow diners with massive plates of artistically arranged strips of salmon and scallops, with handsomely arranged vegetables nearby. Steam rose from heated bowls of fragrant soups that the waiters and waitresses periodically refilled. I knew that I was in for a treat.
I ordered No.2, which featured: shrimp, scallop, salmon, white fish, squid, clam, fried fish cake & beef (you could also choose lamb, chicken or pork). Aimee ordered the vegetarian shabu-shabu. I chose Thai tomyum broth. If memory serves me, Aimee chose the Japanese miso.
I was expecting a moderate portion of food and was utterly shocked when the waitress came back with a huge platter of seafood, meat and vegetables. I was convinced that it would be too much. Ha! It wasn't. I ate every morsel on the plate, along with the noodles. And I drank most of the broth. I remember feeling as though I was swimming in broth. Literally. It was not an unpleasant feeling. Just unfamiliar.
I should have eaten less, obviously. But the freshness of the food dipped into a very flavorful broth, then dipped into concentrated, intense sauces, overcame my better sense. I chose not to stop eating, even though hunger had long been vanquished. The flavors were just delightful!
There are three other shabu-shabu restaurants that I can recommend with confidence.
Head down to to Quincy, which is about 20 minutes south of Boston. There are a number of very good Asian restaurants that have opened in Quincy in recent years. Shabu Restaurant on Hancock Street (www.shaburestaurant.com) is small, but has a hip, chic, modern look. In Cambridge, go to Harvard Square. There is a delightful woman who designed and runs Shabu-Ya on JFK Street (www.shabuyarestaurant.com). For all you foodies, this restaurant is where Penang, the Malaysian restaurant (there's still one located in Chinatown) used to be. The owner and I always chat when I go there. The place is very spacious and has a hip diner vibe to it. Finally, ShabuZen (shabuzen.com) on Tyler Street in Chinatown, is another hit. It's not fancy, but it delivers on the food.