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Shabu Shabu vs Hot Pot: The 4 Differences You Need To Know

Those of you who enjoy Japanese cuisine are probably familiar with both of these traditional, extremely popular dishes. However, oftentimes when we order something, we don’t go into depths about how to prepare these dishes and what methods and ingredients to use.

Whether you’re feeling motivated to replicate shabu shabu or hot pot in your own kitchen, or you’d simply like to learn more about the impressive techniques of Japanese cuisine, we’re sure you’ll satisfy your curiosity in this article.

How to prepare these dishes, what typical ingredients you should use, and more importantly, what is the difference between hot pot and shabu shabu? Let’s find out.

What is Shabu Shabu?

Let’s start off by explaining the unique name of this dish. Shabu shabu actually translates to swish swish – which explains the swishing sound the meat makes when added to the hot broth. 

Shabu shabu is a quite popular Japanese hot pot dish, consisting of thin meat slices and vegetables prepared in sizzling hot broth. While this is a hot pot type of dish, it is certainly different when it comes to the preparation process.

While in the majority of other hot pot dishes all the ingredients cook together, this isn’t the case with shabu shabu. Here, the ingredients are actually cooked piece by piece. This kind of process reminds of fondue preparation. 

Cooking shabu shabu beef, or any other meat, in hot broth allows for it to release the excess fat without becoming dry and hard. Quite the contrary, the meat cooked this way becomes tender and soft, and the Japanese consider it very healthy.

As long as you serve the dish hot, you can call it shabu shabu. If you serve it cold, it is known as reishabu

There are also different variations depending on the meat for shabu shabu that is being used:

  • Takoshabu from octopus meat;
  • Torishabu using specific chicken meat;
  • Burishabu is made from quality yellowtail meat.

While there are numerous varieties of this dish depending on the type of meat used, the beef shabu shabu is still the most popular one. It’s the most common kind of shabu shabu you’ll come across in Japanese restaurants. 

When it comes to shabu shabu vegetables, the ones commonly used in this dish are several. Chinese cabbage, onion, garlic, chives, mustard greens, and mushrooms, to name a few. However, you may come across different veggie and meat combinations.

How is shabu shabu prepared? 

As we’ve mentioned, Japanese shabu shabu is a dish made bite-by-bite, usually in front of the customers, right on the dining table, which creates a unique, exciting experience that bypasses the culinary aspect. 

The meat used for this dish is generally tender, but it is the cooking process that makes it exceptionally soft and flavorful. Since the meat is soaked into a seasoned broth, the dominant flavor is savory, and the emphasis is on the texture of the meat.

Since the meat slices are incredibly thin, it only takes a few seconds for the meat to be thoroughly cooked and it is served immediately. The dish usually comes with different dips and condiments, including ponzu sauce, sesame sauce, as well as soy sauce. 

What is Hot Pot?

Japanese hot pot, also known as nabemono or just nabe, is a simple, one-pot dish that provides an outstanding blend of complex flavors and aromas. Just like shabu shabu, the main ingredient in this dish is usually beef – cut in thin slices.

As with shabu shabu, there are different variations of nabe:

  • Yudofu and mizutaki include light-flavored stock, so as to better enjoy the taste of the ingredients themselves, but are usually accompanied by a sauce;
  • Yosenabe, oden, and sukiyaki include heavy-flavored stock, miso, dashi, soy sauce, or similar soy sauces, and have no additional flavoring.

Hot pot is also prepared on the dining table, often a kotatsu, the typical Japanese heated table with a blanket. It is no wonder since many consider shabu shabu a hot pot variety, and hot pots are much loved during winter. The meat and the veggies are usually cooked in a cast-iron pot.

As for the vegetable portion of this dish, it commonly consists of veggies such as mushrooms, Japanese leeks, bok choy, as well as other leafy vegetables. In vegan variations of this dish, tofu may replace beef or any other kind of meat. 

The secret to a flavorful, aromatic Japanese hot pot lies in the broth that you use for cooking. This broth is usually a mixture of soy sauce, water/sake, mirin, and sugar for extra sweetness and flavor

How is Hot Pot prepared?

When preparing the meat for the hot pot, some people prefer to buy the pre-cut meat at the store. However, keep in mind that these packages can be quite expensive, so it may be better to select and cut the meat slices on your own.

For this kind of dish, it is best to choose ribeye steak. It’s quite easy to cut into thin slices, which are necessary for this kind of cooking. Depending on the preparation style you choose, there will be different stages in this process.

The Kanto hot pot cooking style, coming from eastern Japan, proposes to make the broth first of all. All the ingredients should consequently cook together in a single pan. 

On the other hand, the cooking style from western Japan, known as Kansai style, proposes to add the meat first, and then the rest of the ingredients.

There are some variations of the original hot pot dish that require the ingredients to be dipped into egg wash before being cooked in the broth mixture. This kind of hot pot is commonly served with a side of noodles and tofu. 

It is also common for the side veggies and noodles to be prepared in some kind of salty and sweet sauce.

What is the difference between shabu shabu and hot pot?

Many people will agree that shabu shabu should be defined as a Japanese hot pot variation. However, while these dishes do have similar ingredients and flavor profiles, there are some significant differences that should be discussed.

1. Preparation

The biggest difference between hot pot and shabu shabu is in the preparation process. Let’s start with what’s similar: the preparation on the dining table, the cooking method (using broth), and the meat preparation.

However, when it comes to shabu shabu, all the ingredients are always prepared individually. It means, never in the same pan at the same time. Also, the meat slices are prepared one by one, so there is no mixing of the flavors and aromas.

Hot pot, on the other hand, isn’t too strict when it comes to this part. It is common for all the meat and veggie components to be tossed into the broth at the same time, and be served at the same time. 

Other than that, it is important to emphasize that the cooking method is identical. Both meat and veggies are seared in hot broth

2. Broth 

Besides the meat and veggie selection, the most important component of both a shabu shabu dish and a Japanese hot pot is the broth. It is the main cooking medium and the element that keeps the meat tender and flavorful.

When preparing shabu shabu, most chefs will simply prepare a lightly seasoned broth – which is predominantly savory. 

Hot pot, on the other hand, is prepared in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, broth, and sugar. It is a perfect combination of savory, sweet, sour, and umami flavors, and intoxicating aromas. 

However, these broth combinations aren’t universal, and there can be some exceptions and additions to both dishes. 

3. Serving

As we’ve explained, shabu shabu is prepared bite-by-bite, and this is exactly how it is served. It usually comes with different kinds of dips, including sesame sauce, wasabi sauce, and soy sauce. 

When preparing a hot pot, all the ingredients, including the meat slices and the veggies, are tossed into a sizzling hot broth mixture, and cooked thoroughly. The entire dish is served at the same time, usually with a side of noodles and tofu prepared in a salty and sweet sauce.

4. Ingredients  

At first glance, the ingredients are quite similar. We have beef as the main meat choice (usually ribeye stake) in both of these dishes, as well as a similar veggie selection (cabbage, mushrooms, leafy greens, etc.).

However, what is different is the choice of broth ingredients. As we’ve explained, the hot pot broth usually includes specific elements (such as soy sauce) that provide a dose of sweetness, umami, and sourness. 

Nonetheless, the main difference seems to be in the egg batter used in the hot pot dish. You never use egg batter in shabu shabu. In many Japanese hot pot recipes, the ingredients are dipped into an egg wash before being cooked in hot broth.

Are shabu shabu and hot pot the same?

To be precise, shabu shabu is a variety of nabemono, which is the common umbrella name for all Japanese hot pot varieties.

They could be considered a similar dish, but never identical. Both of these dishes originate from Japan, they’re quite popular and are perfect representatives of this cuisine.

While shabu shabu ingredients cook one by one, all the ingredients of the hot pot are cooked at once in the same pan. It allows for all the flavors and aromas to combine. Also, oftentimes, the hot pot ingredients are dipped into raw eggs before cooking. 

The difference can also be seen in the broth mixture. Hot pot broth is usually a mixture of different sauces and spices. Shabu shabu broth is mostly only lightly seasoned. 

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