Shabu shabu is a Japanese meal which is very popular in Korea.
I’ve been to quite a few shabu shabu restaurants since I got here, although I must confess it’s not one of my preferred dishes. I don’t dislike it – there are just other things I find more appealing. I went to a local shabu shabu restaurant tonight with work for the annual end -of-term dinner – a farewell for the departing teachers, and a welcome for the new teachers. Just as an aside on that, the staff turnover rate in schools here is unbelievable. I have been working at my school for a year and a half now, in a staff of about 20 – and at tonight’s event I realised that I am about to become the longest-serving teacher bar one Korean homeroom teacher.
But as usual I digress. Shabu shabu is yet another cook-your-own-dinner affair. This time, it’s a big pot of boiling water/broth in the centre of your table, which is turned up high by staff as you head off to the buffet table to stock up on ingredients. When you return, you cook your raw meat and veggies by dipping them into the boiling water and swishing them around a few times. The swish-swish sound this makes is translated as shabu shabu in Japanese.
Originally, shabu shabu involved just thinly sliced beef and vegetables, but Koreans have cheerfully added about a million other ingredients to the mix, as they’re loveably prone to doing. When I went to the work do this time last year, I was confused and helpless with my foreign colleagues, each of us putting a few measly slices of meat and a couple of mushrooms on our plates before realising that everyone else was working as a team – every member of the table piling their plate high with one particular ingredient. They returned to their table and dumped the huge platefuls into the broth. None of that tedious swish-swish business in Korea, thank you very much!
This time around, I felt very much in the know. Alex anxiously caught my eye from further back in the queue, as if to ascertain that I knew what I was doing for our table. I’m getting the meat, I called back to him. Terri’s getting the vegetables. He looked pleasantly surprised, in the manner of a mentor who can finally let his protégé fly free. OK, good – I’ll do seafood.
Because, you see, there are HUGE amounts of food available for Korean shabu shabu. It’s all about quantity here, which obviously pleases me. You can return to the buffet tables as many times as you like for vegetables, raw meat, noodles, dumplings, and a selection of seafood that would make your mind boggle – clams, oysters, unknown Things in Big Long Shells, whole baby octopuses, shrimp, and various curly things I’d rather not think about. And that’s just for the shabu shabu pot. In addition to all this, you’ve got an ordinary buffet just in case you’re not entirely satisfied. Sweet and sour chicken, battered fish and pork, various delicious cooked noodle dishes (hot and cold), kimchi, gimbap, fried rice dishes, and my favourite part of all – a sushi bar with three chefs working flat-out to keep up with the constant stream of customers waiting to grab the next freshly-made piece as soon as it’s set down.
As I said, I’m not mad about shabu shabu – but the buffet is to die for. I spend more time standing at the sushi bar than anything else, delighting in watching the sushi makers at work. It’s like an art! I love watching them prepare each piece individually, especially when – as tonight’s guy did – they put on a special show for the foreign girl and make their speciality pieces for me.
I was quite happy to leave my colleagues boiling octopuses* and chewing intestines for that!
(*favourite quote of the evening – “Chris, would you care for a baby octopus?” “Ohhhhh, yes please! Thanks awfully.”)
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