By Xavier Morales
Shabu Shabu House restaurant, a local Japanese style eatery in Little Tokyo usually has hordes of people eagerly waiting to enter its warm ambiance for dinner. Shabu-shabu (literally, “swishswish”), the Japanese art of cooking thinly-sliced beef and vegetables by dipping them in a pot of boiling water, is said to have been created by Genghis Khan in the 13th century as a means of rapidly feeding his starving warriors.
The practice spread throughout China and later to Japan, where it attained a near Zen-like simplicity. Small butane stoves are brought to the table, topped by a pot of soon to be boiling water. Then, a platter of super-thin slices of beef paired with stacks of sliced cabbage, carrots, watercress, shiitake mushrooms, snow peas and onions is set out.
Diners dunk the slices in the evolving broth and dip them in either a rich sesame peanut or tangy ponzu sauce, the latter comprised of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and lemon juice. Whether for lunch or for dinner, a lot of people line up at this landmark neighborhood eatery, often cited as the first shabu-shabu restaurant in all of California. The crowds are as diverse as they are large.
Once inside, customers are seated behind a horseshoe-shaped counter, their hot pots already boiling in front of them. In front of them lies the restaurant’s only two dipping sauces: a light soy (called Ponzu sauce) and a nuttysweet sesame. The menu is basic, and essentially consists of only two choices: 10 slices of beef or 15. From there, it’s a matter of cooking your veggie sides, such as carrots, mushrooms and lettuce.
These ingredients go in the water itself, whereas condiments like garlic paste, pepper and green onions are stirred into the sauces. Once the meats and sides cook, you dip into the sauce and mix with steamed rice. That’s it, but its taste, is nirvana in its simplicity. The fabulous thing about it is that there are no set rules.
You can mix and match with your ingredients, and experiment with something new every time you dine. It’s easy to understand this food’s allure when you tuck into their delicious hot pot and dipping sauces. The service is speedy and friendly, and is constantly offering you refills on rice and beverages.
While not the most glamorous or chic shabu-shabu restaurant I’ve visited, Shabu Shabu House takes the cake because of its obvious sense of honesty and genuine humbleness. Shabu Shabu House is located at 127 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles, CA. 90012. Its business hours run from Tuesday through Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m; and then 5:30 to 9:30p.m.. They are closed on Mondays. Their phone number is (213) 680-3890.