When you are travelling or living in Japan, sometimes you are on a budget but your stomach is seeking for great satisfaction. Then the thoughts come in: “I want to eat meat, and vegetables… hot-pot is delicious. And sushi. Deep-fried foods sound great too. I guess I need some salad to balance it out. Soda would go great with it. Top it off with a little ice-cream too…wait, a parfait would be even better!”
Instead of asking which one or two dishes to eat, there is a type of restaurant that will give you ALL of the things above, satisfying you to the max at an affordable price: the Shabu-Shabu All-You-Can-Eat restaurants! These places are so cheap, usually around ¥1500 for lunch and ¥2100 for dinner per adult. They also let you pig out on everything they have available on the menu. It is basically a Food Paradise.
There are many chains like these across Japan. The one I frequent in my area is called ShabuTaro but you should seek out the ones nearest you. It is an excellent dating spot for me and my girlfriend, especially when she wanted healthier options while I craved for meat and calories.
ShabuTaro is essentially a shabu-shabu restaurant, the hot pot cuisine where you cook thin slices of pork and beef and vegetables in a boiling broth and eat it with dipping sauces. Upon sitting down, the 2-hours feasting countdown began as your broth is brought to your table and you wait for your orders of sliced lean and fat meat. You can pay extra for more flavourful soup-base broths like sukiyaki or spicy motsu. Our broth needed time to boil. So we walked over to the food bar where vegetables were cooking, there was salad bar, and a ton of unhealthy but delicious fried foods lined up buffet style. The meat had arrived and the water should just be boiling by the time you return to the table.
In case you don’t know, the “way” to eat shabu-shabu is to pick up a slice of meat with your chopsticks, place it slowly into the boiling water and wave it from side to side while saying “shabu~ shabu~”. The meat will be ready in seconds and you can toss it into the dressing of your choice in a small plate before your mouth.
My purpose of visiting this place is never just for shabu-shabu. Having shabu-shabu along side sushi, fried chicken, fries, salad and desserts all in one meal is the speciality only this kind of restaurant offers. The quality of the food isn’t going to blow your mind but the novelty is extremely satisfying.
Besides all the various food choices, I also particularly enjoy the different dipping sauces. For traditional shabu-shabu, ponzu vinegar or rich sesame sauce are used. However, I also use the soy sauce, green onion, raw eggs, tororo (grated yam) and other ingredients to make more kinds of sauces to add more variations of tastes. My portion of the table always looks like a chemistry lab with numerous bowls and plates each containing a different type of food or dressing. It is delicious AND fun!
With all the food choices available and included, this affordable meal option is one of my favourite and most often visited restaurants. Going for lunch will ensure that I won’t be needing dinner that evening. So if you are travelling around Japan, your stomach is empty and you can’t decide what to eat, seek out one of these Shabu-Shabu tabehoudai (all-you-can-eat) restaurants and eat to your heart’s and stomach’s content!
Photo: Gustavo Veríssimo on Flickr