Sushi fondue? Well, sort of.
Shabu-shabu, which is as fun to say as it is to eat, is a Japanese hot pot. Like Chinese or Korean versions, it’s little more than a bowl of broth brought to the table roiling, bubbling and generally threatening to instantaneously melt anything that gets within a foot of it.
With a sputtering flame beneath to maintain a constant level of molten-ness, the pot becomes a DIY meat cooker with a personal thermostat. Thin slices of meat (usually beef) are given a brief swish through the liquid — the sound of that swish lending itself to the dish’s name — then dunked in sauce for a few seconds or more and eaten tongue-searingly hot.
Like fondue, shabu-shabu is best celebrated as a communal event with one, two or a crowd — everyone taking turns at the pot, then fishing out the bits and pieces left behind. The more gets left behind, the better the flavor of the broth, though no one really eats the broth by itself.
Almost unheard of in the North Bay, Hana Japanese (101 Golf Course Drive, Rohnert Park, 586-0270) recently introduced a seafood version to their ososume dinner menu (though you can sometimes get it at lunch). The dish arrives sputtering with a blue flame beneath and several slices of raw whitefish, hamachi and scallops that meet their fate in the sake-infused broth. Sesame and soy-ponzu sauces, along with a nip of chili, lemon or green onion are set out to garnish each bite.
My impatient version is more warmed sashimi than bouillabaise — because it seems almost tragic to cook a piece of fish this perfect. But that’s exactly the fun of this multicultural dish usually found in touristy spots around Tokyo — a dish steeped, but not especially in Japanese culture.
Eventually the flame flickers out, the broth goes tepid and the last bites of fish, tofu and mushrooms are plucked from the bowl. Swish, swish. It’s the last chance to knock that piece off your partners fork and demand a kiss, according to fondue tradition. Or, well, at least another round of sake.
Do you shabu shabu?