Long before “swish swish” became the title of a pop song, there was shabu-shabu (the onomatopoeia for swishing noises)—a type of nabemono (hot pot dish) with thinly sliced meat.
Eating it is really simple. First, submerge the meat and other ingredients/toppings (vegetables,tofu, etc.) into the broth. Start with the meat, as vegetables cook much faster. Don’t dump all your ingredients into the pot in one go, as doing so could affect the temperature of the broth. Swish them around, and wait until they’re cooked—but don’t wait too long, lest you overcook the meat. As soon as it changes color, it should be good to eat.
Finally, enjoy! Typically, you use a pair of serving chopsticks for hygienic reasons to take whatever you like, dip the cooked ingredients in sauce (with the citrus-y ponzu and goma—sesame—being the most common sauces), and then eat them on their own or with rice. When there’s only broth left in the pot, you’re supposed to mix the broth with your leftover rice (or noodles), and drink it up.
If this has gotten you craving for some, here are some budget-friendly shabu-shabu restaurants for you. We’ve already brought some of these up as examples on our umbrella article on nabe, but we’ve also got a few more examples for you. Most of the chains listed here offer discounts for children and senior citizens, and all prices listed here are tax-inclusive.
A chain with branches in Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Saitama, Nabe-zo is known for its all-you-can-eat courses. The menu may vary per branch, but at most branches, the standard lunch course is the 100-minute buffet, which gets you all the pork, beef, vegetables, side ingredients, and ice cream that you want.
Previously a chain with several branches, Mo-Mo-Paradise, which now only has one branch in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho, is Nabe-zo’s sister restaurant. As such, it also has inexpensive shabu-shabu and sukiyaki courses, with prices comparable to that of Nabe-zo. The standard course is a 100-minute one for ¥2,700, which gets you beef, pork, vegetables, rice, and noodles.
3. Shabu-shabu Tajimaya
Yet aother chain, Tajimaya is even more cheapo than Nabe-zo and Mo-Mo Paradise. Prices and offerings may vary per branch, but to give you an example, the cheapest lunch course at its Shibuya branch is ¥864 for 120 grams of chicken shabu-shabu or sukiyaki—plus an hour-long buffet of vegetables, rice, udon, curry, ice cream, and drinks. If 120 grams of meat isn’t enough for you, Tajimaya also has 90-minute meat buffet courses—pork for ¥1,566, and beef for ¥1,782. For dinner, prices start at ¥2,808 for a pork all-you-can-eat course.
(Note that Tajimaya shares a name with an Osaka-based yakiniku chain, but has no relation to it.)
An even bigger chain than everything we’ve listed so far, Onyasai has nearly 90 branches in Tokyo alone, including Asakusa, Akihabara, Ikebukuro, Ueno, and Shibuya. Its 2-hour shabu-shabu courses all come with all-you-can-eat vegetables, side dishes, meatballs, and toppings. The courses end on a sweet note, too, as they include dessert (which, unfortunately for those with a sweet tooth, is not all-you-can-eat). The cheapest course is the pork-and-chicken one (¥3,003), followed by the beef-and-pork course (¥3,219).
This chain not only has all-you-can-eat courses, but also à la carte ones—you can order a single serving of shabu-shabu, pieces of meat, and so on. Some branches may have different menus and prices, but at most branches, their grand menu has a 2-hour shabu-shabu courses that start at ¥2,258 for all the meat (beef short plate and pork loin), toppings, and rice you can eat. Fixed-serving set meals—which include 110 grams of meat, rice, and toppings—start at ¥1,394 for pork loin and ¥1,501 for beef rib cap plate.
The lunch menu is cheaper. There are two 100-minute all-you-can-eat courses; one costs ¥2,042 for pork loin and beef short rib, while the other costs ¥2,150 for aged sirloin on top of the two other cuts previously mentioned. Of course, you can eat all the rice, vegetables, and pickles you want. Fixed-serving shabu-shabu sets start at ¥962 for pork loin.
Dontei also has other dishes on the menu: sushi, soba for lunch, and more.
6. Little Sheep/Xiao Fei Yang
While this chain is Chinese in origin, we included Little Sheep (Xiao Fei Yang in Chinese) here, as this hot pot chain’s concept is quite similar, after all. However, since Little Sheep specializes in Inner Mongolian hot pot, the herbs, spices, sauces, and overall flavor are slightly different. For one, they have a spicy broth made with chili oil and peppercorns. Another thing that sets this chain apart is that it offers lamb.
As of this writing, Little Sheep has nine branches in Tokyo—Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ueno, to name a few. The cheapest course available costs ¥1,980 per head. This gets you lamb, chicken, some vegetables, dumplings, and dessert. Sadly, the only all-you-can eat course on the menu is a whopping ¥9,888—on top of all the meat and vegetables you can eat, you’ll also get some appetizers, seafood (not all-you-can-eat, though), rice, and dessert.
If you want a more upscale option that’s still pretty reasonably priced considering the type of ingredients used, here’s one for you:
Shabuzen in Roppongi may not be as cheap as the other options here, but considering that their shabu-shabu courses use wagyu, their price range is actually quite reasonable. A fixed-portion meal consisting of 120 grams of meat and vegetables starts at ¥4,320 for beef shank, but if you want rib roast or sirloin, prepare to pay ¥5,400 or ¥6,480, respectively. In addition to beef and veggies, you get noodles, and mochi on the side if you order shabu-shabu. You get rice, miso soup, and pickles if you order sukiyaki.
The restaurant offers a 2-hour shabu-shabu all-you-can-eat course, with prices starting from ¥5,400. Note that there will be an additional table charge of ¥324 for the course. Also note that whatever you order, the restaurant will charge an additional 10% service charge.
Address: B1/F Aoba Roppongi Bldg., Roppongi 3-16-33, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Hours: Mondays to Saturdays – 4:00 pm-11:30 pm; Sundays and holidays – 4:00 pm-11:00 pm
Access: Roppongi Station
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