April 21, 2010

Hot Pot, Hot Spot

This post has been a long time in the making and let me warn you, it is not for the squeamish (or the vegetarian).  There is a lot of undressed, uncooked meat ahead of you.  So please, shield your eyes accordingly.  But I promise, what you see and read will be worth whatever “harm” you endure as the food I am about to show you encapsulates the ultimate dining experience for low sodium eaters.  The mecca of low sodium friendly restaurants.

Hands down, one of my favorite foods to eat is Shabu Shabu.  If I were a betting woman, which I am, I would put money on the fact that most of you have not experienced the glories of this delicious cuisine, originally created by Ghengis Khan way back in the when.  Instead, you may be more familiar with cousins of this dip and eat experience, like Mongolian Hot Pot or the more European, Fondue. While they similarly boast the same play-with-food attitude, they both depend on highly salted broths and cheeses to satisfy customers.  Thus, ultimately, my heart and stomach solely belongs to Shabu Shabu.

Here’s the dish: the menu is simple, offering beef, chicken, seafood, and vegetarian options, made complete with a plateful of veggies and a bowl of rice. Don’t be afraid to ask for seconds or, for that matter, the large order. I never am.

But don’t misread the menu’s slim offerings as a preface to a tasteless meal. Even though the choices are few, the flavor options are endless. Each order comes complete with three dipping sauces, dried chilis, ginger, and diced scallions so you can alter your broth and a steaming bowl of rice to your liking.

Make it sweet, spicy, tangy, or all of the above. And if you are a Shabu Shabu novice, don’t be shy. The friendly staff is more than willing to dish out cooking advice. Your every “swish” is their desire.

You can also usually order off a list of “sides” if you want more meat, veggies, noodles, or fun additions like pot stickers (not for the sodium sensitive).

For someone on a restricted diet, and a low sodium one to be exact, the fact that you have full control over your meal is a huge plus. All I have to do is simply ask for hot water, as opposed to broth, to avoid the sodium from miso or seaweed (which are common ingredients).  And the rest is a sodium safe meal of delicious, fresh meat and veggies.  I use the freshly diced scallions and the chili oil or dried chilies (whichever is available) to confidently add flavor to my water broth and bowl of rice. Lately, owners of Shabu Shabu restaurants have even offered to make me my own “special sauce” with a combination of beer, sesame oil, non-seasoned rice wine vinegar, and some corn starch. I have found that, beyond all else, they want you to enjoy your meal. So make friends and feel free to ask for extra accoutrements that will complete your dining experience.

Shabu Shabu is a stress and sodium free adventure, filled with lots of healthy eats. It is also incredibly affordable.  A very filling dinner for two will cost you a mere $30 bucks and service is always quick. If you’re ready to give it a try, two Bay Area restaurants have my Sodium Girl stamp of approval.  For those in San Francisco, check out Happy Shabu Shabu, tucked away on the busy Fillmore street across from Yoshi’s Jazz Club.  For those a bit more south on the Peninsula, I highly recommend Shabuway, with locations in the heart of downtown San Mateo and Mountain View.  That’s right, Googlers, you’re neck of the woods.

I can guarentee that you will not be disappointed.  Or hungry. So get cooking and chow on.

afoung April 21, 2010 at 7:50 am

so what makes a good shabu shabu restaurant? why do you like happy shabu shabu and shabuway the best? can you make this at home?

sodium girl April 21, 2010 at 7:54 am

Great question. I was just explaining to a friend last night that I value a shabu shabu restaurant on three main criteria: 1) convenience, 2) variety and amount of vegetables they give you, and 3) quality of meat. At both of these restaurants, I can easily park, there is always a seat available (or reservations are easy to make), and I feel like I get major bang for my buck. Hope that answers your question!

afoung April 21, 2010 at 8:05 am

but can i make these delicious treats at home? would you just sit yourself in front of a burner on your stove?

sodium girl April 21, 2010 at 8:20 am

I’ve tried it before and it works, but two things are key. You have to buy the right kind of cabbage (Napa) and you have to get your butt to a local Japanese market where you can buy the thinly sliced beef that makes Shabu Shabu so good. Other than that, all you need is a simmering pot of hot water, a rice cooker, some chopsticks and all the low sodium udon, tofu, and veggies you could ever desire. Of course, you could really take it to the next level and buy yourself your own stand-alone hot pot and meat slicer…but even I haven’t gone that far. Yet.

Anne April 21, 2010 at 9:02 am

Yum! Looks awesome Jess. My dad always used to do hot pots at home for us growing up. Another great addition (but not for the unadventurous eater) are squid balls and fish balls. These are probably not very low sodium though. I also like to add quail eggs.

sodium girl April 21, 2010 at 12:15 pm

you are a lucky lady. I wish I had discovered the hot pot long ago, but I look forward to many years of harmonious boiling to come. As for the additions, the quail eggs sound good. Which reminds me, I have to post about low sodium egg drop soup. get hungry and get ready

Lisa April 22, 2010 at 11:08 am

Can you get one of the shabu burners built into your apartment? that would be so sweet!

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