Hot Pot vs. Shabu-Shabu

Upon discovering that there are quite a number of people who still can’t distinguish the difference between hot pot and shabu-shabu, I’ve become determined to come on here to elaborate. Now if you’re not familiar with these two methods of dining, they both essentially consist of a boiling pot of broth and a variety of items including raw meats and vegetables in which you have to cook at the table by yourself. One would argue that that means they are essentially the same thing but that would be both culturally inaccurate and inappropriate to claim so. Hot Pot originated from Mongolia over a thousand years ago and made it’s way into China, where it then gained more regional variations to include more ingredients. Shabu-shabu however, derived from the Chinese variations in the 1900’s in Japan – you can technically call it the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandchild of the Mongolian Hot Pot but it’s more refined and simplistic in a way that only the Japanese can make it, so consider it 100% Japanese all it’s own. The key differences lie in the soup base, selection of ingredients, and condiments. Let’s take a look!

Hot Pot
Photo by Jenn Yan | Friendsmas 2015 (Thanks babe!)

Hot Pot (火鍋) – tracing it’s origins back to Mongolia, originally contained ingredients such as beef, lamb, and horse. After making it’s way to southern China, the variety evolved to include chicken and seafood as part of it’s protein selection. The most popular version of hot pot that we’ve become familiar with today is technically a Sichuan variant called the Mala Hot Pot (麻辣火鍋). Beef, lamb, chicken, pork, shrimp, crab, fish, lobster – just to name a few proteins, are all used in the modern day hot pot. Vegetables like bok choy, lettuce, cabbage, watercress, tong ho, winter melon, and fungi such as shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, and oyster mushrooms are just a part of a never-ending list of options. An even broader range of ingredients include fish balls, fish cakes, beef balls, dumplings, fish paste, fried tofu puffs, mussels, clams, sausages, and taro vermicelli knots – just to name a few. Pork intestines, anyone? How about exploding fish balls stuffed with fish roe? Pork blood? The options are endless as you can throw anything and everything except the kitchen sink into a hot pot. The soup base is usually a standard chicken or pork broth that is a clear broth, or the ever so popular mala soup base, which is a bone broth with Sichuan chilis, peppercorns, and chili oil. Condiments will include sacha sauce, sesame paste, hoisin sauce, chili oil, minced garlic, chopped scallions, and more. You typically create your own bowl of sauce with these condiments for dipping your food into after cooking in the communal pot of broth. It is usually recommended that you end the meal with an herbal tea (涼茶, liang cha) or herbal jelly (龜苓膏, guilinggao) to prevent sore throats and breakouts in the morning (熱氣 – “hot air” – this may be just a Chinese thing). In most cases, you are ticking off the ingredients you wish to have at the table and your waiter/waitress will bring the ingredients to you all at once. Before, when you were ordering a standard plate of each ingredient limited your ability to try everything on the menu because a single plate can easily contain 4-6 servings of the ingredient and the restaurant will charge per plate (average $7-$12 USD). With more and more AYCE (all you can eat) establishments popping up all over the world, one can easily sample the majority of the menu with a group of friends and family without breaking the bank or the waistline as these places bring you servings based on how many people are at the table versus the standard plate feeding 4-6 per ingredient, and it’s a set price per head.

Shabu-Shabu
Post-holidays dinner with the Mr.

Shabu-Shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) resembles the Chinese style hot pot with it’s combination of protein and vegetables provided, but do not call it hot pot. The standard fair will include a single plate of vegetables and a single plate of your choice of protein – usually beef, lamb, pork, or chicken. The ingredients found on the vegetable plate usually include napa cabbage, spinach, tofu, enoki mushrooms, baby carrots, udon, and a single shiitake mushroom. I’m not even exaggerating, literally every Shabu-Shabu establishment I’ve been to have this exact plate. The protein plate options are either a regular sized plate or a large plate, if you’re not doing AYCE. Shabu-Shabu is ordered at a set price based on your choice of regular, large, or AYCE. The standard soup base options are miso, spicy miso, or house broth – each providing a relatively clean and light taste. The sauces found on the table are ponzu sauce and sesame sauce, a dish of each. The condiments include minced garlic, chopped scallions, minced daikon, chili oil, and soy sauce – all provided for you to add to your sauce dishes. Rice is usually proffered by the waiter/waitress and the meal ends with a serving of ice cream.

Though there are relatively huge differences between hot pot and shabu-shabu, they are still commonly mistaken for each other by those who are not familiar with both methods. Essentially, if you’ve started your roll with shabu-shabu, you can easily mistaken hot pot for shabu-shabu as that might be all you know, and vice versa. It is indeed a common misconception but forgivable so long as you are willing to learn and understand that they derive from two completely different cultures. Differences aside, both methods of dining generally promote and encourage patrons to enjoy the meal with friends and family so don’t fret, at least you’re doing that part correctly! Don’t get me started on Taiwanese Hot Pot.


This is the beginning of a new segment called Coffee With Grace. I’ve literally been accidentally called “Grace” so often that I’ve begun to actually answer to it. Consider this a coffee break with me. This category will include posts that will hopefully encourage you to bring these topics up for discussion and debate in the break room or even over a meal. Please feel free to leave all comments, concerns, and emotional outbursts below.

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