Feel that? The icy winds, the sudden desire to break into your dusty jacket closet, sneaking suspicion your nose is about to run!? Oh yes, we are witnessing the onset of this year’s winter season and (at least in my lonely household) that means the return of the stupendous Japanese winter food, SHABU-SHABU!
What is Shabu-Shabu?
If we were to start at square one, I would say imagine you were sitting at a large table with 1-5 friends and family. In front of you is a pot, not dissimilar to a wok or a large soup basin, which is being heated by an electric heat pad built into the table.
To your left is a ladle and stacked trays of raw, thinly-sliced meat, to your direct right is two bowls filled with goma (sesame) paste and ponzu (citrus soy sauce). The objective is to boil these pieces of meat in the hotpot and, once ready, cool it down and mix it with your preferred sauce bowl, then it's all clean-sailing gastronomical bliss from there.
Flowery words aside, shabu-shabu is a nabe-like hot pot cuisine with a variety of broth flavors, an option of thinly sliced beef, pork or chicken, and a wide variety of vegetables and other toppings to be cooked shared with parties of two or more. "Shabu-shabu" is an onomatopoeic word which comes from the sound that is made when you "swish-swish" the strips of meat through the bubbling broth. Winter without shabu-shabu is a winter sorely wasted, so let me share with you all my top list of Tokyo’s finest shabu-shabu restaurants that will make you a disciple of this exquisite mode of indulgence.
Best Shabu-Shabu Restaurants in Tokyo
Here are some selected shabu-shabu restaurants in Tokyo!
- Mo-mo Paradise
- Kamakura Ikebukuro (かまくら池袋店)
- Nabezo (鍋ぞう)
- Yorokobi (しゃぶ邸よろこび池袋店)
- Don-tei (どん亭)
- Tsukitei (月亭)
- Shabu Shabu Let Us
- Ichiniisan (123 いちにいさん)
- Grace Family
- Little Lamb (小肥羊)
1. Momo Paradise
Starting off strong with a favorite of mine. Momo Paradise is part of the Wondertable empire of restaurants all over Japan. Mo-mo Paradise prides itself on stunningly beautiful venues. You can expect a beginner friendly environment and a lot of foreigner support, with English menus and English speaking staff.
For the quality of meat, the ¥3000 (excluding tax) for the standard tabehoudai all-you-can-eat is very respectable and the service only adds to the feeling of getting your money’s worth. For the wallet heavy, there is also a chance to try the wagyu option as well for ¥7000 (excluding tax)! Definitely one of the finer shabu-shabu in Shinjuku.
2. Kamakura Ikebukuro (かまくら池袋店)
Kamakura Ikebukuro is a rather unusual spot as it has a rather peculiar hovel theme to its seating. However, the good courses are great and, given all the private room options available, it can be a great little spot to have a private time with your circle of friends and family and still get to experience the beautiful Japanese interior.
3. Nabezo (鍋ぞう)
A cousin of the Mo-mo Paradise franchise (being part of the same restaurant family), Nabezo offers a very similar experience and is very reminiscent of Mo-mo Paradise in quality. The biggest difference being that, in Mo-mo Paradise you get the vegetable tray al-a-carte, whereas in Nabezo you select your vegetables from a large buffet area. Gyuutan (beef tongue) is one of Nabezo’s main hooks that draw the crowds.
4. Yorokobi (しゃぶ邸よろこび池袋店)
Yorokobi prides itself on its pork shabu-shabu. Delicious fresh pieces of thinly sliced pork make a wonderful compliment to the great selection of side dishes and Kobe beef available. For a 2-hour nomihoudai all-you-can-drink, all-you-can-eat pork course, you will be set back 4800 yen (excluding tax). Not the cheapest place in the world but certainly a good option for people looking to impress a date or enjoy a bit of glamour.
5. Don-tei (どん亭)
Don-tei is a fantastic place for people on a budget, all the way up to those who want to splash out a bit! With courses from 1990 yen to 4970 yen (excluding tax) and everything in between.
Don-tei prides itself on the fun atmosphere in the restaurant, alongside some unique blends of shabu-shabu sauces. They also serve some fantastic nigiri sushi for groups that can’t decide on a place to eat!
6. Tsukitei (月亭)
Very aesthetically pleasing venue with great, foreigner friendly service. People looking for an authentic place to eat Japanese winter food, Tsukitei is a must. Additionally, as this venue is kitted out with Japanese traditional interior and a low-light romantic atmosphere, Tsukitei is right for everything from dates to family reunions. However, with prices for shabu-shabu starting at 4500 yen (excluding tax), I would definitely go for the budget options if you are a couple of weeks off payday.
7. Shabu Shabu Let Us
One of my personal FAVORITES! Shabu Shabu Let Us is a small venue in Meguro boasting over 8 different types of soup broth to choose from. If you are very acclimated to the taste of shabu-shabu, then this one will really reignite your passion. Great, foreign friendly location and a wonderful place to have a vamped out Japanese hot pot. With course prices starting at 2800 yen (excluding tax), this one is definitely a must for travelers or students.
For extreme money bags with prices starting at 16,500 yen (excluding tax), this one is for people flying first class. Imahan has second to none quality meat and one of the finest shabu-shabu available in Japan.
9. Ichi-nii-san (123 いちにいさん)
A great all-round Japanese food one-stop shop, Ichi-nii-san is very popular with the locals with prices starting at an agreeable 4500 yen (excluding tax). Ordering a myriad of their side dishes would be the perfect cherry on top to this visit!
Shabu-Shabu's Chinese Cousin, Hinabe (火鍋)
Consider this a bonus round! Not not strictly shabu-shabu, but too good to miss, hinabe, or huoguo in Mandarin, is a culinary wonder from Japan’s neighbor China (or Mongolia, but this is a food blog not a political one). Hinabe offers a more fiery, strong flavored experience than shabu-shabu. Additionally, lamb is the star of this dish which makes for a great venture for those looking for something different whilst in Japan.
10. Grace Family
A small, and criminally unknown little venue under the Akabane Station tracks, Grace Family offers a quiet, private experience with a great selection of condiments and meats.
11. Little Lamb (小肥羊)
Little Lamb is an enormous chain, well known for its super hot and very tasty lamb hot pot.
Shabu-shabu is the King and Queen of Japanese winter food, having shabu-shabu in Tokyo is one of the biggest favors you could do for yourself is you’re visiting in the colder months. My personal recommendation would be to try out Mo-mo Paradise and Shabu Shabu Let Us as they have the perfect atmosphere for foreigners new to the cuisine. Shabu-shabu is a distinctively Japanese dish which can be enjoyed socially or by yourself at home.