In times of rainy and chilly evenings, the sound of sukiyaki hits the right spot. The sizzling sound of seared meat and the bubbling broth release an aromatic fragrance that brings comfort to the heart, soul and tummy.
Sukiyaki is an original Japanese hotpot dish of thinly-sliced beef (or pork) cooked in a concoction of sugar and soy sauce in equal parts. In a cast-iron pot – usually, the shallow kind – the broth simmers in high heat with a melange of mushrooms, vegetables, onions, bean curd and other complementing ingredients; similar to the way that shabu shabu is eaten these days.
The name sukiyaki is said to originate from the olden days when farmers would put game animals they had caught directly onto iron spades (suki), and cook the meat by heating the spades.
About 80 or 90 years ago, an interesting shift took place: sukiyaki changed from being a grilled food to being boiled. People in the Kansai region would grill the meat on the pan first to draw out grease from the protein, then add in vegetables like onions, sliced leeks and cabbages before adding sugar water and soy sauce to build the flavours of the broth. The umami from the ‘char’ – similar to the ‘wok hei’ in Malaysia – gives a great taste to the broth, even without additional seasoning. This is called Kansai-style sukiyaki.
In the Kanto prefecture, they don’t grill the meat. Instead, the Kanto people would mix soy sauce, sake, sugar and mirin into a pot, and bring that to a boil. Vegetables and meat are added and cooked briefly, then served, pronto. The Kanto-style sukiyaki doesn’t really differ much from the Kansai version, as both use similar ingredients. Personally, the Kanto-style less greasy and is an ideal choice for weight-watchers.
Many authentic sukiyaki restaurants in Japan would provide the best dining experience. Usually, a ‘nakai’ or waitress will be the one making the sukiyaki at the table and serving the customers. So you practically don’t have to do anything but eat.
At self-serve sukiyaki restaurants, be sure to use the tori-bashi (chopsticks used to move food from a serving dish to one’s own dish) just to be more polite than using cutleries that entered your mouth.
And like any typical hotpot or steamboat concept, it is always seen as a symbol of kinship and togetherness. Malaysian food culture allows us to immerse in various flavour profiles and sometimes, very adventurous with the things that we eat. But when you attempt at something like the sukiyaki, you want to ensure that you’re eating it right.
We speak to the owners of Mo-Mo Paradise Malaysia to find out some key points to keep in mind in order to get the most delicious results out of the sukiyaki – Kanto style.
1. Begin by adding your choice of vegetables into the broth mixture of soy sauce, sugar and mirin. Let it simmer.
2. Once the vegetables have become soft, add the meat of your choice into the pot. High-quality fresh produce is important; the fresher the ingredients, the better its taste.
3. Beat a raw egg in a small bowl as a dipping sauce. Some people may resist the idea of raw egg but the flavours of salty and sweetened shoyu with egg combined will truly enhance the sukiyaki experience.
4. Dip the cooked meat and vegetable in the beaten egg mixture, and enjoy the taste. Take your time and continue to add raw meat into the boiling broth and let it cook, just for a few seconds.
5. Rice goes exceptionally well with the salty-sweet flavours of the sukiyaki. Eat rice along with your sukiyaki, but finish off your sukiyaki experience with a different carbohydrate. Udon noodles are the best option; just let the juicy remains of the sukiyaki sink into the noodles, sprinkle some green onions and enjoy a fulfilled sukiyaki experience.