Sukiyaki: Japanese hot pot with beef and vegetables

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Sukiyaki (すき焼き) is a Japanese hot pot dish, similar to shabu shabu. It’s a bold-tasting dish with beef and vegetables cooked with tofu and noodles in broth.

The dish is made in a special cast iron pot. First, the thin slices of beef are seared, and then all the other ingredients are added, including a tasty broth.

The broth includes a mixture of sugar, hot sauce, and mirin, an essential condiment in Japanese cuisine that’s similar to sake but with higher sugar content.

You can also add some black sesame seeds to the broth.

What is sukiyaki

The main ingredients for sukiyaki are beef or pork, leafy vegetables (spinach, napa cabbage, bok choy), mushrooms (enoki, shiitake), and tofu.

After the ingredients are cooked, they’re usually dipped in a small bowl of raw egg and eaten.

Sukiyaki is cooked on a tabletop grill by diners. Everyone can use chopsticks to add more ingredients to the pot, eat it, and add more.

You’ll most often see people eating sukiyaki during their lunch break. Colleagues gather around the table to have a quick yet filling meal.

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Origin of sukiyaki

There are different theories concerning the origin of the name. However, if you split the name up, the word “suki” means “spade” and “yaki” is a verb that means “to grill”.

Others say it comes from the word “sukimi”, which means “thinly sliced meat”.

Sukiyaki started out as a celebratory meal for families to gather around the table, cook, and eat together.

Like all hot pot dishes, it’s a great way to spend time together, especially during important occasions.

Sukiyaki was invented sometime in the 1860s in the Edo period when eating beef was allowed. It’s often eaten during year end parties called bonenkai.

When Buddhism was introduced to Japan, back in the Asuka period of 538-710, eating meat became frowned upon.

Buddhists worship animals and often enforce vegetarian ways.

Therefore, meat eating was reserved for times of sickness and celebration. Bonenkai is one of the rare times when the Japanese could eat meat.

During the 1860s, Japan experienced an influx of new foods and foreign cooking methods.

A lot of chefs began to experiment more with beef, eggs, and cow’s milk. Thus, dishes like sukiyaki became popular.

In 1923, the Great Kanto earthquake caused many Tokyo beef restaurants to close and many people moved to Osaka.

While there, they became accustomed to preparing their meat sukiyaki style.

When they moved back to Tokyo, they brought the dish with them.

It’s believed that the first sukiyaki restaurant opened in Yokohama in 1862. They served Kanto-style sukiyaki, and everything was cooked and simmered in the sauce.

2 main styles: Kanto and Kansai style preparations

Sukiyaki (鋤焼, or more commonly すき焼き) is prepared in different ways.

One type of preparation originates in the Kanto region and the other one comes from the Kansai region.

The Kanto style is based on gyunabe (beef pot), which became very popular during the Meiji period.

The dish requires a soup base called warishita that’s prepared with shoyu, mirin, and sake. The meat, vegetables, and other ingredient are simmered together in the premixed base.

The Kansai sukiyaki style doesn’t use warishita. Instead, the meat is cooked first, like hibachi sukiyaki steak, and then seasoned with sugar and soy sauce.

Vegetables are added to the pot and the liquid is boiled down. Then sake and water are added.

Both Kansai and Kanto preparations use eggs as their dipping sauce, but the custom originated in Kansai.

Want to make sukiyaki steak at home? Here is a sukiyaki steak hot pot recipe (+ cooking tips)

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.