My Favorite Shabu Shabu in Seoul
The first time that I tried Shabu Shabu (샤브샤브 in Korean)was after I moved to Korea, even though it's been my dream to eat it since I was little. I remember watching Rurouni Kenshin and wanting to eat everything that they would eat. I tried a few different places however there is one place, which happens to be a chain, that was everything I expected. That place is 뽕잎사랑 (Bbongip Sarang)~!
뽕잎 is a the leaf from mulberry trees that you'll eat with meat in Korea, and 사랑 means love! I've been to this place a few times since last year or so and it's still my favorite compared to the others I have tried.
The interesting this is that the type of tree that you get these leaves from also has berries that they use in their salad dressing (which I'll talk about later)
When I first went I entered the place, removed my shoes, and sat down at the table with my boyfriend. The owners were so nice and I was just excited to try some good food so I could barely contain my excitement when going through the menu. Everything looked good and sounded good so it was pretty difficult to decide what to eat, honestly. You can order meat and veggies, bossam, noodles, seafood, etc. I wanted the "classic" meat and veggies type, but bossam (보쌈, boiled pork wraps) also sounded good so the first time I went we got that too. Usually you will eat these as a full meal with lettuce and side dishes, but we just ate the pork on it's own, and it was seasoned a bit more than usual because of this.
I'm hungry just looking at it...
As usual, you'll get banchan (반찬, side dishes) at the start while you wait for your food. This place has radish, kimchi, and the typical salad you'll find in Korea. However, their salad is made with a that berry I mentioned (with is mulberries/오디) in the dressing that makes it addictive and also gives it a distinct light purple color. I think I ended up getting two or three refills on the salad alone because I liked it so much. Usually I don't like fruit in my salads or dressings, but this one is really well made. The kimchi here is also my favorite kind because I like kimchi that is a bit more red than orange, which is my way of saying less fermented and with more spices. (I usually check the color of kimchi before eating it because I usually like the deep red ones much more than the orange ones) You may get it in its full-leaf form so cut it up or be prepared to eat a lot at once! The radish here is good as well, but since I'm not a huge fan of it I'm also not the best judge.
First, they'll bring the pot with broth to you and turn on the burner to bring it to a boil. Since it's already hot when it gets to your table it will heat pretty quickly, but you can always eat tons of salad while you wait! Then you'll get your meat (which will be thin and frozen), raw vegetables, and noodles if you ordered them. (Of course this depends on the set you order, but I'm going with what I've got the last few times.) There are also rice cakes, fish cakes, and puffed tofu with the vegetables. I am a rice cake fanatic so I am always excited to eat them.
In case you're not sure exactly how to eat shabu shabu, you add the vegetables while you cut them up with scissors into bite-sized pieces and let them cook. Once the broth has started to boil you take the pieces of meat and dip them in to quickly cook them and then enjoy! There are different sauces that you can dip into after taking out your food, or you can eat them as is. You can either eat straight from the pot, or dish out your portions into a bowl first to let them cool (and also so you can sip on the broth if you want.)
The fun part about eating this is that there is a lot of activity as you eat because you are cutting, sitting, dipping, and eating things, so your hands are moving around and trying all kinds of foods at different temperatures and consistencies. I also like to watch how fast the meat cooks, because to me it's like magic how it goes from frozen and raw to hot and cooked in a matter of seconds! Maybe I'm a bit naive, but for me it's always fun to watch and makes the food that much more enjoyable. This also means that it has a really fresh taste because it's just been cooked right before you ate it.
I know that for many people the meat is the highlight of this meal, but I actually really like the vegetables and sides. I love greens and cabbage and sprouts so this really feels like a complete meal for me, and I like how fresh they taste when I eat them. Although I don't like mushrooms much, there are plenty if you enjoy them! (I usually give them away to the people Ie at with because I don't really have an interest in eating them.) After you've eaten most of your vegetables and there's enough room in the pot, you can cook the noodles. These noodles are so delicious and, again, taste fresh. I like them because I don't like really thick noodles or thin noodles, but these have a good chew to them but you they also don't feel too heavy. To me they are just right when it comes to thickness, consistency, and flavor. By this point the broth has reduced down a bit and tastes even better, so it's really good with the noodles.
While this meal takes a while to eat since you're cooking and eating, you don't want to take too long otherwise the broth will reduce down too much for the best part, the rice. The main reason I love this place is because of the rice. It is probably the best fried rice I have ever had, and I have tried many a fried rice.
When you are ready for it one of the people in the restaurant adds portions of rices, vegetables, and egg to the pan with the leftover broth (or a bit of new broth if you let it reduce too long like I've done) and fries it up. The rice absorbs all of that flavor and then they spread it out on the pan so it will get crispy.
Then the rice is ready and you can enjoy! This is packed with so much flavor and you have some crunch rice and soft rice all mixed together with little pieces of vegetables. If you like it as much as I do I wouldn't be surprised if you scraped the pan until every grain is gone...
Delicious and beautiful...
After eating all of this you are now so incredibly full and satisfied. The meal feels almost never ending since there are so many stages to it and types of food cooked all in one pan. If you pay 10,000 won or 20,000 won per person, depending on the package you get, it is all worth it. I crave this place so often and when I'm in an area with a branch I beg to go because it really is filling and delicious. Just make sure you have enough time to enjoy the meal properly when you go and make sure to leave room for the rice!
If you live in Seoul, or near Seoul, or if you plan to come to Korea soon I'd really recommend finding one of their branches to eat at! If you've tried this place before, or have your own favorite Shabu Shabu in Seoul please let me know in the comment section!
See you next time you jump down the rabbit hole,