The weather's balmy. The sun attacks from above and below, heating the very ground you walk on. People are in flip flops, shorts and sunglasses. So what the hell am I doing sitting in front of a hot plate, cooking my own lunch over a steaming, gurgling vat of water?
Because I can.
Thanks to the wonders of A/C, you can just do about anything in spite of the climate outside. Indoor skiing in Dubai? No problem. Eating shabu shabu on a hot August day in Fullerton? No sweat…literally.
Moreover, the meal was cheap. At $8.40 per person for their lunch special, Mitsu E Shabu Shabu offers one of the lowest price tags I've seen anywhere for this, the Japanese version of hot pot.
And since what I pay for shabu shabu is inversely related to my enjoyment of it, this is well below my ten-dollar threshold of tolerance. Any more than that and the meal becomes less palatable, no matter how freezing cold it is outside or how well the meat is marbled.
The concept couldn't be simpler. When you order the lunch, a gentleman takes a frozen block of beef as massive as a boulder and seesaws it through the rotating blades of a meat slicer. After each pass and into his waiting palms, out comes prosciutto-thin slices of red. He lays it out piece-by-piece on a wide plate until the whole thing is covered in raw steak.
By the time it's presented, the cauldron of water in front of you will be at a rolling boil.
Along with a plate of vegetables and a bowl of rice, two types of dipping sauces are served. Most, if not all, of the flavor will come from these condiments.
Ponzu is a sour yuzu-based dip. To it, grated daikon pulp can be added for texture, which also changes its properties so that it clings onto the meat. Garlic milled to paste will add oomph. Diced green onion will do both.
Goma, a sesame seed-based sauce with a milky-caramel hue, is nutty and rich.
Lift it out. Soak it in sauce. Eat with rice. Repeat.
The beef, cut across the grain, will melt in your mouth just as quickly as it cooks.
Just before you've exhausted the supply of rice in your bowl, deposit the udon noodles into the water to heat. Ladle out some of the now beef-flavored water. Season it with more garlic, green onion, and soy sauce. Before you know it, you have hot udon noodle soup.
Things to look forward to on this blog in winter? Shaved ice and frozen yogurt. What can I say; I like being a contrarian.
Mitsu E Shabu Shabu
225 N. Harbor Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92832