Recently, I had a chance to sample the beef shabu-shabu at the famed restaurant Chiriri’s main branch (honten) along Marutamachi and Muromachi Streets.
Chiriri’s set menu courses range from 5,400 to 10,800 yen. The centerpiece of the meal is the A5-ranked Ohmi beef, one of the three great Wagyu brands in Japan (the other two being Kobe and Matsusaka). (Pork-lovers can order Chiriri’s Platinum Pork set menu courses, which come with sushi and soba noodles.)
The three top Wagyu beef come from the same Tajima stock born in Hyogo Prefecture, and take on the names of the regions in whose cattle farms they are reared. Ohmi beef is notable for its fine-grained texture and for the viscosity of its meat. Ohmi beef marinated in miso was thought to have medicinal properties, and was presented to the Tokugawa shogun during the Edo Period.
Thin rolls of Ohmi beef line the black lacquer boxes brought by kimono-clad waitresses to the table in the tatami-mat room. Before the meal, guests can stroll around the small but exquisite garden that is lit at night.
The hot pot contains nothing but water, which is flavored by beef before fresh vegetables, silken tofu, and starchy wide, flat cellophane noodles are added. One first dips the beef in water and swishes it gently (the sound of which is what gives “shabu-shabu” its onomatopoeic name). As soon as the meat changes color, one can use either one of two sauces–thickened sesame (gomadare) or citrus-flavored soy sauce (ponzu), with a ball of grated plum and minced spring onions on the side.
Vegetables are plentiful here: pechay, lettuce, white enoki and brown shiitake mushrooms, and twists of plum-colored konnyaku. Once the base stock is nicely flavored with beef and vegetables, one can add the tofu and the noodles to cap the meal.
“Cellophane noodle” is a rather ugly name for harusame, whose name in Japanese literally means “spring rain.” Enjoying shabu-shabu in a beautiful setting under a full October moon is its own kind of poetry, a fine art of living in the realm of the senses.