Shabu Shabu

For me, Korean food started on Friday night. Up until then, my experience was moew or less limited to a few visits to Kokyoro, whatever it was Air Asiana served up somewhere over the Ukraine and a few so-so meals consumed in a haze of jetlag and apprehension. As such, baring some tasty deep fried mandu (pork dumplings) in the restaurant around the corner from my school one lunch time, my first five days or so in Korea were spent with the distinct feeling that i wasn't quite getting to the meat and potatoes of Korean cusine. Until I tried Shabu shabu that is, which had both.

Literally translated as Swish Swish, Shabu Shabu involves simmering meat and vegetables in a rich spicy broth, to be eaten with a variety of side dishes and a wonderfully intense dipping sauce (of which more later.) As with alot of Korean food it seems, ther is very much a DIY element to Shabu Shabu, the low tables of the restaurant coming equiped with gas burners on which on which dinner is cooked in large communal pots to be shared with one's companions.
The occaison was dinner with our newcolleagues, and after taking off our shoes and settling in cross-legged around the table, the burner was soon fired up and coaxing a large pot of broth and potatoes into life. Next to arrive were the vegetables; large plates of oyster mushrooms, whole bunches of parsely and crispy green beans literally singing with freshness. Not long after these sank into the maelstrom of the now bubbling broth came thje coup de grace; Wafer thin slices of blood red beef, translucent and marbled with rich white fat towered on serving platters in what seemed like ludricous proportions.

Within a few salivating minutes it was ready to eat. As expected, the broth was spicy and intense, a perfect home for the earth parsley and mushrooms that were every bit as fresh as they'd looked. The meat itself was plentiful, delicate and flavoursome, even more so when dipped in the small saucer of soy sauce with a smudge of dissolving wasabi on the side. The soy sauce here, i should say, is unlike anything i've ever had in the UK or elsewhere, with a flavour so intricate that i thought it must be something else entirely! As the broth bubbled down and the falvours deepened, gratin sized slices of potato appeared, by this stage al dente and infused with the cooking liquid. When these had gone, thick udon noodles arrived to flesh out the remaining broth and ensure a few more minutes happy slurping.

At the end of the meal, as i sat happy, converted and satisfied, a Canadian colleague observed that the swirling reds and lazy bubbles of the remaining broth was the closest thing you'd get to a drug trip in Korea. Fine by me