As far as I know, Shabu Chic (behind Viet Wah in the International District) is a one-of-a-kind restaurant in Seattle, the only place doing shabu-shabu meals. Shabu-shabu is a variant of the hot pot dining you can find at a number of area Chinese restaurants, but instead of totally immersing the meat with other ingredients in the broth, you quickly pass thinly sliced beef (usually high quality) through simmering broth to cook it barely rare. In fact, in Japanese, “shabu-shabu” denotes the swish-swish sound that results from flicking your chopstick-held meat through the broth.
The menu card at Shabu Chic is somewhat confusing, even (or, as I’ll soon reveal, especially) for people already familiar with shabu-shabu. Basically, you pick one of three broths (or a half-and-half combo if you sit at a table instead of the counter) and a choice of meats, dumplings or a veggie plate for that broth. You’ll get some vegetables regardless of choice, plus noodles, white or brown rice, dipping sauces, condiments, and instructions on how to cook and eat your food.
So what does Shabu Chic’s shabu-shabu teach us about sex?
It’s all about doing it wrong.
Dinner at Shabu Chic was a folly of mystery and mistakes. True shabu-shabu has just one broth, dashi made with konbu (kelp), which this restaurant calls “traditional seaweed” broth. But they also offer two additional options: spicy miso broth (like miso soup, but really not so spicy) and sukiyaki (which is another type of hot pot altogether) broth. The miso and sukiyaki flavors compete with the ponzu (a slightly sour citrus sauce) and goma-dare (sesame) dipping sauces. Meanwhile, the traditional seaweed broth I sampled (besides being given to me cold, far from suitable as a cooking liquid) was extremely weak in flavor, as if konbu was only swished through water for seconds.
There were numerous other problems, of which I’ll list just a few. Dumplings seemed like a strange choice to serve as part of shabu-shabu. The carrots were, oddly enough, the baby kind, served whole like in those snack packages. The portion size of noodles was scant, and the rice was terrible–dry and flavorless.
In short, while I can see the resemblance, this was not really shabu-shabu. Shabu Chic has it wrong.
And like Shabu Chic, sometimes we get sex wrong. In the search for pleasure, we make mistakes. Simply put, we screw up screwing.
We regret having one-night stands. (Or we choose the wrong longer-term partners.) We do it too hard, too soft, too quick, too slow. We rush. We fall. We put something in the wrong hole. We talk too dirty. We yell out the wrong name. We substitute Smucker’s grape jelly for contraceptive jelly in our diaphragms. (I swear I’ve heard this story numerous times.)
Some of our mistakes come from lack of communication. Some stem from sheer ignorance. Either way, we need to be a more sexually literate society.
A long time ago, I read about an Indonesian man who used shabu-shabu before sex. This shabu-shabu is slang for crystal methamphetamine, and he was in court for drug possession. The guy, age 27, thought it would improve his performance and enhance his pleasure while having sex with prostitutes. The presiding judge called the man “weak,” adding, “You are still young and apparently strong. It is not necessary for you to use drugs to enhance your sexual ability.”
His words sent a message about shabu-shabu being wrong for sex. I hereby send Shabu Chic a message to get their shabu-shabu right, in my hope for enhanced pleasure as I grow older.
First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on August 30, 2012.