Crazy gaijin like sukiyaki
November 13, 2002
Once upon a time, sukiyaki was probably the best-known Japanese dish.
It has been supplanted by sushi and tempura these days. Back when I first went to Japan in the Air Force, sukiyaki was often the foreigner’s Nippon dining introduction.
Actually, sukiyaki is somewhat akin to chop suey, in that it was a dish largely made up to feed foreigners in Japan; Japanese in feudal times rarely ate beef since many are Buddhists. Apparently it was first served in Kobe to the “furio gaijin” or crazy foreigners to keep them quiet. While it would seem that it would be pronounced “sue-key-ya-key” the first “u” is usually elided so it becomes “ski-ya-ki.” Point that out to guests to achieve a Japanese linguist status.
Anyhow, it is a nice party presentation and not very difficult to pull off. Here’s what you need with amounts left to the number of your guests:
Thinly sliced beef with some fat
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scallions, green and white parts
bean curd in cubes
mushrooms (shiratake is best) sliced
bamboo shoots sliced
white rice, boiled to your taste
About two cups of dashi broth (dashi is powdered bonito and can be found in foreign food stores)
Half cup of sugar
Two tablespoons of rice wine (sake) or Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
Mix the ingredients and heat until near boiling, keep warm
Set up an electric frying pan on the dining table. Have the rice cooked and kept warm on the table. Each guest will need chopsticks (ohashi, available at supermarkets, plain wooden ones), a plate, a bowl for the rice and whatever beverage will be served. Beer is fine, wine not so good, liquor never. Hot tea, of course, green variety best.
Arrange the beef neatly on a large serving dish, same with the vegetables. As with all Japanese cooking, presentation is almost as important as the taste of food. Have both plates handy.
Heat the frying pan and the host runs the beef suey around to oil the pan with longer chopsticks. Then add several slices of beef and some broth, work around until slightly browned and then tuck in a cooler corner of the pan.
Add some of each of the vegetables to the hot pan (keep it hot!) and add some more broth. Once the host has got the dish going, guests dig in and add the beef and vegetables as they desire.
Naturally, you’ll have a lot of dropped beef and vegetables and competition between the guests for morsels. The rice is to be eaten separately, not doused with the broth (Westerners seem to find plain white rice a bit flat and try to muck it up; try and enjoy the plain taste of white rice,)
If you have a well-ventilated dining area you might want to try the small stoves heated with propane, but be wary. Carbon monoxide can become an unwelcome guest.
I personally was a victim of CO1 at a Japanese ski hYtte at Shiga Kogen, site of the Japanese Winter Olympics many years later. A group of skiers got together in a small tatami room at the Greenland (“Gurinrando) hYtte. A Japanese charcoal hibachi, a large ceramic bowl, which also is used to heat the drafty rooms of Japanese homes, was our “stove.” All was merry and the beer flowed as it does until at one point one of the guests, a tall German, stood up and said, “Ich bin krank,” and fell backwards, smashing through the flimsy paper and wood wall. I suddenly detected a major headache and someone realized that carbon monoxide has accumulated.
We all survived, but my headache was massive. But not too massive to keep me off the slopes the next morning.
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