I went to a shabu shabu/sukiyaki establishment..didn't know what to do.....it was one of those places where you have your own personal "burner" in front of you for boiling water/sukiyaki....
They started off with the veggies, tofu, noodles, etc in the sukiyaki broth....there was also a plate of thinly sliced raw meat.....there was a bowl that had a soup-type spoon in it (small bowl)....another bowl that held a larger wooden spoon
What is the correct way to eat this meal?
I was mixing the veggies with the metal thongs.....after the veggies had cooked a bit further, I just scooped servings into the smaller bowl and then used a rice bowl to eat it in the usual japanese manner (put a little food on the rice bowl, bring the rice bowl closer to your face and eat with chopsticks).
I dipped the meat for 15-20 seconds to cook in the sukiyaki sauce and placed it on a small plate in front of me.....
First of all, which was it? Shabu Shabu or Sukiyaki? They're vastly different in preparation, and how you eat it. With either, you should have had a dipping sauce. For shabu shabu, it's usually a ponzu-soy or goma-dare (sesame sauce). For sukiyaki, it's a raw egg, which you beat in the dipping bowl and dip the cooked items. Also, shabu shabu is made with a thin broth, while sukiyaki is made with a sweet thicker soy sauce, or depending on the style of sukiyaki, you cook the meat in a pot with beef fat, add sugar, soy, and mirin/sake, and then allow that sauce to cook and thicken, and then add the vegetables, which will release more liquid, and you continue the process until you have a thick soupy meaty mixture. For shabu shabu, you would dip some of the meat in the broth to cook (and eat quickly), which will, in turn, begin to flavor the broth. Then throw in some vegetables, tofu, etc., replenishing as you go. Most of these nabe preparations are really free-for-alls, so just dig in.
They never gave me the raw egg....just didn't know what the different bowls were for.....or if I should have dumped all the meat at once...most sukiyaki I've had has been already pre-mixed...not prepared freshly....
In terms of tools and implements, with shabu shabu they often give you an empty container with a small screened hand colandar type tool. This, among my friends and I, is what we call a handy scum scraper. It's used to filter out the layer of grime that floats to the top of the nabe.....As Eric alluded to, they're aren't too many hard and fast rules. With shabu shabu, most times I go with people we throw in veggies first as they take longer to cook. Then dip the meat in as we go....Sukiyaki at nicer places will provide the egg seperately, but in my experience, more often it's part of the whole mix. Sukiyaki is closer to a stewed dish more than anything. In Japan, shabu shabu is often offered along with Korean BBQ- i.e. you choose one or the other. Sukiyaki seems to be less popular these days.
Just to throw a different variable into the equation. When I was in Japan a few years ago I had a different type of Sukiyaki.
I think it was called Ishiyaki and was more one more in keeping to sukiyaki's origins of meat cooked on a hot plow out in the fields by farmers. It was a flat smooth rock heated red hot. You took your meats and fish and briefly laid them on the slab and then dipped them in various sauces. It was very different than the hot pot style sukiyaki that I have had.
In Laotian-style sukiyaki, it is a hot pot. We pick what we want to eat, throw it in the pot, take it out ourselves when and dip it in our homemade sauce which is not a raw egg but a peanut sauce. It's good. However, if you're not comfortable with taking things out with your used chopsticks (if that's what you're getting at), then we have a plate where we put the steaming goods on. We use a strainer, it's easier that way. We've been doing it this way for some time now because people generally get colds in the winter time, and we are germophobes at that time. My cousin's family does it the other way, with the communal pot being a chopstick-y free for all.