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December 31, 2010

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Shabu-shabu hot pot a savory winter's meal

WINTER is time for hot pot and one of the most delicious is Japanese shabu-shabu, thinly sliced beef and vegetables served with dipping sauces.

The meat, which also includes mutton and chicken, is cooked in broth and swished around with chopsticks until it's ready. Shabu-shabu literally means swish swish. Chicken, seafood and mutton can also be used.

Related to Japanese sukiyaki in style, it's less sweet and more savory. It may be served in small, individual pots.

One of the most successful shabu-shabu restaurants in Shanghai is Gokohai (Yu Xiang Hai), which is famous for its all-you-can-eat hot pot for 88 yuan (US$13.30), excluding drinks. Customers can also order from the menu.

It seats around 50 and there are three VIP rooms. Reservations are recommended.

The Gokohai on Huaihai Road M. is the first in the chain of five local outlets, including those in Xuhui and Changning districts and in the Pudong New Area.

One regular is Jin Xin, a 27-year-old Shanghainese who owns an online consulting company and has been a regular at Gokohai for several years.

On a recent night, Jin arrived at 6:30pm and found all the tables had been reserved; he couldn't get a spot until 8pm.

"The business is always good and it's usually hard to get a table without a reservation," he says.

The decoration is typical Japanese - simple with wooden tables and floors, geisha dolls and Japanese folk paintings.

Japanese folk music is played in the background and sometimes old Taiwanese songs.

"The food, the atmosphere, the music - that's many Japanese people eat here and it's unlike other Japanese buffet restaurants that are always crowded," says Jin.

Gokohai is known for its various kinds of fresh beef imported from Japan and large, all-you-can-eat portions of meat. It offers Special Beef Belly, Gold Beef Belly, Best Beef Belly, Recommended Beef Belly, Sliced Raw Beef and Beer-fed Beef Belly.

The most expensive Japanese beef, such as Kobe beef, uses cattle that are at times fed beer and massaged. It is not available in Gokohai, which serves another type.

The 88-yuan price is also a big draw, especially as living prices rise and the sum is amazingly low.

However, as in most buffet restaurants with reasonable prices, there are usually small portions (except for beef), slow service and cheap drinks. Most of the alcohol in Gokohai is Japanese sake; side dishes are served in small portions.

Options on the menu are not as varied as in other Japanese buffets. Though there are various kinds of beef, there's only one kind of pork belly and mutton belly. For vegetables and other food for shabu-shabu, there are only two pages on the menu, apart from meat.

However, for those who love beef, this isn't a big problem. Also the vegetables and seafood, like squid and shrimp, are fresh and delicious in small portions.

To accompany fatty marbled meat, guests can choose bean curd, bean noodles, spinach, green onions, black fungus, kelp, dried bean curd sticks, bean sprouts, corn, yams, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, leaf tofu, broccoli, crab sticks, konjak (devil's tongue plant), white gourd, potato, radish, lettuce, Chinese chives and carrots.

Compared with the Chinese Sichuan-style hot pot, Japanese shabu-shabu soup options are much fewer - only regular, spicy and kelp soup.

Dipping sauce is a kind of Japanese soy sauce flavored with vinegar. Green onion, garlic and mashed radish are also offered on the side.

For Asians, there are steamed Japanese noodles (Udon), steamed dumplings and New Year's Cake to cook in the hot pot.

Open: 11am-2pm (lunch) 5pm-12am (dinner)

Address: 1720 Huaihai Rd M. (close to Wanping Rd or Wuxing Rd)

Tel: 6471-7657

Price: 88 yuan per person (excluding drinks)

Other Gokohai outlets

? 1/F, 335 Xianxia Rd (Tel: 6274-3728)

? 85 Songyuan Rd (Tel: 6278-8798)

? 328 Pudian Rd, Pudong (Tel: 5840-3175)

? 285 Jinyan Rd (Tel: 6109-2979)


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