Shabu Shabu

3500 Blanshard Street, Saanich Centre
Grey Mystery Ball Update - April 2009

After receiving many emails trying to resolve the mystery of the grey ball - we finally have an answer!
Sei Takeguchi writes:
"My guess is that they are either Tsumire, which is basically some sardine meat ground in a stone grind bowl and then kneaded with some starch for binding into balls that are often used in Japanese Nabe hotpots, or something called Tsukune, which is basically ground chicken balls usually grilled like yakitori, but sometimes used in hotpots. If it were the latter, I'm sure you'd have figured out it was chicken immediately, so my guess is Tsumire, the sardine ball."
That sure sounds like it!
Sei also provided some links to explain the process:
"The first site describes the "Tataki" method of finely chopping up the sardine into coarse "paste" and mixing it in with all the other ingredients, a method used at home and upscale restaurants in Japan today." Sei continues, "The second site has the food industry version with photos of more thoroughly mashed up paste dumplings, probably done mechanically and not with a stone grind bowl and much like the grey ones you encountered."
And a couple of pictures here and here.
Thanks for the answer and the research!

I thought I knew what shabu shabu style dining was, just to be sure I checked on the internet before leaving for the restaurant. A Japanese style hot pot of Mongolian origin, said to have been created by Genghis Khan (or more likely by his brilliant chef) to feed his army cheaply. Basically, hot broth with a selection of meat and vegetables to be cooked at the table, accompanied by rice and sauce. Sounds pretty basic, right?

Being the piggies we are, we infrequently encounter food we don't like and while we didn't dislike our beef hot pot ($13.99), it was a little challenging for our palates.

We entered the restaurant to find it completely empty. We found the server, who looked anxious and distraught by our arrival. She seated us and politely explained that she was expecting a tour group and that it would be helpful if we ordered quickly. I appreciated being told and she relaxed considerably after our order was placed. Unfortunately, due to her time and language constraints our shabu shabu tutorial was a little lacking. We figured it out, but were a little lost regarding general etiquette. While not uncomfortable, it was an awkward dining experience  - I really would have liked a drink, but to my horror they don't have a liquor license. Not essential, but it would have taken the edge off.

We were served our hot pots and proceeded to turn the elements on. Our server then arrived with rice, sauce and a huge plate of cabbage, a raw egg, two whole prawns, raw tofu, deep fried tofu, a grey ball and couple of other mysterious objects. The beef came last - bright red sirloin, sliced frozen to create an impressive presentation. It looked super cool. Eating it was another matter. It wasn't awful, but I thought the broth had an overpowering dried shrimp flavour. I'm sure it was supposed to be like that, but it was a little much for me. The prawns were familiar and tasty, but did require head removal, not everyone's cup of tea. While Patty hesitated on the egg, that was one thing I could figure out, I did however lose a piece of shell in broth. The grey ball took the cake. I have no idea what it was. All the server could tell us, was to cook it until it floated. It was extremely dense and strongly flavoured and we think it was protein. Patty ate one and I slipped mine in my purse to study later at home. In conjunction with the internet and several Japanese cookbooks, I still haven't figured out what it was. The beef was tasty and once we mastered cooking it, we were happy with the results. The dipping sauce was good, a combination of soy, mirin and chopped green onion, but could have been a little punchier for my taste.

Our server continued to inquire as to our well being throughout the meal, but was only able to provide limited assistance. She seemed to be disappointed that we hadn't managed to eat all of our cabbage and concerned that Patty had eaten the mystery grey ball without properly cooking it (Patty was concerned as well).

Everything was very fresh and care was taken to presentation and preparation. That said, many of the flavours were strong and unfamiliar, but very well might have been authentic. Generally, it was cheap and interesting, but I would only recommend it for an adventurous mood or an experienced Japanese food diner.

note: we'd love feedback from anyone else who's more familiar with shabu shabu than us, especially if they can tell what was in that mystery grey ball. Email us

reviewed Oct 30, 06