Hot Pot vs Shabu Shabu: What’s the Difference?

Last updated on December 5th, 2022 at 11:00 am

For anyone ‘team food,’ one thing is sure—there’s a continual list of treats from different cuisines worldwide. Some people prefer Indian food for its signature spiciness, whereas others prefer Mexican cuisine for its savory flavor.

Nonetheless, if you’re one for Japanese cuisine, you may have had or may still have difficulty telling the difference between Hot Pot vs Shabu Shabu.

This article compares these two amazing foods, their differences, and more to know about them. Let’s get right into it.

What Is Hot Pot?

Also referred to as a Chinese steamboat or just nabe, a Chinese hot pot is a simple one-pot dish constituting a unique combination of composite aromas and flavors. In other words, it is a traditional Chinese cooking method used for simmering veggies and meats in a broth.

The broth is typically placed in the middle of the table, and those around it pick the ingredients they wish to add and dish up from the pot. Common ingredients include noodles, vegetables, thinly sliced meats, and dumplings.

Traditionally, people used bamboo steamers to cook food. Today, however, you can prepare your hot pot on an electric or gas stove, which is less dangerous and more convenient than back then.

How to Prepare Hot Pot

People often prefer pre-cut meat from the store for hot pot preparation. Nonetheless, these packages tend to be rather costly, and it may be best if you pick and slice the meat yourself. Quick tip? Go with the ribeye steak, as it’s pretty effortless to cut into thin meat slices, which are what you need for this dish.

There are different stages in hot pot preparation, depending on the cooking style you choose. For instance, western Japan’s Kansai hot pot cooking style proposes that you cook the meat before adding other ingredients. On the contrary, Eastern Japan’s Kanto style suggests that one prepares the broth first and cooks the rest of the ingredients.

You may also encounter variations that propose dipping the ingredients into egg wash before simmering them in the broth. Often, this type of hot pot is served alongside a side of tofu and noodles.   

What Is Shabu Shabu?

Shabu-shabu, which translates to “swish-swish hot pot, is a Japanese meal consisting of vegetables and thinly sliced meat (typically beef) prepared in a broth.

With the great majority of items in Japan originating from China, so does the shabu shabu name—it’s the sound produced as the meat swishes in the broth. The dish is also referred to as Japanese hot pot or nabemono, with all its variants featuring the word ‘shabu’ in their name. A few common variations include

  • Burishabu, a variant of quality yellowtail meat;
  • Torishabu, which is made from chicken meat;
  • Takoshabu, which is the octopus meat variant.

But despite the numerous shabu shabu varieties, beef shabu shabu remains the most prevalent in restaurants.

Regarding the shabu shabu veggies, there are a few commonly used options, including but not limited to mustard greens, chives, Chinese cabbage, garlic, mushrooms, and onion. Nonetheless, there are different meat and veggie combinations.

How to Prepare Shabu Shabu?

Shabu shabu is typically prepared bite-by-bite, right on the dining table, before the customers, creating a unique yet fun experience.

The meat used for shabu is usually tender, but the preparation makes it outstandingly delectable and soft. By soaking the meat in the seasoned broth, the food attains a dominant, savory flavor, and you can notice the emphasis on the meat’s texture.

Moreover, with the meat cut into thin slices, it’s only a matter of minutes, if not seconds, for the meat to cook properly. The dish is served immediately alongside various condiments and dips, such as soy sauce, sesame sauce, and ponzu sauce.     

Shabu Shabu vs Hot Pot: Key Differences

Many people could agree that shabu shabu is just another hot pot variation – it’s probably right. But while they both have nearly-alike flavor profiles and ingredients, they also have notable differences that you might want to know.

For one, meat slices used for shabu shabu are typically way thinner than those for hotpot, which is why they only take seconds to cook. On that note, here are a few other differences between the hot pot and shabu shabu.


Shabu shabu is typically cooked with a lighter broth. Unlike hot pot, whose thicker soup is more like a meal by itself, the broth in shabu shabu is lighter to highlight the natural tastes of the veggies and meats. 

Hot pot soup includes a mixture of broth, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar, all of which provide a blend of intoxicating aromas and sour, sweet, savory, and umami flavors. It also takes longer to prepare than ordinary soup, allowing the soup ingredients to permeate the meat and veggies, enhancing their taste.

On the other hand, Shabu involves briefly cooking the meat and veggies in the broth before serving. As a result, the broth is only lightly seasoned, and the meat and veggies tend to have milder tastes than in the hot pot.

Types of Meat Used

Another significant distinction between hot pot and shabu shabu is the meat type utilized. Hot pot requires thicker meat slices, whereas shabu shabu typically employs much thinner meat slices.

As such, hot pot often cooks for an extended period to allow the thicker slices of meat to cook correctly and tenderize. The extended time also encourages the soup tastes and aromas to permeate the meat, rendering it more palatable.

Shabu shabu’s thinly sliced meat, on the other hand, cooks faster than hot pot’s bigger pieces, significantly cutting down the cooking time, with each slice only taking a few seconds to cook. The result is a more subtle taste, attained without overcooking the meat.


From first impressions, hot pot and shabu shabu seem to employ similar ingredients. For one, each uses beef (typically ribeye steak) as the primary meat choice and a similar vegetable selection: leafy greens, mushrooms, cabbage, and more).

However, the choice of broth ingredients for both dishes differs. As mentioned earlier, hot pot broth features specific contents (like mirin and soy sauce), which are responsible for its sourness, umami, and sweetness.

Some hot pot variations may also use egg batter, but we can’t quite say the same for shabu shabu. This involves dipping ingredients into the egg wash before adding them to the hot pot broth.


Regarding vegetables, shabu shabu often employs a broader range of veggies than hot pot. Despite both dishes typically featuring mushrooms and leafy greens, shabu shabu likes to involve additional veggies, such as celery, onions, and carrots.

Hot pot, however, is generally limited to a few staple vegetables, as its prolonged cooking time might cause fragile veggies to lose taste.

Cooking Technique

The cooking technique is yet another key distinction between hot pot and shabu shabu. Cooking hot pot entails simmering the ingredients in the hot broth until they’re correctly done. The broth is more aromatic and flavorful than shabu shabu’s, so all the contents absorb more flavor. And thanks to its longer cooking time, the meat and veggies tend to be softer.

Shabu-shabu, on the contrary, is prepared by immersing the thin meat slices and vegetables in broth or boiling water. It’s then swished around a little before serving it with a dipping sauce.


When cooking hot pot, the meat slices, vegetables, and other ingredients are tossed into the broth and cooked thoroughly. As soon as they are all done, everything is served simultaneously, often alongside tofu and noodles prepared in a sweet and salty sauce.

Meanwhile, shabu shabu is cooked bite by bite, and unlike hot pot, that’s how it’s served, typically with various dips, such as soy sauce, wasabi, sauce, and sesame sauce.

Hot Pot vs Shabu Shabu: Final Take

Hot pot and shabu shabu make excellent choices for anyone looking to try Asian cuisine. They are great social meals, best tried with your loved ones and friends. And the best part? They both don’t follow any clear-cut rules regarding the ingredients to use.

But as seen in this post, hot pot and shabu shabu have differences in cooking technique, serving, ingredients, etc. Therefore, deciding between the two is a matter of personal taste. But if you’re overly health conscious, shabu shabu is the way to go!        

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few frequently asked questions about hot pot and shabu shabu.

Where did hot pot originate from?

Hot pot cooking dates back to China’s Zhou Dynasty, which lasted from 1046 to 256 BC.
During WWII, Chinese merchants are said to have been the ones who brought the hot pot cuisine to Japan when a Japanese doctor was fed traditional mutton hot pot, known as shuan yang rou.

How is hot pot different from sukiyaki?

The difference between the two is mainly in the cooking method. Hot pot is typically prepared like soup and tends to be less sweet yet more savory. Sukiyaki, on the contrary, boasts a rich flavor and is cooked skillet style, not to mention it’s usually seasoned with sugar and soy sauce.

What goes well with shabu shabu?

You may use condiments such as chili oil, shichimi pepper, grated daikon radish, and sliced green onions are all great options to enhance shabu shabu’s flavor.

As for the side, shabu shabu goes well with rice, often steamed plain white rice. But suppose you want a healthier option; sprouted brown rice is excellent.

Is hot pot healthy?

Well, this depends. Generally, hot pot isn’t healthy as its broth—especially those packaged—has high levels of fats and sodium per serving.
However, homemade hot pot can be healthy as you get to choose your base soup, ingredients, and dipping sauces carefully, thus avoiding excessive intake of carbs, saturated fats, and sodium.      

Does shabu shabu make a good diet?

Shabu Shabu is a very healthy meal with a good balance of vitamins and proteins, with no added MSG, oil, or grease, as most of the meat’s fat is released into the boiling water. Serve it alongside rice and vegetables, and treat yourself to a healthy meal.