What is sukiyaki?
Kanto-style or Kansai-style? A nabe dish that brings out the savoriness of meat
Sukiyaki is a meat dish particular to Japan, where thinly sliced meat (mainly beef) is prepared by cooking and stewing it in a shallow cast-iron pot. Ingredients other than meat are also added including leeks, Welsh onions, grilled tofu, chrysanthemum greens, shirataki, and shiitake mushrooms. Soy sauce and sugar are used for seasonings. The cooking methods differ between Kanto-style and Kansai-style.
In Kanto-style sukiyaki, meat and vegetables are stewed in a heated sukiyaki pot after warishita (a mixture of dashi soup stock, soy sauce, sweet sake, sugar and sake) is poured in first.
In Kansai-style sukiyaki, beef tallow is poured into a heated sukiyaki pot, and then beef is added and cooked until 70% of it is cooked. Sugar is sprinkled on the cooked meat, and then sake and soy sauce are added on top to give flavor. Ingredients other than meat such as vegetables and tofu are also added and stewed. In both Kanto-style and Kansa-style, beaten raw chicken eggs are mixed in when eating sukiyaki. Sukiyaki that uses ingredients other than beef include “uo-suki” (fish), “tori suki” (chicken) and “udon suki”. The name sukiyaki comes from the fact that farmers during the Edo period (1603-1868) used the metallic part of a suki (spade), a piece of farming equipment that is used to dig up the soil by having it dragged by a cow or a horse, as a teppan (metal plate) to cook fish and tofu to eat. There is also a theory that the name sukiyaki comes from the words sukimi, which signifies thinly cut meat. Sukiyaki was originally a moniker from the Kasai region, and it was called “gyu-nabe” (beef pot) in the Kanto region. However, it is commonly referred to now by the name of “sukiyaki”, and has become a Japanese dish that is known around the world, along with sushi and tempura. Additionally, the classic hit “Ue wo muite aruko” (I will walk looking up) sang by Kyu Sakamoto in 1961 was given the title, “Sukiyaki” in English and charted at number one on the Billboard charts, becoming a major hit.
Although the history of sukiyaki is short, it became very popular during the Meiji era (1868-1912)
Sukiyaki originated around the late Edo period. Until then, cows and horses were important labor animals in Japan, and it was believed that eating them would result in bad luck. Eating meat was therefore prohibited publicly. Afterward, when Japan opened up its ports, foreigners who came to live in the settlement areas such as Yokohama and Kobe introduced the culture of eating meat, expanding the demand for beef. At the beginning, beef was imported from China, Korea, and the United States since there was no beef production industry in Japan. Later on, livestock dealers from Kobe began to deliver beef to Yokohama and Tokyo.
Then in the Meiji Era, the common people were allowed to eat beef due to Emperor Meiji having eaten beef. Gyu-nabe became a big hit in the Kanto region, while sukiyaki became a big hit in the Kansai region. Afterward, due to the impact of the Great Kanto Earthquake (September 1, 1923), many beef restaurants in Tokyo were closed for business. Thereafter, sukiyaki from Kansai was introduced to Kanto, which then was arranged in a Kanto-style manner, creating a Kanto-style sukiyaki.
Maturing the meat is a technique involved when cooking sukiyaki.
The biggest deciding factor of sukiyaki is its meat. After slaughtering the animal, its meat will be matured in order to develop its flavor. The meat is stored in a refrigerator maintained to a certain degree for 5 to 10 days if it is beef and 3 to 5 days if it is pork. By maturing the meat, the oxygen within the meat will decompose the protein, turning it into amino acid which is responsible for the savoriness, increasing the juiciness and sweetness of the meat and making it succulent.
There are variations other than Kanto-style and Kansai-style sukiyaki
Although it is a well-known fact that sukiyaki is cooked differently between the Kanto-style and the Kansai-style, there are also variations of the vegetables used in different parts of Japan. Since beef was expensive, it was common in Hokkaido and Niigata to use pork in the past. Nevertheless, at present, sukiyaki is frequently made with beef. However, there are still many restaurants that call sukiyaki made with beef “gyu-sukiyaki (beef sukiyaki)”.
There are times when chicken is used in sukiyaki, particularly in Shiga and Aichi prefectures. In the Owari region of Aichi prefecture, sukiyaki made with chicken such as Nagoya cochin is referred to as hikizuri. Otherwise, high-end sukiyaki that uses Japanese beef, such as Matsuzaka, Kobe, and Yonezawa beef, are also popular.
Go to the top of the page
- Sukiyaki is also considered a nabe dish, in a sense. For articles on nabe, click here.
- A meat nabe dish where the meat is infused with the flavors of simmered soup stock.
- Tofu is the basic ingredient in sukiyaki. Grilled tofu that does not crumble easily is usually used, in contrast to chilled silken tofu.