Steamy Japanese hot pot served in a chef's rustic yet regal home

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Steamy Japanese hot pot served in a chef's rustic yet regal home

Darim is a restaurant housed in a traditional home or hanok that specializes in Japanese hot pot or shabu shabu.

The eatery, in western Seoul, opened last year after its owner-cum-chef, Kim Hyun-hee, turned her home of 28 years into a modern restaurant. The dining area has Western-style tables that can seat 42 customers. Other than that, Ms. Kim has kept most of the original elements intact. The garden is covered with gray pebbles and antique grinding stones. The walls are adorned with ceramic roof tiles or wadang.

Shabu shabu originated in 13th century Mongolia as a way for Genghis Khan's troops to quickly cook meat in boiling pots of water. The Japanese adapted it to their own cuisine; shabu shabu means "swish swish," referring to the way vegetables and thin slices of fish and beef are sloshed through a simmering broth.

At Darim, Ms. Kim makes her broth from sea kelp and dried tuna known as katsuo. "The best ingredients never fail," says Ms. Kim, who shops daily for fresh items.

Order the beef shabu shabu and start with a pot of broth that is boiled before you on a portable gas range. Next comes a large plate of sliced beef, tofu, mushrooms, fish jelly, green onions, mugwort, Chinese cabbage and dumplings. You dip the ingredients in any order you want. The best way is to start with ingredients that take longer to cook, such as the cabbage, dumplings or tofu, followed by the meat. There are two dipping sauces: soy sauce for the vegetables and peanut sauce for the meat.

To get the tastes and textures right, divide the pre-cooked items into two or three portions and cook them separately; that way the cabbage will be crunchy, the mugwort fragrant, the tofu hot and tender, and the meat between pink and brown.

The best accompaniment for shabu shabu is Asian wine, sake or beer. A bottle of sake costs 5,000 won ($4); plum wine is 8,000 won.

Between noon and 4 p.m., Darim serves a smaller shabu shabu (7,000 won) and Korean ssam or rice wrapped in green leaves as a lunch special.

Also popular is seafood shabu shabu, featuring prawns, pollack, scallops, squid and various shellfish, plus seasonal vegetables.

For 2,000 won more you get noodles or fried rice. We tried the noodles -- fabulous. They had chopped kimchi and sesame oil and were cooked in the shabu shabu pot broth.

Beef shabu shabu costs 25,000 won for two people; 35,000 won for three or four. Seafood shabu shabu is 28,000 won for two; 38,000 won for three or four.

by Ines Cho
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