After admiring the exquisitely marbled wagyu beef sitting in front of her, Soun Monika manoeuvres her chopsticks to pick out only the most delectable of julienned strips in front of her before dipping them into a hot broth and placing them in her mother’s bowl.
Shabu-shabu – Japan’s answer to the Chinese hot pot – is meant to be eaten slowly and in pleasant company, ideally with a healthy serving of lager.
On-Yasai Shabu Shabu Cambodia’s dining room is full of diners taking slices of meat and vegetables before dipping them briefly in a pot of kelp-based dashi broth before bringing it to their mouths.
Soun explains to The Post that Japanese meals like the one she’s enjoying right now are considered a treat, but she’s happy to foot the bill so she can enjoy a pleasant meal with her mother.
“I earn an average salary so truthfully, dining out in Japanese restaurants can become costly but I’m happy to pay for a nice, healthy meal to be enjoyed with my mother,” she says as she dips another sliver of the prized beef into the ponzu sesame sauce.
General manager Kim Vang tells The Post that the delicacy is growing increasingly popular among local Cambodians who are looking to expand their palates beyond the familiar fare.
With over 500 restaurants across the globe, On-Yasai Shabu Shabu only entered Cambodia six months ago and has seemingly been embraced by local patrons as only one-tenth of the customers in his Toul Kork district restaurant are expatriates and tourists.
“Fast food and barbequed dishes once dominated the meal options for Cambodians and then suddenly we saw that there was an affinity for sushi beginning to develop.
“We saw this as an opportunity to introduce local diners to the flavour of Japanese soup which we believe suits locals’ palates well,” says Vang.
According to Vang, Cambodians embraced shabu-shabu because it appeals to local tastes and demand for healthier options.
“We offer authentic Japanese cuisine with an added touch of Khmer flavour and a Chinese soup base. Our restaurant also has many private rooms for gatherings,” he says.
Despite being named after a single dish, On-Yasai Shabu Shabu Cambodia offers a number of menu options for diners to choose from beginning with the compulsory hot pot.
The big hot pot costs $9 and is offered in nine varieties – with two available in one serving thanks to a handy divider that separates the flavours.
A single-flavour option and a small hot pot are also available for $7 and $3, respectively.
Soup options include: sukiyaki, pork marrow, seaweed, spicy, soy milk, wagyu, Mongolian spicy, and assorted herbs.
Vang reveals that the last three options are the most popular among local foodies.
The meat menu – which most diners spend the majority of their time perusing – offers a variety of options that are easily understandable with help from the staff.
Premium Japanese, Australian and US beef selections abound.
Options include: Japanese wagyu rosu ($38), Australian wagyu striploin ($22), Australian wagyu beef rump ($19), Australian striploin or chuck roll ($8), US boneless beef ($12), US chuck eye beef roll ($8), US short plate ($5.5) and beef tongue ($7).
Diners, however, are not forced into a strictly carnivorous diet at On-Yasai Shabu Shabu. In fact, on-yasai translates to “warm vegetables” and plenty of vegetarian choices are available.
“In terms of food preference, Cambodian people prefer clear rather than creamy soup.
“That is why Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine suits the palate of locals here,” Vang says.
Sought after for its melt-in-the-mouth tenderness and unique fat content, Japanese wagyu beef is known the world-over as a high-quality luxury protein – perhaps second only to the Kobe variety – which sees cows being massaged and fed beer prior to slaughter.
“The most important ingredient of the soup is wagyu beef. This breed of Japanese cattle is raised in extremely pleasant conditions and they are sometimes are fed beer,” says Vang.
“We also have wagyu beef from Australian cattle. Australian wagyu beef is darker and is a bit different from that of Japan due to the climate and differences in diet.
“The Australian cattle are fed cereal grains. The meat looks similar to Japanese wagyu beef, but the texture and taste are different. It cannot beat the quality of Japanese wagyu beef,” says Vang.
He adds that pork is also imported from the US, chicken from Denmark and lamb from Australia. The broth arrives frozen from Japan and the only thing sourced locally is the seafood which makes its way to the dining table from Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces.
On-Yasai Shabu Shabu Cambodia is located on Street 315 in Phnom Penh’s Toul Kork district and is open from 9am to 11pm seven days a week.
Reservations can be made on 076 2222 955 or visit their Facebook page: @OnYasai.Cambodia.