Until the mid -19th century, the Japanese diet was mainly a vegetarian one.
Meat was only encouraged after this time when foreign influences were felt, sukiyaki and shabu shabu coming into being via China.
The shabu shabu uses a broth to cook ingredients and is one of several very good reasons to travel down to Asia Japanese, which opened its doors in Southsea in the autumn.
Each table in this delightful restaurant has a shabu shabu heater in front of each setting. Or you can sit in the back of the prettily decorated space with its green stained bamboo texture wallpaper at the revolving Sushi Bar.
One other table in the middle, for eight, is solely for the teppanyaki, where beef, fish, chicken and other ingredients are cooked for you by a chef on an iron griddle at the table.
But it’s not all sukiyaki, shabu shabu and teppanyaki at Asia Japanese. The menu is an extensive one including vegetable, shrimp, soft shell crab tempura; cold snacks (baby seaweed miso style, honey wasabi squid); salad (sashimi, teriyaki chicken, salmon vegetable); sashimi (red snapper, squid, sea urchin, surf clam); skewers (roast pork, sirloin, scallop) and more.
There are ban don rice and noodle dishes too. In short, the menu’s long. And totally Japanese. This restaurant doesn’t stray into other Asian countries despite its name. Here, Asia means Japan, and there are medium prices (shabu is £14.80, sushi from £1.80, ramen, £8, tempura £6).
A cold, damp winter’s evening demanded warmth and soothing food, so it was the shabu shabu for me.
Here, there are four broths to choose from, one meat, two fish and one vegetarian miso. I combined the meat broth with one of the four shabu shabu (the name means swish-swish, the swishing of meat moved in the pot by chopsticks in the broth) offerings, the beef one which came with a variety of fish and vegetables.
The charming Japanese waitress, noticing my cough, suggested a lemon, green tea, honey and ginger hot drink which silenced the hacking.
The waitress turned on the heat – dials are at each setting – and the broth bubbled quickly. A tray, containing cabbage, daikon (Japanese radish), courgettes, carrots, lotus root (renkon), corn (tomorokoshi, a favourite in Japan) and other unidentifiable vegetables, as well as a heart-shaped basket with more unknowns, came alongside fish cakes and balls of fish and octopus.
A tubular bland, rather rubbery fish looked more deep sea underworld than the other more manufactured balls. Tofu and a raw egg completed the basket. Very thin slices of beef came on a separate square china plate.
Advised by an enthusiastic English waiter to put the corn and carrots in first – they take longer to cook – I started on the fish, their bland taste needing nearby pots of chilli and soya to waken them. The only item not to my taste was a grey-flecked lozenge of jellied fish.
Eat from the small red and black bowl with a scoop, or from delightful small colourful plates.
This very satisfying hotpot was good for mind and body as it is protein and vegetable, no carbs. I bounced out of the place. My bill came to £21.40, including roast squid sushi but not a well-deserved tip.
Asia Japanese, 42 Osborne Road, Southsea, (023) 9242 1724. Open 12pm-2pm and 5.30pm-11pm except Wednesdays.
FOOD: Four (out of five)
SERVICE: Four (out of five)
ATMOSPHERE: Four (out of five)
Disabled access: Fine.
How to get there: Osborne Road is off Clarence Parade in Southsea and Asia Japanese is situated on the right. There is on-street parking.