Sometimes food is accompanied by a soundtrack. Whenever I think of this dish, I hear music in my head and vice versa. Back in 1963 a song by Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto called Sukiyaki climbed up the American music charts . "Ue o muite arukō", was the original Japanese title of the song and oddly enough, the renamed song's title Sukiyaki has nothing to do with the lyrics and the lyrics have nothing to do with the dish, rather, the song was renamed for the western audience with the idea that the title would be easy to pronounce and remember for English speakers. The strategy worked and over 13 million copies were sold world-wide. Today, sukiyaki the dish and the song are both known internationally.
Sukiyaki literally translates to, suki-(plow) and yaki-(broil). Perhaps the word is derived from a method of cooking meat on a metal plow-like a make-shift skillet, first employed after the ban on eating four-legged animals was lifted in Japan in 1838. (Hold on a minute, Ban on eating four-legged animals? Are they crazy? Those are the best tasting ones.)
My sukiyaki recipe doesn't call for a plow or even broiling. I start with a large hot pan (I suppose you could use a plow in a pinch) and brown some thinly sliced meat, either beef or pork, and some onions in a little oil. Then I add the vegetables. I used carrots, green onions, and regular white mushrooms, but you can also use napa cabbage, tofu, chrysanthemum leaves, Tokyo negi (a type of giant green onion), bamboo shoots, enoki mushrooms or shiitake mushrooms. Next comes the broth which is made of soy sauce, water, sugar (preferably raw and unbleached) and mirin (sweet cooking rice wine). The last thing I added to the pan is a package of bean thread noodles. Jelly like, crunchy shirataki noodles made from konnyaku "yams" are the authentic way to go, but bean thread or cellophane noodles work well too. Everything is brought to a boil, the flavor of the broth gets absorbed by the other ingredients and it's ready.
Here's the soundtrack looped in my head.