My very first favourite Japanese food was sukiyaki. On the first night that I was in Japan Yoshie made this for me. Just super delicious, but very hard to replicate with the ingredients available in Timaru in 1995.
Luckily though it is now 2011 and I live in Wellington. There are three or four places within a ten minute walk of my house where I can get all the ingredients for sukiyaki. When I returned to Japan in 2009 Yoshie cooked it for my whole family one night. There were eight adults and two eighteen month olds. It was a great dinner for picking at, and I loved the bento box takeaway Yoshie made up for me to take back to the hotel that night. It was the most relaxed night of our trip, and probably one of my favourite memories.
Incidentally, apart from 'Meri-san no hitsuji (Mary had a little lamb)' the Sukiyaki song is the only Japanese song I know Acoustic version of Sukiyaki song
Sukiyaki is an awesome meal to make when you have heaps of people over and want a nice social meal. It is typically cooked at the table, an electric frying pan is a good choice. I can't be bothered with my electric fry pan, so tend to cook it in my le creuset large pan, then bring the whole thing over to the table. You can mess with the quantities depending on the preferences and number of people eating. The jelly noodles are the most popular item in my house, so we tend to have a lot of those. Leftovers are fought over!
500g Thinly sliced beef (often found in the freezer sections at Asian grocery stores - you want it to be paper thin)
One packet tofu (firm tofu holds up better for dicing)
One or two packets of jelly noodles, well rinsed (these are cool, they are called shirataki noodles, sometimes konnyaku). They come in a bag of liquid so are delightfully squishy. If you can't get them, use some kind of cellophane noodle.
Handful of mushrooms (shitake or enoki are the ususal choice)
One diced leek (save the green tops for making katsudon)
Half a diced chinese cabbage
Sukiyaki sauce (you can quite easily find this in the Japanese section at supermarkets or Asian grocers). Otherwise google a recipe for making up the quantities.
Knob of butter
Cut up all the ingredients into roughly equal sizes then place on a chopping board ready for cooking. Put knob of butter in the pan and fry the beef until nicely coloured. Add in the tofu and swish around. Add the sukiyaki sauce (you may need to add extra water if there isn't enough liquid once the remainder of the ingredients are added). You want enough liquid that the food is cooking, not frying, and not poaching. Maybe half a centimetre across the surface of your pan. Bring the liquid to the boil and add all other ingredients except the eggs. Everything cooks very quickly, so just help yourself.
What do you do with the eggs?
Break an egg into a little bowl and mix up. You dip the cooked sukiyaki into the egg then eat. The sukiyaki slightly cooks the egg, but it is a little raw, and does freak some people out.
I like to serve this with a small bowl of egg, and a larger bowl filled with Japanese rice, onto which I put the dipped sukiyaki. The rice then gets deliciously flavoured.
The leftovers for this also make delicious rice balls/ sushi for the next day.