Return to sukiyaki (thing)
Sukiyaki is, as esteemed noder [Hectibus] describes in mouthwatering detail above, a delicious beef dish that is both [sweet] and [savoury] in all the right ways. By Japanese standards, Sukiyaki is a fairly modern traditional dish, having come into being over the last several hundred years. Although sukiyaki is considered to be "[nabe]-[ryouri]", that is, a Japanese [hot-pot] dish, it was originally cooked in a completely different fashion -- outside, on the back of a plow or spade.
Etymology of sukiyaki (Contains [Using Unicode on E2|Unicode].)
The word sukiyaki is often written in hiragana as すき焼き or すきやき, but the correct kanji usage is 鋤焼き.
鋤 - plow or spade
Before the [Meiji Restoration], common buddhist principles led to a general shunning of the cooking and eating of meat. Cooking meat inside the house was [sacrilicious|unthinkable], as the smoke and smell would desecrate the [butsudan], a small buddhist altar which worships family ancestors. (Etchu, 2002)
Some people think that the term sukiyaki, to cook over a spade, already existed as a method of frying fish, which being rather smelly and smoky, is best cooked outside. It follows that when eating of [beef] was first introduced by Europeans in the late 1500s, the meaning gradually changed to refer to the eating of beef. Others believe that the term was first invented after eating beef became somewhat common, and has always referred to beef.
Another theory is that the dish may have originally got its name due to the thin slices of meat (suki-mi 剥身) involved. (Webster) Due to the prevalent cooking method, the character usage was corrupted to the above. (Koujien)
The [etymology] suggests the change in style of this dish. As the verb "yaki" implies, sukiyaki was originally fried on a metal surface, thus considered a [teppan-yaki] dish. As beef, along with other western conventions, gradually became acceptable in Japan, sukiyaki moved from the fields back into people's homes. This led to the [nabe] dish which is modern sukiyaki.
Differences between American and Japanese sukiyaki
Sukiyaki is also great served on top of a bowl of rice as a [donburi] dish. The distinction between sukiyaki-don and [gyuu don|gyuu-don] ([beef bowl]) is a bit blurry.