With temperatures dropping, tuck into a steaming bowl of your favourite nabe and open your heart and soul to this wintertime Japanese one-pot.
If you have not already indulged in a bubbling pot of nabe, it’s time to start!
Nabemono, or nabe for short, refers to one-pot Japanese dishes, hearty wintertime favourites in the Land of the Rising Sun. With such variety, both in ingredients used and flavourings, there are nabe dishes to satisfy just about every taste. Common nabe ingredients include just about any seafood you can find, though mussels, clams, crab, squid and firm fish are some sure favourites. Same goes for meats (including the internal organs!), tofu and vegetables—really, any ingredient is fair game when it comes to simmering this delicious, exible dish.
Sukiyaki, a sweet and salty nabe made with razor-thin slices of beef, is one of the more recognized varieties. Chankonabe, a nabe made with chicken, seafood, potatoes and other vegetables, is a favourite of Japan’s sumo wrestlers, and restaurants specializing in this type of nabe are commonly found where the sumo wrestlers train. For those who like things spicy, kimchi nabe, a nabe made with spicy Korean pickled vegetables, might be your perfect match. What uni es nabe is how it is cooked—oftentimes in a boiling clay pot, called a donabe, right in front of your eyes at your table. If you are cooking your nabe on the tabletop, the pot is heated on either a charcoal hibachi burner or else on a small gas burner that can be brought right to your table. Some restaurants prefer to avoid the hassle and excitement of tabletop cooking and bring the steaming hot pots directly from the kitchen to your table for you to enjoy. Whoever is doing the cooking work (and the fun that goes along with it) should add the foods that take the longest to cook first—this usually means sh and seafood, thicker slices of meat, and crisp vegetables like carrots. The more fast-cooking, delicate foods like tofu, shrimp and thin beef slices can be added closer to the end, as you don’t want them to become overcooked and fall apart.
Nabe features prominently on the menus of many Japanese restaurants and is also a home-cooked favourite, where hungry diners share stories while helping themselves from the communal stew pot. As the ingredients are cooked, the broth used to cook them becomes ever more avourful, and at the end of a meal it is common to add rice or noodles to the broth to soak up the remainders. Another commonality with all nabe dishes is that they are usually eaten with dipping sauces. Several types of sauce are common— a simple beaten raw egg (most often eaten with sukiyaki), sesame sauce (gomadare) and ponzu, a citrus soy-based sauce, are favourites. Yakumi, which are condiments and food seasonings such as chili pepper, scallions, grated garlic, grated daikon or roasted sesame, are often added to the sauce for an extra bit of flavour.
Looking for a taste of nabe in Toronto? Try visiting one of these establishments.
Ematei 30 St. Patrick St. | www.ematei.ca
Nami 55 Adelaide St. E. | www.namirestaurant.ca
Koyoi 2 Irwin Ave. | www.koyoi.ca
Aka Teppan 394 Bloor St.W. | www.akateppan.ca
Donabe CLAY POT
Donabe is the big and versatile Japanese clay pot that is used to cook all of the wonderful one-pot nabe dishes we describe here. It’s one of Japan’s most ancient cooking vessels. Originating from Japan’s Iga province, these porous pots are made for cooking at high temperatures, building heat slowly and maintaining heat once warmed. Gentle and even heat distribution ensures that your nabe is simmered to perfection. Just don’t throw your donabe in the dishwasher afterwards as they are fragile and should be washed with special care.
Yosenabe is a Japanese hot pot packed with a flexible combination of meats (usually chicken or pork), seafood (often a combination of shrimp, mussels, firm fish, clams, oysters, crab, squid), tofu (often firm tofu, tofu puffs or aburaage, deep-fried tofu) and vegetables (usually a mix of napa cabbage, scallions, carrot, daikon, spinach, shirataki shredded konjac noodles, enoki, shiitake or shimeji mushrooms). Depending on the region, the broth has different flavourings as well, though it almost always contains dashi, sake, soy sauce and mirin. Yose in Japanese means to gather or collect, and so yosenabe is truly a hot pot full of whatever your heart desires.
Kimchi nabe is a fiery, spicy winter nabe made with hot and sour kimchi. This nabe dish incorporates the best of Korean and Japanese ingredients. For those who are unfamiliar with its wonderfulness, kimchi is a type of fermented Korean pickle that is most often made with napa cabbage. The fermentation process uses a generous amount of chili pepper resulting in a rich and spicy flavour. Good things happen when kimchi and pork come together, and this pairing is common in kimchi nabe. Like most of the other nabe dishes, kimchi nabe uses dashi, soy sauce and mirin (along with kimchi) for its soup base. Some people like to add even more flavour and spice to this dish with a small amount of gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) or Japanese miso paste.
Motsunabe is a Japanese one-pot dish that is made with the internal organs of either beef or pork (usually the intestines or tripe). It is popularly referred to as offal hot pot. Ingredients such as aburaage (deep-fried tofu) and vegetables like leek and cabbage are often stewed all together to make motsunabe. Unlike most other types of nabe, motsunabe does not only use a dashi soup stock, but often uses a garlic or miso- flavoured base, sometimes with chilies added for extra flavour. Motsunabe is a specialty from the Japanese city of Hakata, and it is considered a delicacy by many who flock to Hakata, Tokyo or Kyoto to try it.
There is nothing quite like a steaming bowl of this Japanese stew to satisfy your soul and warm your belly when the weather gets chilly. Oden is Japan’s comfort food—a hearty and simple Japanese stew that is chock-full of your preferred ingredients. The broth is often a soy-flavoured dashi broth and ingredient choices include daikon (a mild stewed Japanese radish), tamago (hard-boiled egg), konnyaku (konjac root), chikuwa (fish cake), potatoes, cabbage, dumplings, squid, octopus, chicken, beef, bamboo shoots and mochi balls. Oden is often served with fiery-hot karashi mustard on the side, allowing you to add nasal-clearing spice as you please. In Japan, oden is considered to be a favourite late fall and wintertime staple, and it can be found in a variety of places including in convenience stores (konbini), outdoor stalls or food carts (yatai), izakayas and at specialty oden restaurants.
If you live in Japan, it is always easy to tell when oden season has arrived as the distinct aroma fills the air. As with many traditional foods, there are regional variations in how oden is prepared and served. For instance, oden made in Osaka is often prepared in the Kansai style, with a light-coloured broth that has been simmered with shiitake mushrooms and bonito akes to achieve a flavour rich in umami. Oden from Tokyo is often prepared in the Kanto style to achieve a hearty taste, and oden in Nagoya is often simmered with miso and ingredients are seasoned with aka-miso, a sweet red bean paste.
Dashi soup stock is a broth that is used
as a base in many Japanese dishes, nabe included. While home-prepared dashi is not hard to make, it does require planning beforehand. There are different types of dashi, from those made with bonito flakes (fish broth) to chicken broth and mushroom broth, though dashi made from kombu (kelp) and katsuoboshi (dried shaved skip-jack tuna, also known as bonito akes) are the most common and are full of umami.
Mille-feuille is the classic French pastry that consists of razor-thin layers of puff pastry and cream filling. In the case of Shirokuma mille-feuille nabe, the thin layers are napa cabbage and pork belly slices cooked in a delicious and savoury dashi broth. One of the draws of this nabe dish is that it uses many less ingredients than others. It is also beautiful to look at, with the cabbage and pork layered together—and topped with shredded daikon radish that is frequently moulded into fun shapes. If you are making this dish at home, pack the layers very tightly as the cabbage releases water when it cooks and shrinks quite a bit.
Picture ©Toyama Prefectural Tourism Association / ©JNTO
Kani means crab in Japanese, and so it is that kani nabe is a winter crab hot pot. The broth is often a shoyu (soy sauce)-seasoned dashi stock that is then packed full of vegetables, tofu and whatever crab meat is most readily available. In Japan, these would most often be king crab, horsehair crab (also known as hairy crab), thorny crab or snow crab. Kani nabe comes from Hokkaido, which makes sense seeing that the most famous product of the Hokkaido region is crab! Steamed rice is sometimes added to the broth at the end to sop up every last morsel of goodness.
Sukiyaki is a sweet and salty Japanese dish consisting of very thinly sliced beef that is often simmered at the table of nabemono (Japanese hot pot) style. Alongside the beef are a variety of ingredients, often including tofu, leafy green vegetables such as napa cabbage, mushrooms (often enoki and shiitake), scallions and shirataki, or noodles made from konjac potato our. Like many of the other warm Japanese stews, sukiyaki is generally considered to be a winter dish, and it is commonly served at bonenkai (year-end parties). Like its sister dish oden, sukiyaki is traditionally prepared either in the Kanto or Kansai style, depending if it hails from eastern or western Japan. The Kanto preparation uses a soup base called warishita that is prepared with shoyu, sugar, mirin and sake. Cooking in the Kanto style usually happens at the table, with the meat and vegetables being added together to the soup base. On the other hand, Kansai-style sukiyaki does not use the warishita soup base, and the meat is seasoned with soy and sugar and is cooked before the vegetables, sake and water are added. Both preparations are often served with a raw egg as a dipping sauce to cut the sweetness.
Don’t Forget Shime
Shime, literally translated as finish, is the Japanese custom of completing a meal. Typically, rice or noodles (often udon or ramen noodles) are added to (or dipped into, depending on your preference) the nabe broth at the end of the meal, some- times together with raw egg—soaking up the intense flavours that have developed from cooking all of the ingredients throughout the meal. It is a comforting and satiating ending to your dinner gathering. Gochisousama (“that was delicious!”).