Fall has arrived, and that means it’s time to break out the nabe! Nabe is a great way to easily cook a lot of delicious food, and is perfect for both groups and individuals. The ingredients are readily available at all Japanese grocery stores, so it’s very convenient to make. Let’s learn more about this Japanese cold weather staple food.
Nabe Pot 鍋（なべ）
“Nabe” is literally the Japanese word for “pot,” but in this case it refers specifically to a type of ceramic pot with a lid that can be put directly onto the stove burner. They come in a variety of sizes, from individual to family, for all your cooking needs. Because of the material, they can be heavy and get quite hot while cooking, so make sure to handle with care.
Nabe is a soup dish, so use a ladle to dish it out to individual bowls. Also, some ingredients like tofu can sometimes be difficult to serve with chopsticks because it breaks apart. Ladles can be a lifesaver!
Long Cooking Chopsticks 菜箸（さいばし）:
Nabe can steam a lot while cooking, so consider using longer cooking chopsticks (30-40cm) when stirring to save yourself from pain. They can be unwieldy and difficult to use at first, but they can be very useful with practice!
Portable Burner 焜炉（こんろ）(optional):
While you can cook nabe on your stove top burner, if you are having a group meal, consider investing in a portable burner. You can cook the nabe directly at your kotatsu, adding ingredients as you eat, without leaving the comfort of your seat. Great for families and gatherings with friends!
Pre-made packets of soup specifically for nabe can be easily found at all Japanese supermarkets, usually conveniently located near the vegetables or meat. They come in a variety of flavours, such as tonkotsu (pork bone), kimchi, goma (sesame), tomato, and more! I generally start with a lighter flavoured soup, then use a spicy soup to cook any leftovers the next day. You can also buy small concentrated soup packs(they look a little like coffee creamer) that you just add water to make the soup. Try out all the flavours that you can!
There are a lot of vegetables that go well with nabe. Here are a few examples:
- Chinese cabbage 白菜（はくさい）
- bean sprouts もやし
- carrots ニンジン
- spinach ほうれん草（ほうれんそう）
- enoki mushrooms えのき
- shiitake mushrooms シイタケ
- daikon 大根（だいこん）
- leek ネギ
- shungiku 春菊（しゅんぎく）
You can usually find precut packs of the different vegetables specifically for cooking with nabe. They can often be cheaper than buying all the different vegetables themselves, especially at the end of the day when they are marked down on discount.
Meat is very easy to cook in nabe. You can do it shabu-shabu style, by swishing thin slices of beef or pork for a short time after the other ingredients are cooked and eating it immediately. Be sure not to overcook it! Or you can cook with cubes of meat for a longer time, such as with chicken. As nabe is a soup, it might be better to use the dark meat of the chicken, as white meat tends to be drier. But of course both will still be delicious.
Seafood シーフード :
A lot of seafood goes well in nabe too! There are specific nabe soup flavours to compliment seafood. Also, as with vegetables, you can often find pre-prepared packs of different seafood at many grocery stores, saving you from buying it all separately. Some common seafood additions to nabe are:
- shrimp 海老（えび）
- squid イカ
- octopus タコ
- cod fish 鱈（たら）
- scallop ホタテ
- oyster 牡蠣（かき）
- clam アサリ
- crab カニ
Tofu makes a great addition to nabe! The best type is probably the firm momen（木綿）tofu, which doesn’t easily fall apart when you pick it up with your chopsticks. Of course you can try other types of tofu as well and eat with a spoon instead! You can often get tofu specifically targeted for nabe cooking already chopped into bite-sized pieces. Tofu can be a much cheaper protein alternative to meat or seafood, with one block usually costing less than 100 yen in Japanese stores.
There are many kinds of noodles that go well with nabe. Dried noodles such as glass noodles or “maroni” noodles keep for a long time, and fresh noodles such as udon or even ramen are delicious too!
Konyaku is a kind of gelatin made from yam, and is really only popular in Japan. You can buy it in blocks to cut yourself, or you can buy in noodle form. The latter goes great in nabe! Give it a try!
As a final touch, why not crack an egg into the nabe at the end? You can either whisk it and stir it in like Chinese egg drop soup, or you can poach it on top of the rest of the ingredients. It’s delicious either way!
Special Bonus: Oden! (おでん）
Oden is another type of Japanese stewed soup, and while not usually considered nabe, they can also be cooked in nabe pots. There are many different kinds of oden, and you can also buy mixed packages with many different ingredients. Keep an eye out for them too!
These are just a few suggestions of ingredients for your nabe. Of course, it’s impossible to add them all together in the same pot, so pick and choose your own combination of ingredients. Experiment a lot to find your favourite combo!