The colder months are always an exciting time in the culinary world because it gives chefs and families the chance to revisit some of their greatest, tastiest, and most nourishing comfort foods. In Japan, one of the most popular winter comfort foods is undoubtedly nabe, a Japanese hot pot.
What Is Nabe?
The large pot of steaming goodness is often prepared with enough ingredients and broth to feed the whole family, making it a great meal for everyone to enjoy together while gathered around the table. The pot is often set upon a small portable gas burner or a specially designed table (kotatsu) that includes a heating element in the center. The burner or heating element keeps the dish hot throughout the entirety of the meal.
The dish itself was named after the large clay pot it is traditionally cooked and served in and has been standard Japanese winter fare for centuries. Today, the clay pot somewhat resembles a Dutch oven and is called a donabe. It is sold in a range of sizes and is also available as an electric cooking vessel.
Over time, the different regions of Japan have developed their own favorite versions of nabe. While many of the different varieties of nabe may at first seem rather simple, they are indeed rather hearty meals with robust flavors.
The Most Popular Nabe Japanese Hot Pot Dishes
In reality, you can take any amount of ingredients and broth and let them simmer in the hot pot, and you have nabe. Typically, a standard nabe will contain a type of broth along with a protein, and lots and lots of vegetables. But over the centuries, specific types of nabe Japanese hot pot dishes have emerged as some of the popular and regional varieties.
Once the traditional dish of Sumo wrestlers, Chanko nabe is now enjoyed all over Japan. It contains a much larger amount of proteins than many other types of nabe. Why? It was, and still is consumed by the Sumo wrestlers in order to facilitate quick weight gain! Usually comprised of a hearty portion of chicken or beef, Chanko nabe also contains vegetables and udon noodles. Each chef will have their own variation of this filling and wholesome dish — other ingredients might include shrimp, enoki mushrooms, tofu, pork belly, and cod, among others.
A regional dish from Fukuoka prefecture, motsu means “intestines,” and this nabe contains the offal cuts of meat, such as tripe, chicken, beef or pork giblets, and chicken gizzards. With a broth consisting of such flavorful components like soy sauce, miso, chili pepper, garlic, and chives, the result is a wonderful concoction of strong, bold flavor and hearty sustenance. It is best when paired with shochu, the regional liquor of Kyushu.
This specialty from Hokkaido is full of different types of fish — if you enjoy seafood, you certainly won’t be disappointed with this nabe that is overflowing with shellfish and salmon, nestled amongst potatoes, tofu, and other vegetables. All of it is simmered in a miso broth that infuses the fish with umami goodness.
While kimchi is actually a dish from Korea, kimchi nabe has become widely popular in Japan. Although the dish contains a good dose of warming spices, kimchi nabe is actually more popular in the summer! Traditionally made with an anchovy-flavored broth, the distinctive anchovy flavor meshes well with the pungent kimchi. Other ingredients include enoki mushrooms, carrots, noodles, and tofu. Many people also add miso for the development of a more savory flavor.
Tonyu, which is soy milk, serves as the broth base for this nabe hot pot. The tonyu makes this nabe sweeter to taste, and also rather healthy and nutritious. The dish usually contains slices of chicken or pork, along with a bevy of vegetables such as cabbage, mushrooms, shallots, leeks, carrots, and tofu. Of particular note is a thin skin that forms on the top of the broth when it is heated — called yuba, the delicate skin is an expensive delicacy in Japan.
This is one of the easiest Japanese hot pots to make. You don’t have to follow any particular list of ingredients — you just add in whatever you want! Yose means to “gather up things” and that’s exactly what you’ll do when making this nabe hot pot. It’s the perfect way to use up a leftover vegetables or meats you may have sitting in your fridge. For the broth, you can purchase a pre-made broth mix or make your own with chicken stock, miso, or soy sauce, or even just water and kelp!
The nabe is a specialty of the Tohoku region and features a rice cake as the main ingredient. Kiritanpo is a rice cake that’s made by grilling rice paste skewers over an open flame. Then, it’s sliced and added to a miso broth, along with leeks, burdock root, maitake mushrooms, and other ingredients. It is best paired with sake.
This simple dish is a favorite in Kyoto, and contains only water flavored with kombu, and silken tofu. The creamy tofu is further enhanced when it is dipped in ponzu sauce and other seasonings.
Don’t Forget the ‘Shime’
Many people choose to add udon noodles or rice to their hotpot broth once the other ingredients are all consumed. This is referred to as shime, which means “to finish it up” in Japanese. It’s a delicious way to finish up the broth in a nabe hot pot!