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eating japanese nabe in tokyo japan

Ultimate Guide to Japanese Nabe

Ultimate Guide to Japanese Nabe

By Norie Matsumoto | October 19, 2021

Winter is coming and that means it's time to enjoy some Japanese Nabe. Nabe・鍋  is quite literally pot or hotpot. You may have heard of hot pot in other Asian countries like Thailand, the Philippines, or Taiwan. But the Japanese make them in their own unique way. There are different types of Japanese Nabe and you can find these dishes all over Japan in the colder seasons. 

Japanese nabe are typically made of lots of different ingredients put together in one pot like a stew or soup. If you aren’t too sure what goes into a nabe, keep reading to find out all the different varieties and flavors depending on region, as well as helpful recipes that you can try for yourself. It’s also helpful to learn what pairs well with the 鍋 and the best restaurants to visit while in Japan. 

This article is a part of our extensive series of culture in Japan.

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    Japanese Nabe hot pot winter snow cold

    What’s a Japanese Nabe?

    In Japan, 鍋物・nabemono as it’s often referred to when explaining a thing in a pot is put on top of portable gas stoves to keep hot during dinner. The family sits around the hot pot and enjoys the meal together while sharing the food. It can be a great way for families or friends to enjoy each other's company while warming up and relaxing. I remember when I was younger, my family and I would sit in the 炬燵・kotatsu (a low, table covered by a futon. Underneath is a heat source, built into the table itself) during the colder months of December and January enjoying Japanese Nabe. There is so much to do during winters in Japan, Ultimate Guide to Activities in Japan in Winter

    Japanese nabe is typically cooked at the dining table and not the kitchen. Once cooked, each member picks up the ingredients they want from the pot and eats them on their individual plates. It is usually eaten with the broth, 鍋だし・Nabedashi or with a dip. Further ingredients can also be successively added to the pot. 

    Now, you might be wondering what Japanese hot pots consist of? All kinds of ingredients are added in and can build up the flavor of the broth. There are often vegetables (cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, etc.) proteins (meat, seafood, eggs, etc.), tofu, and any other ingredients you can add to your heart’s desire. It’s pretty straightforward and easy, considering it’s a one-pot job. The most popular sauce and dip choices are soy sauce, sesame oil, and mirin (Japanese rice wine). Japanese Nabe is quite popular in Japan and can be fairly healthy since there are so many vegetables included. It’s not too expensive to make at home and a good way to have a balanced and nutritious meal! Why not try it?

    Become more familiar with Japanese Nabe, Let’s Nabe! A Beginner’s Guide to Hot Pot Cooking

    warm soup for the cold season

    Most popular types of Japanese Nabe

    Now that you have an idea of what Nabemono is all about, let’s introduce the 7 most well-liked types of Japanese Nabe. You may be familiar with a few of these.

    Oden (おでん)

    Surprise! Did you know this everyday food you can find in many convenience stores is actually considered a part of the Japanese Nabe family? It fits the criteria. It has hot broth with a variety of different ingredients inside and can be found everywhere in the winter. This one has a bit of a distinctive list of foods, unlike the rest of the hot pots, we will introduce to you today. Odens come with, of course, the most important, Dashi, along with:

    • 大根 ・だいこん・Daikon 
      • a type of mild-flavored winter radish
    • 蒟蒻・こんにゃく・Konjac 
      • also known as Elephant Yam, is a plant commonly grown in Asia. The one found in Oden comes in the form of a rubber-like jelly.
    • かまぼこ・Kamaboko 
      • Fishcake
      • A type of cured surimi
    • 昆布・こんぶ・Konbu
      • Seaweed kelp 
    • 豆腐・とうふ・Tofu
      • Also known as bean curd
      • Coagulated soy milk 
      • Can be soft, firm, extra firm, or super firm.
    • 竹輪・ちくわ・Chikuwa
      • Made from seasoned ground fish meat, wrapped on a bamboo spit, and cooked.
    • 卵・たまご・Tamago
      • Egg
    • さつま揚げ・さつまあげ・Satsuma-age
      • Fried fish cake originating from Kagoshima, Japan.

    Truthfully, the above might not sound all that appetizing but surprisingly, if you get the broth right, it all comes together to create a delicious, inexpensive, and rather low-calorie dish. 

    If you are itching to try it without the hassle of cooking, just go to your local conbini such as 7/11 or Family Mart from the end of September to the end of March. You can even buy individual pieces that would be in a hotpot by themselves. Just know that it doesn’t come with the broiler!

    Protip: If you cook Oden yourself, it tastes the best a day later, when the soup soaks into the ingredients, the Daikon and the egg will absorb the delicious broth.

    If you're looking for people to share your hot pot with, Top 15 Tips to Make Japanese Friends

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    Japanese Nabe soup dish at home recipe

    Shabu Shabu(しゃぶしゃぶ)

    The most popular among foreigners, this dish is onomatopoeic, named Shabu Shabu because it sounds like thin slices of meat swishing around in a hot pot. 

    Did you try sounding it out to see if it was true? The star of this dish is the meat. The soup is usually lightly seasoned, at times with just kombu seaweed and Dashi broth. The meat is typically thin slices of beef or pork and cooked from raw in the hot pot.

    The best matching sauce and dip is ponzu or a sesame sauce. This is a good starter Nabe if you are looking to dip your toes into the Japanese hot pot world. Shabu Shabu can get expensive depending on the restaurant and quality of meat, but more and more places are bringing out better value Shabu Shabu with decent meat. 

    If you want to go more into detail on the different types of Nabe, this article helps Hot pot dishes (nabe).

    Sukiyaki(すき焼き)

    Another Japanese Nabe focusing on meat is Sukiyaki. It is quite similar to the Shabu Shabu but a little sweeter. It has thin slices of beef or pork mixed with vegetables in a broth of mirin, soy sauce, sugar, and water. Where this dish differs from all the other hot pots is that you dip the cooked ingredients into a beaten raw egg before eating. 

    Eating raw eggs might be appalling to some, especially those from America, where it’s not common practice to consume eggs raw as it can be seen as a safety hazard. However, the procedure of producing, washing, and selecting eggs in Japan is extremely strict. This doesn’t mean there is zero chance of Salmonella, but every day many Japanese people have eggs, and other dishes have raw eggs incorporated. Would you take the small risk?

    nippon cuisine dish tokyo kyoto

    Yosenabe(寄せ鍋)

    This is the most common, basic, and easiest kind of Japanese Nabe dish served at homes all across Japan. Generally, you just fill a pot with Dashi, throw in your favorite flavorings, and stew all the ingredients you like. There are no particular rules regarding the ingredients and seasonings you can use, therefore, every region and household has its own special way of making it. 

    You can go crazy and mix in all the combinations of meat, fish, and veggies. You won’t need a dipping sauce because the soup is already flavorful. The broth usually has sake, soy sauce, water, mirin, and Dashi. If you don’t want to waste broth that may be leftover, it is common practice to put in rice and create a 雑炊・ぞうすい・Zousui, which is a Japanese rice soup.

    Chankonabe (ちゃんこ鍋)

    This type of Japanese Nabe is actually most commonly known as a dish that sumo wrestlers like to eat to gain weight because of how a large amount can be made easily. It is rather healthy and very protein-rich. Sumo wrestlers cook and eat them depending on their seniority rank. This Nabemono can have either a light or rich broth foundation. 

    Apparently, Chankonabe cooked for sumo tournaments often uses only chicken because of the idea that a sumo wrestler should always be on two legs like a chicken, not all fours like a cow or pig. This dish can be eaten with different types of condiments determined by the seasoning of the broth. You can find a lot of restaurants created by retired sumo wrestlers to have a taste of what it’s like to eat as the Japanese wrestlers do. 

    Another way to warm up during the winter is tea. Here is the Ultimate Guide to Japanese Tea.

    Japanese Nabe tokyo kyoto osaka hokkaido

    Different regional Japanese Nabe

    Can you believe that there are so many different types of Nabemono, and they are different depending on where in Japan you are? Since Japanese Nabe has been made in Japan from over a thousand years ago when earthenware first started being used, people have gotten creative with their interpretation of the dish. 

    Tohoku: Kiritanpo Nabe きりたんぽ鍋

    Main ingredient: Rice. Particularly found in Akita Prefecture. Kiritanpo is named that because of its shape, which looks like a spearhead. It is made from fresh mashed rice, water, and salt. This is then cooked on wooden skewers and added to a traditional Nabe. Eaten during the rice harvesting season of September to late March. 

    Fukuoka: Mizutaki Nabe 水炊き鍋

    Main ingredient: Chicken. This is a Japanese Nabe where the chicken, vegetables, mushrooms, and tofu are simmered in a light-tasting kombu dashi soup. The cooked ingredients are then dipped into a citrusy ponzu sauce. The broth is kept light to keep the flavor focused on the chicken.

    Hokkaido: Ishikari Nabe 石狩鍋

    Main ingredient: Salmon. This is nabe that includes onions, cabbage, salmon, or trout, with kombu kelp, milk, and Miso based broth. Originally a dish created for fishermen in the Ishikari region.

    Fukuoka: Motsunabe (Giblet Hot Pot) もつ鍋

    Main ingredient: Intestines. If you are feeling brave, this hot pot meal has pork or beef offal (which is a fancier way of saying guts), vegetables, garlic, and chili peppers in a broth that has dashi and soy sauce or miso. It has a distinctive texture and strong taste that is enjoyed all across Japan. Noodles are often added after the soup is leftover. 

    If you're curious about other regional dishes in Japan, take a look at the Ultimate Guide to Okinawan Food and Cuisine 

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    Japanese Nabe cooking at home family japanese

    Kyoto: Yudofu 湯豆腐

    Main ingredient: Tofu. This boiled tofu nabe accentuates the airy taste of tofu. With a simple and clear soup, it can be just flavored with a piece of kombu. Ponzu is used for dipping and green onion is added. The taste is soybean-like tofu, it’s warm and healthy. You will see this more as a side dish than a whole meal.

    Ibaraki: Anko Nabe あんこう鍋

    Main ingredient: Monkfish. Popular in the east of Japan and is also called Monkfish hot pot. This uses the scary-looking fish, Monkfish. This fish has a firm, white meat that has a mild and sweet taste that is frequently compared to lobster meat. Substitutes for this fish if you can’t find one near you are mahi-mahi, sea bass, swordfish, halibut. The steamed liver of the fish adds a nice flavor to the broth. 

    Kansai: Fugu Nabe (Tecchiri nabe) 鍋ふぐ(てっきり鍋)

    Main ingredient: Fugu. This is the most dangerous type of Japanese Nabe. This nabemono is made of fugu meat and skin cooked alongside vegetables in a light kombu kelp and dashi soup that goes well with the fugu flavor. 

    You might be wondering how eating a simple dish can compromise your safety. Well, Fugu is a pufferfish, which is considered a delicacy in Japan and can be quite expensive. The danger of eating pufferfish is because it has tetrodotoxin which is lethally poisonous to humans. You should never attempt to cook this by yourself at home as it has led to many accidental deaths. 

    Going to a reputable restaurant is the only way to eat this. Preparing fugu for human consumption is heavily regulated by Japanese law and only chefs who have been certified for three or more years of intensive training are allowed to present the fish. Chefs have to carefully get rid of all toxic parts and avoid contaminating the rest of the meat.

    See more regions that have unique Nabe, Regional Nabe: A Local’s Guide to Japanese Hot Pots 

    Japanese Nabe hot pot cooking

    Kohoku: Duck Hot Pot (Kamo Nabe) 鴨鍋

    Main ingredient: Duck. This has a rich and deep flavor that is very different from all of the other Nabemono. This goes well with green onions. It is sliced and then simmered with mushrooms and clam soup. Once the meat is cooked medium rare, the sweet fat melts. Sake goes well with it.

    Hiroshima: Miso Kaki Nabe 鍋味噌柿

    Main ingredient: Oysters.  This has oysters and vegetables in a strong Miso flavored soup. This is popular in Hiroshima because, during the winter, people in Hiroshima can produce a lot of oysters. The miso is spread all around the inside of the pot and the flavor can be strong so it can be diluted if preferred.

    Hokkaido: Crab Hot Pot (Kani Nabe) 蟹鍋

    Main ingredient: Crab. As crabs are expensive, this Japanese Nabe is considered a special hot pot dish in comparison to other nabe dishes. The soup is made from crab shells which bring out a rich flavor. Adding ginger and garlic can also make the broth taste better.  Also includes Japanese Leek, Soy Sauce, Salt, Bean Curd, and Napa Cabbage. If you are willing to shell out a few more yens, you can get the Kani Nabe. 

    Osaka/ Kyoto/ Hyogo: Botan Nabe ぼたん鍋

    Main ingredient: Boar. This Japanese Nabe is made from the meat of wild boars. It is named Botan (peony) because of the flower-like appearance of the meat as it is arranged before cooking. This is slowly cooked in a mild miso soup. This could be considered the most beautiful nabe with its presentation. 

    You can discover more about the Japanese food culture here, Guide to Japanese Customs

    winter attire japan japanese stew

    How do you make a Japanese nabe?

    Feeling like you want to try cooking it this winter? This section will go over the tools and ingredients you need as well as a simple recipe. 

    What Supplies You Need

    A Donabe Pot・土鍋・どなべ

    • A donabe is an earthenware pot made for cooking Japanese Nabe. There are a variety of sizes and designs. Sizing is dependent on the number of people who will eat the hot pot. There are ranges of 1-2 and all the way up to 6 or more people if you want to have a party. 
    • The material is made of heavy-duty ceramic that is durable and keeps the heat in. These are made to cook over an open flame so don’t be afraid of putting them on your gas stove.

    A Portable Gas Burner/Electric Stove

    • Feels a little bit like camping. If you are using a Donabe you will need to use a gas stove. If you only have an electric stove, the Majority of donabe require a gas stove, and can’t be used on an electric stove. If using electricity, you will need to use a normal pot but taste and experience-wise, the gas burner with Donabe is recommended.

    This article will let you know in more detail about the tools you need for Nabe, Enjoy the Japanese Winter by Eating Nabe, a Tasty Hot-Pot Dish!

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    Where to Buy

    Most supermarkets and homeware stores have the supplies needed in their cooking departments. If you can’t find one at your local stores, there are plenty of options online on Amazon Japan and Rakuten. The prices aren’t so bad, the Donabe range from 2000-4000 yen.

    Basic Japanese Nabe Recipes

    Here are a few different types of Japanese Nabe that you can watch to learn how to cook at home. 

    For those with dietary restrictions, it is best to make your own hotpot to ensure that you do not accidentally get a hotpot you can't eat. If you have any allergies, it is best to inform the wait staff if you intend to dine out and make sure that whoever you are sharing the Nabe with is okay with removing them.  

    Vegan and Vegetarian Hot Pot recipes  

    Most nabes can easily be meatless and just have the veggies and tofu but here is a recipe for Shabu Shabu that can be made.

    Best Japanese Nabe Restaurants in Tokyo

    If you are feeling lazy, you can always go out to eat in one of the many restaurants serving delicious Japanese abe, so you know you are getting the right hot pot meal. These are some of the best Japanese Nabe Restaurants in Tokyo that we found. 

    Depending on the location and type of hot pot, the price varies. It ranges anywhere from 1000-2500 yen. Some places offer buffet style so that you can try all the different versions of the Japanese Nabe in one go. There are even restaurants like Hitori Shabu Shabu where it is specifically made to be dined in alone if you do not want to share your hotpot with someone else.

    Komakata Dozeu - 4.3 stars 2,168 reviews·$$$

    Dojo restaurant

    1 Chome-7-12 Komagata, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0043

    Hours: 11AM–9PM (Subject to change)

    Nabezo - 4.6 stars 829 reviews·$$

    Sukiyaki and Shabu Shabu restaurant

    Locations:

    Shibuya: 

    1. 〒150-0042 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Udagawacho, 31−2 渋谷BEAM 6F
    2. 〒150-0042 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Udagawacho, 20−15, Humax Pavilion, 8F 

    Shnjuku: 〒160-0022 Tokyo, Shinjuku City, Shinjuku, 3 Chome−30−11 新宿 高野 第2ビル 8F

    Hours: 11:30 AM–9 PM (Subject to change)

    Chanko Kirishima - 3.8 stars 508 reviews·$$

    Chanko restaurant

    2 Chome-13-7 Ryogoku, Sumida City, Tokyo 130-0026

    Hours: 11:30 AM–3 PM 5–9 PM 

    Closed Mondays and Tuesdays (Subject to change)

    There are so many other great nabe restaurants in Tokyo, check out more at Keeping Warm with Nabe: Hot Pot Restaurants in Tokyo.

    The golden rules of eating Japanese Nabe

    • When sharing a Nabe, always make sure to pick up the food from the pot with the back of your chopsticks and not from the side you put your mouth to. This is just common hygienic practice and etiquette
    • The best drink to have with Nabe is Sake, traditional Japanese alcohol. Specifically, Otokoyama and Kubota Senju pair well.
    • Calories of Nabemono ranges from 108kcal - 897kcal
    • Do not overcook your ingredients
    • Skim the broth once in a while

    To know more tips and information about eating Nabe, see this article Nabemono: A Guide to Japanese Hot Pot 鍋物 

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    Conclusion

    Who knew there was so much to learn about Japanese hot pot, a seemingly simple dish with so much variety and culture. A part of getting to know Japanese culture is getting to know Japanese Nabemono because its reach is expansive. You bet you can find hot pot almost anywhere in Japan as it's the go-to meal for many families. Now you can go out and try the hot pot to immerse yourself in Japanese winter cuisine and activity. If you are living in Japan or are moving here, go to Japan Switch to get helpful lessons to advance your proficiency level!

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