Nabemono (鍋物) is a Japanese dish often eaten in the wintertime, or during cold weather. Nabemono is a very descriptive name: the nabe (鍋) is a type of large cooking pot and mono (物) literally translates as “things.” Also called nabe ryori (鍋料理), which means nabe cooking, nabemono is just what the names imply: items cooked in a nabe pot.
In nabe dishes, the nabe pot is brought to the eating table and set over a portable burner. The burner is usually a small gas stove but sometimes, especially in nicer restaurants, a portable charcoal hibachi burner is used. Nabe is made at the table and is a good dish over which to spend time with friends and family.
Making nabemono requires very little cooking time, as most of the cooking is done while it’s being served; in fact, the most labor-intensive step is cutting the vegetables that are going to go into the bowl! A basic nabe broth is 2 cups water, 3 ounces of kombu and a cup of dried bonito flakes (make sure to strain the kombu and bonito flakes out), and this is all you need to add to the nabe pot before you bring it to the table to cook and eat. The broth needs to be brought to a near boil, then the ingredients can be added, typically harder ingredients like carrots and daikon are added first, as they take the longest to cook, with the softer ingredients being added last in order to avoid overcooking. With a lot of dishes, such as shabu shabu and sukiyaki, the meat is only stuck in the broth for about a minute before being eaten. Because things are added in through the duration of the cooking and eating process, the broth becomes richer as time goes on.
Common ingredients in nabemono include vegetables like carrots, negi (Japanese leek), nappa cabbage, enoki mushrooms, shirataki noodles, and meat like thinly sliced beef or pork, or chicken in chankonabe—a nabe dish that is a staple in the diet of sumo wrestlers. There are also a few dipping sauces, called tare, that are served alongside your nabemono such as ponzu (a type of citrus-soy sauce) and goma (sesame) dressing. The flavor of the sauces can be changed with the addition of yakumi, which are spices that can be added to the sauces. Yakumi can be red pepper, grated daikon, roasted sesame seeds, and grated garlic, among others. It’s also very common to use beaten, raw egg as a dipping sauce, as it adds a sweet flavor to each bite.
There are two main types of nabemono in Japan: nabemono with a light broth, where the ingredients are dipped in dipping sauces, and nabemono with a strong broth, often eaten without any type of dipping sauce. Lighter nabemono include yudoufu (世豆腐), which is tofu and vegetables simmered in a kombu stock served with ponzu; and mizutaki (水炊き), which is similar to yudoufu with chicken added. The heavier nabemono dishes include sukiyaki and shabu shabu, which are both similar in ingredients; however, sukiyaki is sweeter while shabu shabu is more savory. A savory nabe that many people may have heard of is chankonabe (ちゃんこ鍋), a nabe that was popularized as the staple of the sumo wrestler diet. Chankonabe is very protein rich, often served with rice and beer as a means to pack on more protein. Nabemono can also be found in more unique flavors, such as kimchi, curry, or cheese nabe; flavors made by mixing nabe with other foods such as ramen nabe or dumpling nabe; and even nabe made to keep your skin looking young, like collagen nabe!
Everyone eating nabe will eat it straight from the pot in which it’s cooking. Usually in Japan it’s considered rude to pick something from a communal dish with the thin ends of your chopsticks, but when eating nabe it’s expected! While the nabe is cooking and being eaten, there are usually roles delegated to the people eating it (though these roles are sometimes preformed by the waiter if it’s being eaten at a restaurant). Someone needs to monitor the heat of the broth and make sure that it doesn’t begin to boil, while another person may need to scrape the froth off of the top of the water with a wooden spoon. Because everyone is involved in the dish, it’s a great way to bring people together.
When everything in the nabe has been eaten, there is often left over broth in the bottom of the pot, but it doesn’t go to waste. Some people put noodles, such as udon or ramen, in the broth and finish it up that way, but it’s most common to make a type of rice porridge with it by adding about a cup to a cup and a half (depending on how much broth is leftover) of cooked rice to the bowl.
Asahi sells many of the ingredients needed to make nabe from scratch, but you can also come in and buy some pre-made stock base and pre-packaged ingredients for oden or wagyuu beef cut thin for sukiyaki or shabu shabu. We also carry traditional nabe pots that you can buy and make your favorite nabe any time!