What comes to mind when you think of Japanese food? Probably the usual suspects like sushi, sashimi, tempura or ramen. While there are literally hundreds of other Japanese foods, today I want to talk about one of my favorites: Nabe, often translated as hot pot.
Pronounced Nah Bay, the word means pot and refers to the clay container in which it is cooked. It’s actually a little hard to define Nabe because any soup that is cooked in this pot counts. At home, you often just put all your leftover veggies into a pot and boil them up. Just within Nabe there are dozens of varieties but today I want to discuss a few of the most popular.
This is the most classic and basic style of nabe. With ponzu nabe, an assortment of tofu, Chinese cabbage, green onions, mushrooms, chicken or pork and sometimes other greens like chrysanthemum is cooked in a light dashi broth. You cook everything in the pot together and take items out as they’re ready with chopsticks. I have to admit, it’s not very corona friendly but it is delicious. The ponzu sauce is a mix of soy sauce and vinegar, often with the citrus fruit yuzu added. As you can see in the photo, the sauce often has green onions or grated daikon radish as well. Personally, I like to add a little Shichimi pepper to spice it up.
Another delicious variation, this is more Korean than Japanese. In this version, everything is cooked in a spicy broth with some kimchi added. You see seafood in kimchi nabe often, but pork is often an ingredient too, along with tofu, green onion, mushrooms, chives and other veggies. At the end, rice or udon and egg is added to top off the meal. To warm up on a cold winter night, there is no better way than with some spicy kimchi nabe.
Tonyu (soy milk) nabe has also become popular more recently. Typically made with chicken broth, this type is similar to kimchi nabe in that you drink the soup rather than having a dipping sauce. Again, a variety of vegetables, tofu and mushrooms is added, along with chicken to make a delicious, healthy soup.
This is something you typically eat out, but it’s famous because sumo wrestlers eat copious amounts of it every day to fatten up. The legend is that chanko nabe always has chicken (a 2-legged animal), not beef or pork because sumo wrestlers are supposed to stay on their two feet. Chanko can have different base flavors like miso, chicken and soy, but includes a dipping sauce as well and is eaten with rice or udon at the end.
If you’re cooking in Japan, it’s easy to find different nabe soups at the grocery store. All you have to do is chop up the ingredients and cook it all together for a delicious meal. Outside of Japan, it’s more difficult to find the ingredients so you might have to make the soup from scratch. Ponzu is easy to find at most Asian grocery stores though and is always a good nabe option. Enjoy!