Nabe party

Nabe refers to a variety of Japanese hot-pot dishes. It is a typical winter food. All the ingredients for nabe are prepared together in a large clay or iron pot. The pot is usually placed on a burner in the middle of the table and the dish is cooked at the table. Everyone gathers round and picks from the pot what they like, as the ingredients cook. This makes the eating of nabe a highly social event and therefore a perfect excuse for a party, the so-called ‘nabe party’.

There are several stages to a nabe party, involving different ingredients that are added in turn to the pot. Many varieties of nabe exist, but it all comes down to a mix of different ingredients in a broth. The nabe that I will describe below consists of stock, lots of vegetables, tofu, fish cake, thin slices of meat and rice. Dipping sauce and an egg were also involved.

nabe party stock
The stock for our nabe party: water with pieces of kombu and bonito flakes in a tea bag (katsuobushi)
nabe party vegetables
Vegetables and tofu are placed on top of the stock. The vegetables are cabbage, spring onion and daikon.
how to prepare nabe fish cake
Fish cake, sliced
how to prepare nabe
Fish cake and more vegetables (spinach and carrot) are added
Japanese nabe party
The pot, filled to the brim, is placed on a cooker in the middle of the table

As the nabe is placed on the cooker, the party can begin. Friends gather round and wait for everything to start simmering. A perfect moment to enjoy a glass of wine and a laugh together. When the broth has come to a boil and the vegetables have shrunk somewhat, very thin slices of meat are placed on top of the nabe. Since the slices are so thin, they cook in about a minute.

Japanese nabe meat
Thin slices of pork for nabe
Japanese nabe meat
The meat is placed on top of the nabe and cooks very quickly

Now the time has come for everyone to dig in. You may take whatever you like from the nabe pot. This communal enjoyment of the meal creates a very cozy feeling. A nabe party is perfect for warming both body and heart during a cold winter evening.

You might have noticed the collection of sauces on the table. They are dipping sauces for the nabe, collectively referred to as tare. Everyone has two bowls for dipping sauces. As you take food from the nabe pot, you may dip it in the sauce of your choice.

nabe dipping sauce
On the left you see ponzu, a soy sauce based condiment with yuzu (japanese bitter orange) and gomadare, which is a sesame sauce. On the right are two types of paste that are added to the sauce for additional spice. I believe the green one is wasabi based but I am not sure. The red one is a seasoned chili paste called shisen toban jan.
nabe dipping sauce
On the left sesame sauce with chili paste, on the right ponzu with wasabi (?) paste
Japanese nabe party
Table setup for a nabe party: two bowls for each guest with dipping sauce. Food is picked from the nabe pot and briefly placed in dipping sauce, before eating.

When most of the vegetables are eaten and the pot is nearly empty, it is time for the second round. More vegetables are added to the pot and everyone continues eating.

japanese nabe party more vegetables
Second round of vegetables at a nabe party

At the end of round two, when only a little of the broth and some pieces of vegetable remain, cooked rice is added to the mix. The rice absorbs the taste from all the previous ingredients and gets a porridge like texture.

japanese nabe party rice added
Round three of a Japanese nabe party: cooked rice is added to absorb the left over liquid
japanese nabe party rice added
Stirring the rice

While everyone enjoys the first serving of rice, the rice left in the pot continues to cook and starts sticking to the bottom. A raw egg is added to this crunchy rice mixture, thus turning the dish into baked rice. This baked rice forms the end of the meal.

japanese nabe party baked rice
An egg is added to the leftover rice
japanese nabe party baked rice
Rice and egg baking together. Yum!

This nabe party was such a wonderful experience. Thank you to my friends for showing me this great piece of Japanese culture and for welcoming me in their midst!

friends at a japanese nabe party
Bellies full and smiling faces. What a great night!

7 thoughts on “Nabe party

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    1. Shabu shabu is a different dish, although the classification of different nabe-like dishes is a tricky affair. Nabe litterally means ‘pot’, so in principle it could apply to all dishes where ingredients are cooked in liquid in a hot-pot, which would include shabu shabu. However I would consider shabu shabu to be a different dish from nabe. Nabe is cooked in rather shallow earthen pots, while shabu shabu is cooked in a deep metal pot, with two compartments containing two different broths. Also in shabu shabu you pick up each separate ingredient that you want to eat and boil it in water consecutively. With nabe, all the ingredients for all the guests are in the pot together. This is my experience anyway. I would love to get a Japanese person’s perspective on this though.

      According to “Shabu shabu and sukiyaki are variations of nabe, but not always considered nabe itself. … Shabu shabu is closer to Chinese hot pot than nabe.”

  1. Nabe dishes are fun, can be nutritious and not too fattening, most of the time inexpensive, and generally less stress for the host.

    My mother never liked doing nabe as it’s not real cooking if you like to cook and it was never served at home but for students and young ones, and any friendly gathering in general, it works!! Needless to say, I tend to offer it on rare occasions I have guests over…

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