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!

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Forest hike and Japanese tea ceremony

Today I wondered: what was I doing in Japan around this time four years ago? The answer did not disappoint me: I was hiking through a virgin forest and attended a field tea ceremony (nodate 野点).

Me and my aunt, who was visiting from Belgium, were invited by my lovely friends Nobuo-san and Motoko-san to go on a hike with them. Being avid hikers, they claimed to know the most beautiful spots for hiking around Toyota City. They took us to a beautiful virgin forest. It was kōyō (autumn leaves 紅葉 ) season and the light was gorgeous that day.

japanese forest

Our guides are leading the way. Seeing bamboo in a forest was very exotic to me.

japanese forest

The autumn light on the coloured leaves was spectacular.

japanese forest

Looking up the trunk of an ancient tree.

As if taking us to this precious place wasn’t enough, they surprised us with an impromptu tea ceremony in the forest. When we sat down in a clearing to have a little rest, Motoko-san started unpacking several implements that she had been carrying in her backpack. As I had no knowledge of tea ceremony at the time, we were very curious to see what all those beautiful objects were for.

nodate field tea ceremony

Motoko-san is unpacking her wares.

nodate field tea ceremony

She produced two gorgeous red chawan (tea bowls) out of her backpack, and some wagashi (Japanese sweets). The stop at the sweets shop on our way to the forest suddenly made a lot more sense.

nodate field tea ceremony wagashi

Seasonal wagashi

nodate field tea ceremony

Omnomnom. Wagashi are delicious. The bowl of tea is waiting on the bench to be drunk.

It was one of my first experiences with the Japanese tea ceremony and it made a deep impression on me. The spontaneous enjoyment of tea in that beautiful natural setting was such a special experience. That day I learned about the concepts of wabisabi (わびさび the Japanese aesthetic of transience and imperfection, perfectly embodied by the fallen leaves, the rough table and the setting in general) and ichigo ichie (一期一会 litt. ‘one time, one meeting’, indicating the preciousness of meetings with people and emphasizing that every moment and experience is unique).

Thank you Motoko-san and Nobuo-san for that once in a lifetime experience!

Blogging brings people together

When I first started with this blog, I warned myself not to expect too much of it. Sure, it would be great to attract readers that aren’t just friends and family. In fact, it would be downright wonderful to get a decent number of page views and some comments on my posts. But since I was completely new to blogging, I decided it would be best not to expect too much and just have fun with it.

Now, two years later, I can gladly say that my blogging adventure has exceeded my wildest dreams. People from all over the world find their way to this blog. Some people even comment on my posts! There are regular readers, who I feel I have gotten to know quite well through their comments on my posts and through reading their blogs. This blog has really become a source of joy to me. Therefore I think a thank you is in order. Thank you, dear readers, for coming to this blog and sharing a digital moment with me. I feel like blogging brings people together in a way that I could never have imagined.

This blog has even led to some real-life encounters. In March of last year, I found this darling message on the ‘About’ page of my blog:

I really enjoy reading. I was researching some information because my husband works for Toyota and we will be coming for a visit on March 24th and leaving on the 31st. He has to go into work everyday and I’m on my own at the hotel. I have to admit I’m a little nervous. I’ve never been out of the country. We live in Lexington, KY in the United States. We are staying at the same Hotel, I think it’s called Toyota Castle.

The only language I know is English. If you can help or give me some advice I would really appreciate it. If you live near by the hotel I would love to meet you during the day. Thank you so much for sharing your information. I hope to hear from you and wish you nothing but happiness for you and your husband.

Best Regards,
Bonnie

Not one to pass up an opportunity to infect someone with my passion for Japan, I agreed to meet Bonnie. It turned out to be a wonderful experience. Knowing that Bonnie had never been to another country before, I was very impressed with how open-minded she was towards all the new experiences and impressions coming her way. As I watched her discover Japan, I felt like I was rediscovering everything myself as well. It was a pleasure to show her around.

One of the memories that stand out most to me, is the day we were wandering around the Toyota Municipal Museum grounds and stumbled upon a little tea house. There was an elderly lady tending to the tea house and she invited us inside. The weather was beautiful. Spring was in the air and nature was bustling with new life. The tranquility of the tea house and the hospitality of the elderly lady further contributed to the atmosphere of the moment. Bonnie was moved to tears. It truly was ‘ichigo ichie’ (a once in a lifetime moment).

Thank you Bonnie, for all those wonderful memories!

The tea house near Toyota Municipal Museum of Art

The tea house near Toyota Municipal Museum of Art

view from the tea house

The view from the tea house

Two gals out for a day of fun

Two gals out for a day of fun

Third time on the Tsubasaya blog! Hurray!

One of my favourite restaurants in Toyota City is a tavern (or in Japanese, an izakaya) called Tsubasaya. They have a blog where they post pictures of their guests. In the first two months of our stay in Japan, I had managed to end up on their blog twice.

The first time was at the end of July.

The second time was in the beginning of August.

This inspired me to aim at a once a month average and thus become a Tsubasaya star. Alas, my beginners luck ran out and I have not been featured on their blog since. That is, until today! Today I have the honour of being on the Tsubasaya blog for the third time. Admittedly, I did not accomplish this feat alone. I was in Tsubasaya yesterday with a big group of foreign ladies. Our banter attracted enough attention for the staff to take our picture at the end of the evening. So thank you ladies, for a fun evening and a helping hand in my attempts to achieve Tsubasaya stardom!

Toyota City expat ladies at Tsubasaya

Tsubasaya blog screenshot

Tsubasaya blog screenshot. The text above the photograph mentions all our nationalities. Click on the picture to go to the Tsubasaya blog.

Nagoya style eel – Hitsumabushi

Eel is a popular dish in Japan, especially in summer. It is believed to give you stamina so as to better endure the summer heat. Moreover, grilled eel is a Nagoya speciality.

Needless to say I was excited when my friend Mari-san proposed to go to the most famous eel restaurant in Nagoya: Hōraiken. It’s so popular that we had to wait for almost an hour before being seated, while it was just a regular Tuesday at lunchtime. In the weekend there is supposed to be a 2 or 3 hour wait.

Horaiken eel restaurant entrance

The entrance of the restaurant

I ordered the most popular dish on the menu, which is the Nagoya speciality: Hitsumabushi. It’s a special kind of unadon. Unadon is a bowl of rice topped off with grilled eel covered in sweet soy sauce. What makes hitsumabushi different from regular unadon is the seasoning.

Hitsumabushi grilled eel

Hitsumabushi (a kind of grilled eel), a Nagoya speciality

On the picture above you can see the seasoning in the three squares on the top of the tray and in the red flask. The bowl of rice with the eel on top is on the bottom right and in the middle there’s some soup and pickled vegetables.

There’s a special procedure involved in eating hitsumabushi:

1) First you take about 1/4th of the rice and eel, put it in the little white and blue bowl and eat it just like that.

2) Next you take another serving of eel and rice and season it with nori strips, wasabi and green onion.

hitsumabushi second type

The second way to eat the eel

3) For the third serving you use the same seasoning but you also pour hot tea on top of it.

4) The fourth and final serving is meant to repeat the style you liked best.

Four servings of rice with eel, that’s a lot of food. Good thing it’s delicious!

The restaurant is very close to the Temma-cho station on the Meijo Line, the purple line of Nagoya’s subway system. Some advice: put your name on the list at the restaurant, ask how long the wait will be and take advantage of the spare time to visit nearby Atsuta Jinja, the largest shrine in Nagoya.

I’m on the Tsubasaya blog – again!

Tsubasaya is an izakaya (bar or tavern) in Toyota City. It has great food and a great atmosphere. Being the tall and blond gaijin that we are, we always call a lot of attention to ourselves whenever we go there. This has led to an appearance on the Tsubasaya blog once before, as you could read in the July 27th post ‘Making friends at the izakaya’.

Last night we showed up at Tsubasaya’s with an entire group of gaijin to have our own little nomikai in order to welcome some colleagues of Dennis who had come on business trip. I was delighted when one of the waitresses asked to take our picture. Yes! Another appearance on the Tsubasaya blog.

On the Tsubasaya blog again! Hurray!

(can anyone translate the text underneath the photo please?)

Maybe I should make it a personal challenge to appear on their blog as much as possible. I wonder if an average of once a month is feasible. I already see how this kind of situation could easily get out of hand, with me showing up there in increasingly ridiculous costumes in order to make it to their blog. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!