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.
The stock for our nabe party: water with pieces of kombu and bonito flakes in a tea bag (katsuobushi)
Vegetables and tofu are placed on top of the stock. The vegetables are cabbage, spring onion and daikon.
Fish cake, sliced
Fish cake and more vegetables (spinach and carrot) are added
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.
Thin slices of pork for nabe
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.
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.
On the left sesame sauce with chili paste, on the right ponzu with wasabi (?) paste
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.
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.
Round three of a Japanese nabe party: cooked rice is added to absorb the left over liquid
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.
An egg is added to the leftover 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!
Bellies full and smiling faces. What a great night!