The sensory transcendence and warmth of Nabemono - Hindustan Times
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The sensory transcendence and warmth of Nabemono

Nov 27, 2023 03:22 AM IST

The comforting, versatile flavours of this Japanese winter dish can be prepared without the tedium of an hour-long prep or following a recipe to the T.

Beloved in Japanese cuisine, nabemono, or just nabe, is more than just a casserole of meat and vegetables cooked in a hot pot. It’s a nuanced category of Japanese dishes that bring people together on the dinner table during the colder months, one pot at a time. Traditionally prepared in a clay pot called the donabe, it is a dish cooked right on your table using a gas burner, which deserves to be savoured while it is hot.

Notably, nabe hot pots often bear the names of the cities or provinces where they originated, providing a culinary glimpse into the local culture.
Notably, nabe hot pots often bear the names of the cities or provinces where they originated, providing a culinary glimpse into the local culture.

Nabe refers to a cooking pot and mono means thing — rendering the term an apt reflection of the versatility of these dishes, since nabe can literally be anything. While they vary depending on the type and local specialties, commonly, they comprise an assortment of veggies, meat and seafood added to a simple dashi stock.

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The choice of vessel is central to traditional nabe prep. In the realm of Japanese hot pot cuisine, the quintessential choice is the donabe because of their slow heat conductivity and impeccable heat retention. However, if you’re housebound, hungry and without a donabe at your disposal, a metal pot can save the day.

“In traditional Japanese cuisine, mushrooms and tofu are a staple. For meat nabe, chicken and pork (sea bass, scallop and salmon in coastal regions) take centre stage while Japanese soy sauce and sweet sake up the flavour game. Miso, mirin and stock are used to complete the dish,” says Swapnadeep Mukherjee, executive chef at The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa, adding that the choice of noodles can also impact the heaviness of the nabe. “While glass noodles are lighter, udon, soba or ramen can be a little on the heavier side. Even rice can be added to the broth, for a hearty experience,” he adds.

Paper hot pots, or kam-nabe, too, are another take on the technique. Crafted with Washi paper, this pot defies expectations by withstanding open flames. However, the paper remains unscathed due to its higher flashpoint compared to the boiling point of water.

Notably, nabe hot pots often bear the names of the cities or provinces where they originated, providing a culinary glimpse into the local culture. “Ishikari-nabe from Hokkaido is a nabe with a miso-based broth, where numerous vegetables and salmon are stewed together. Sukiyaki, with two variations, one from Kanto and the other from Kansai, is where meat is slowly simmered in a sweeter and more flavourful broth made from soy sauce, sugar and dashi stock. Mizutaki from the island of Kyushu is a chicken hot pot that combines dashi and shiitake mushrooms, among other ingredients,” says Sourabh Sharan, head chef at Guppy, Delhi.

Beyond these, a plethora of other delights beckons — like oden, a soy sauce-infused simmer of daikon radish and fish cakes; kimchi-nabe, a spicy ensemble seasoned with Korean kimchi; motsu-nabe, showcasing succulent pork intestines; yu-dofu, a minimalist creation where tofu is bathed in a simple kombu broth. Nabe is also known for their protein content and vegetables add to its high nutritional value. Any typical bowl offers a balance of fibre, protein, fat and carbs. “While specific nabe varieties may require certain ingredients, there’s always a version prepared with whatever is readily available,” highlights Khatri.

HOW TO NABE

Follow the cooking order: Put fresh vegetables and meat or seafood in a pot with sauce and cook on a slow fire for five minutes. Add noodles or rice to the hot pot and simmer for further two minutes. Start with ingredients that flavor the broth, then add tougher items and finish with quick-cooking components.

Avoid overcooking: Keep an eye on bite-sized ingredients for optimal texture.

Skim the broth: Remove foams and scum periodically to maintain a clean broth.

Drinks: Pair nabemono with cold beer, sake, iced oolong tea, mugicha, hot green tea, or hojicha for a complete experience.

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