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Nabé: Japan’s Winter Hot Pot

When the weather in Japan gets cold, it's time to break out the hot pots! For the Japanese, there's nothing better than a bubbling hot pot, pumped full of vegetables, fish, or meat, and sharing it with a bunch of friends around the table. This traditional winter dish, known as nabé (a name for both the food itself and the earthenware pot it's cooked in), is something everyone looks forward to as the temperatures drop. Yasahiro in THE DAYDREAMER DETECTIVE and THE DAYDREAMER DETECTIVE BRAVES THE WINTER loves a good hot pot dish! In fact, he helps his mother make one when he and Mei go to visit his parents (on a semi-disastrous trip, I might add.)

Nabé is usually comprised of a few basic ingredients: a broth, a protein (meat, fish, and or tofu), and vegetables. Sometimes noodles or rice can be added too for extra starch to fill you up. Items are added to the pot before any cooking begins. The ingredients at the bottom are the ones that need to cook the longest, and then everything else is layered on top. Stock is added, the heat is turned on, and the meal starts to cook.

I've made a few hot pots and the most labor-intensive part is all the chopping. Once that's complete, the actual cooking itself is easy and quick. Before you know it, dinner is served!

Many regions of Japan have different types of broth and ingredients that are signature for their area. In Hokkaido, their Ishikari nabé has a rich miso and dashi broth with potatoes, Napa cabbage, tofu, negi (a thick green onion), enoki mushrooms, and salmon. Tonyu nabé has a chicken stock and soy milk base that is much loved by people looking for something really different.

But the most popular version of nabé is Chanko nabé, the biggest hot pot soup eaten by sumo wrestlers to aid in their weight gain. Chanko nabé is absolutely bursting with ingredients! Chicken, beef, seafood, tons of vegetables, and a savory broth. It'll make you full in no time flat. Restaurants across the country specialize in sumo-themed Chanko nabé, with tiny sumo ring mockups in the middle of the dining area. They look like fun!

Nabé has a long rich history in Japan, harking back to a time when homes were heated by a fire pit in the center of the house. It was a good place to hang a stone or clay pot and keep food bubbling away all day. Nowadays, portable gas burners are a popular sight in both homes and restaurants. They sit in the middle of the table, with the nabé cooking on it, and people grab ingredients from the central pot with their chopsticks to their own bowls. Because everyone is using their own chopsticks to grab ingredients, nabé is usually enjoyed with good friends and family, people you like and trust. It can be a great way to spend an evening along with a cold beer or some saké! Give it a shot sometime soon!

Steph Gennaro