It’s your Friendly Neighbourhood Gaijin, back again. Ever since I’ve arrived in Japan, I’ve learned a few things about cooking with ingredients that are readily available here. For example, Japan’s fish market is much cheaper than Canada’s; however, purchasing meat (especially minced beef) is more expensive in Japan. Fruits are ridiculously expensive sometimes. For example, strawberries are $5 for 5/6 big ones at my local grocery store. On the other hand, when you purchase one of these packages, each one of those strawberries tastes very sweet and are of high quality. Although, if I ever buy a bad tasting strawberry at that price – my face would likely match the colour of the strawberry.
Guys, that is around 5 Canadian dollars for an apple. An apple. Sometimes I splurge and will buy fruits, but occasionally I don’t think the price is worth the payoff for the good taste.
Now, I was recently asked what my go-to-meal is in Japan. There are so many options right? Going out to eat ramen, okonomiyaki, cooking instant noodles, or soba? Well, as much as I would like to go out every day and eat – that’s expensive. So I prefer to cook my own meals at home. I have learned quite a lot from my local cooking classes with my female classmates, but I think my current go-to-meal to cook at home is Japanese Nabe.
If I was to recommend an essential dish that anyone who will be living in Japan needs to know, I would say it is Japanese Nabe. It is especially popular in the winter! Japanese Nabe is a Japanese hotpot dish which is very versatile and requires little skill to make. Now, don’t get me wrong – the more skilled you become in creating your broth or preparing your ingredients, will compile volumes of flavours into your meal. In Canada, you occasionally hear and/or can find Japanese Nabe (hot pot) restaurants, they may just call it by a different name.
The only two times I have heard of Japanese hotpot in Canada were the “Shabu-shabu” and “Sukiyaki” variants advertised outside by restaurants. Shabu-shabu is generally sliced meat and vegetables which are boiled in water or a dashi broth. After they are properly cooked, they are removed from the broth and accompanied by various dipping sauces (known as tare) when eaten. Sukiyaki uses a broth mix made from combining soy sauce, mirin and sugar. Similar to most nabe variants it also uses sliced meat, vegetables such as leeks, spring onions and Shitake/ Enoki mushrooms. You can basically add whatever you want to Nabe, which is why it is an extremely versatile meal to cook and it is my go to meal. Furthermore, Japanese grocery stores sells a lot of meat thinly sliced for consumers, so I found it made it very easy to prepare this mean in a few minutes for dinner.
How to simply prepare Nabe
Seriously, if a newly arrived foreigner can make this – you can too.
- Go to the store and purchase a Donabe pot (This literally means Earth Nabe pot). They cost around $10 and the size of the pot correlates to the amount of people it will serve. There are different varieties of pots, for example mine works with a gas stove. However, if you have an electric stove at home they have made pots for those too as well as specific electric Nabe pots. In Canada, I would suggest going to your local Jtown, or probably Chinatown would sell a pot suitable for this.
- Now that you have the pot, it’s time to buy the ingredients. For meats, if you’re in Japan an abundance of sliced meat (pork/roast beef) is available at your local grocery store. While in Canada, you may have to slice the meat yourself or ask your butcher to slice it for you during purchase.
- Buy vegetables – I generally always purchase mushrooms, cabbage and green onions, but everything else is up to preference. You want carrots, get them. You want onions, buy them. You want, mushrooms, of course. Kimchi, sure why not international cuisine. Pickled onions – okay let’s not get crazy now. Add anything you want, but the flavour may change accordingly.
- Prepare the ingredients. Slice your meats and vegetables. Done. If you’re feeling more courageous, or cooking for anyone else – there is an infinite amount of ways to improve your ingredients. You can marinate your meats/vegetables, make meatballs out of them, customize your dipping sauces. The possibilities are endless.
- Prepare a broth. Now generally, the broth is created with Dashi. However, the base is just a mix of liquids so there are many combinations that you can use. You could always look up a basic recipe online such as this. Here is one of the best things – in Japan, they sell many pre-made broths in the store! There are a lot of flavours which I look forward to experimenting with in the future.
- Assemble your ingredients into the pot with your broth and turn gas on. After you add all your broth and ingredients, it should only take up approximately 2/3 of the space in the pot. If there is too much in your nabe pot, the broth will boil over and create a mess (as personally experienced). Once the ingredients start boiling and cooking, just wait based on which ingredients you inserted.
- Voila! You’re food is ready to eat by yourself or with friends. Now take the ingredients out of the pot and dip them in your various dipping sauces. Also, add the other ingredients you prepped into the boiling pot and enjoy!
Here’s what my home cooked Nabe looks like. May I suggest if you have friends over to prepare your meal prettier than I have in this photo. This is the classic nabe I make at my house, I would probably choose to slice the ingredients cleaner and make them fancier if I had guests. There are many variations of this dish which contain: tomatoes, cheeses, curry, soy milk, parsley. Also different regions in Japan are known for specific varieties of meat such as whale, wild boar, deer, salmon and venison. The possibilities are endless. I can’t wait to try Fugu Nabe (Pufferfish) which is a specialty of the Kansai region (my residing region).
Today, is a bit more of an informational blog though it is something I think any JET should have as an option because it can be an extremely healthy option. Whether you want to eat rice with Nabe or not is up to your preference. Nabe has become an essential cooking method for my meals in the future. I look forward to eating it with some of you in the future!
If you are curious about looking for Nabe Recipes, here are a few recipes for homemade nabe. The ingredients are not very difficult to acquire, except for the extremely Japanese ingredients such as lalala.