Nabemono: A Guide to Japanese Hot Pot 鍋物

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  • Are you ready to cook and enjoy the most satisfying and heart-warming Japanese hot pot dishes? Known as Nabemono, they are the necessary remedy of cold weather. Here you’ll learn the basics on how to prepare nabemono and 10 delicious recipes to at home. 

    A complete guide on how to make nabemono Japanese hot pot at home with delicious recipes

    To combat long winter months or gloomy rainy days, the Japanese embrace the elements by enjoying a wide variety of hot pot dishes called nabemono (鍋物), or simply nabe(鍋).

    We believe there’s nothing more comforting than the warmth of hot broths, fresh foods and the social aspect of a nabemono brings forth. They are nourishing, easy throw-it-together kind of food, and so fun to eat. No wonder they are the wintertime favorites in Japan. And if you are like me who enjoy hot foods regardless of the season, you can even make nabemono year round!

    Tablesetup for shabu shabu - donabe hot pot, vegetables, meat, udon, and dipping sauces.

    What is nabemono?

    Nabemono is a compound word, where nabe (鍋) refers to a cooking pot and mono (物) means things or stuff. The concept of a nabe is simple: it can be a mixture of fresh vegetables, meat, seafood, tofu, and soybean products, or seasonal ingredients, all to be cooked in a simmering soup broth in a pot. Some of the popular nabemono dishes include Sukiyaki, Shabu Shabu, Yudofu and Oden – many of which I’ve shared on Just One Cookbook.

    In Japan, you can experience these hot pots in specialty restaurants or izakaya that serve up various nabemono dishes. From Hokkaido to Kyoto to Fukuoka, there are also many regional versions of hot pot throughout Japan, featuring unique local ingredients, preparations and different flavors of the broth. If you have the opportunity to visit different regions of Japan in winter months, it is worth tracking down what the local nabe has to offer.

    Have you tried any interesting nabe you’d love to share? It is definitely a topic itself and I’d love to talk about in the future post some days!

    Assorted vegetables, tofu, and mushrooms in a bamboo basket, ready to cook in Shabu Shabu.

    Nabemono – The most versatile home-cooked dish and best party food

    Whether you’re cooking for a family of four or a party of eight, there is a nabemono dish for every occasion. Because you can literally put it together by using any vegetables, seafood, meat or tofu that are lurking in the refrigerator, it is truly the best kind of home-cooked meal everyone can make at home.

    Majority of the nabemono dishes are enjoyed in a communal manner, where the fresh, raw ingredients are prepped and arranged in serving plates surrounding a shared pot with soup broth on the table. Everyone then helps themselves by cooking and sharing the meal in the most lively manner.

    Since everything can be done in advance, nabemono is my favorite type of food to serve at a dinner party. Your job as a host involves only prepping the ingredients and the soup broth – no need to cook anything beforehand. You can relax and be in the present of the company of your guests. The atmosphere is boisterous, the food is delicious, and everyone is having a good time.

    Even though nabemono are often served for a group of people, you can still enjoy hot pot for one in a single portion easily. The individual-style nabe such as Nebayaki Udon and Napa Cabbage and Pork Belly Hot Pot can simply be cooked ahead on the stove and devoured immediately straight from the pot.  When you have an emergency hot pot craving, you can even modify some of the nabe recipes by simplifying the ingredients.


    What You Need to Make a Nabemono (Nabe) at Home

    Japanese donabe earthenware hot pot.

    1. Donabe Pot

    Obviously, the most important piece of equipment for making nabe is the cooking pot itself. In Japan, there are many pots being used for different styles of nabemono, but the most ideal cooking vessel to prepare all sorts of nabemono dishes at home is a donabe (土鍋).

    Made with heavy ceramic to retain and distribute heat, donabe is a traditional Japanese earthenware pot specifically designed to cook hot pot dishes. Donabe comes in many beautiful designs and various sizes. If you plan to cook nabemono regularly, a quality donabe is the best cookware money can buy! It’s highly versatile and durable.

    • Where to buy: Japanese and Asian grocery stores, Japanese ceramic shop, Toiro Kitchen, or Amazon
    • Donabe sizes: I recommend a 12 inch (30 cm) donabe for anywhere from 2-6 people servings. You can also get the single pot for 1 serving, with a diameter of 6.5 inches (16.5cm). To feed a bigger crowd (6+), you would need at least two donabe pots.
    • How to care for a donabe: When a donabe is properly cared for, it can last for generations. You can read my article on How to Season and Care for Your Donabe.

    Alternatives:

    • Stainless steel hot pot with divider: There are various styles of stainless steel hot pots available online or at Asian grocery stores. The most common one you can find is a stainless steel hot pot with a divider, which you can make 2 types of soup broth or with spicy and non-spicy options. You can use this hot pot for Chinese, Korean or other Southeast-Asian-style hot pots.
    • Electric stainless steel hot pot: If you don’t like to use a gas stove, you can use this electric hot pot with a divider.
    • Multi-functional electric skillet: If you prefer the convenience, this multi-functional electric skillet is another alternative to prepare nabemono at home. Since you can use it for sauteing, grilling and cooking soup-based dishes, it makes a great option for college kids or for someone with limited storage space.
    • Dutch oven: A heavy pot like a Dutch oven can also be used for nabemono dishes. See how I made Mille-Feuille Nabe.

    Portable Butane Stove & Butane Gas Canisters

    2. Portable Butane Stove & Butane Gas Canisters

    To create a communal dining experience for a nabe dish, you’d need a portable gas burner where everyone can partake the cooking and eat off the hot pot over an open flame. Majority of donabe require a gas stove, and can’t be used on an electric stove.

    Asian families commonly use the portable single burner butane stove for cooking and grilling at the table. It is also an excellent resource for emergency cooking (in case of a power outage!), road trips, or camping.

    • Where to buy: I bought my Iwatani portable gas stove on Amazon and stock up butane gas canisters at Asian grocery stores or Amazon.
    • Safety: Burning butane does not normally produce carbon monoxide; however, it’s always a good idea to be aware of ventilation, especially if you’re cooking in a very small area.

    Hot pot tools you need.

    3. Cooking Tools for Nabe

    Aside from a donabe and portable gas stove, you will need to prepare some cooking tools at the table.

    • A fine mesh skimmer and a bowl/measuring cup filled with water so you can skim the broth as you cook.
    • A ladle or two to scoop soup broth
    • A few slotted ladles to fish out the cooked vegetables and meat from the pot.
    • A few pairs of serving (long) chopsticks
    • One or two pairs of tongs
    • Serving platters
    • Individual bowls/plates/chopsticks for everyone

    Occasionally skim the scum and foam in the shabu shabu hot pot.


    5 Quick Tips to Enjoy Your Nabemono

    1. Remember the cooking order

    Start cooking from the ingredients that can lend flavors to the broth such as kombu, chicken, and fish (do not put thinly sliced meat here yet). Then add tough ingredients that require to cook for a long time, including potatoes, carrots, daikon, and thick white parts of napa cabbage. At this time, you can also add shirataki noodles and medium firm tofu to absorb more flavors. Lastly, add thinly sliced meat or soft vegetables that can cook fast.

    Once you start eating, it’s best to add vegetables at once, cover the lid to let the broth boil, and cook some meat, and clear up all the cooked ingredients before adding the next batch of ingredients.

    2. Do not overcook your ingredients

    Most of the ingredients are cut and sliced in bite-sized and thin pieces, so they cook very quickly. Always keep an eye on the vegetables and meat you add into the soup.

    3. Skim the broth once in a while

    When you cook proteins (meat and seafood) and vegetables, you will see foams and scum start to build upon the surface of broth. It’s a good idea to skim them once in a while to keep the broth clean. The easiest way to skim is when the broth is boiling. Scums and foams usually gather around, so you can scoop up easily. It’s usually my job to skim the broth while Mr. JOC adds in the ingredients and keep an eye on the cooking. Teamwork is always welcome when enjoying a nabemono.

    4. Observe the etiquettes and be considerate

    When it comes to cooking and eating from a shared nabe pot, there are a few etiquettes to observe. Unless you’re cooking for one or for the family and the kids, make sure you only cook the food you plan to eat yourself. If there’s a piece of fish cake or a marbled beef floating in the broth, do not take it out unless it is yours.

    Make sure to add ingredients when the broth is boiling and no one is cooking the meat at that time because the ingredients you’re adding will cool the broth immediately and stop boiling.

    As a rule of thumb, be considerate to people around you and ask if you’re unsure what to do. Curious about general Japanese dining etiquette? Here are my posts on Just One Cookbook:

    5. Drinks to go with nabemono

    No nabemono is complete without the company of cold, foamy beer or sake. For non-alcoholic drinks, you can serve nabemono with iced oolong tea or mugicha (barley tea), or hot green tea or hojicha.


    10 Nabemono Recipes to Make at Home

    Cook thinly sliced well-marbled beef in a shabu shabu hot pot.

    1. Shabu shabu しゃぶしゃぶ

    Shabu Shabu is one of Japan’s most popular communal-style hot pot dishes. The meat and assorted vegetables are cooked in a flavorful broth called kombu dashi. Everyone at the table takes part in the cooking and enjoys the ingredients with different dipping sauces.

    Chanko Nabe (Sumo Stew) ちゃんこ鍋 | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    2. Chanko Nabe (Sumo Stew) ちゃんこ鍋

    Traditionally eaten only by the sumo wrestlers, Chanko Nabe is a robust hot pot filled with all kinds of vegetables and tons of protein in rich dashi and chicken broth. The original nabe is served with additional ingredients to help sumo wrestlers gain weight, but we have simplified the recipe but keeping it well balance to enjoy the meal at home.

    Sukiyaki (Japanese Hot Pot) | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    3. Sukiyaki すき焼き

    Similar to shabu shabu, sukiyaki is another favorite Japanese hot pot dish that is often enjoyed communally at the table. Served with seared marbled beef and variety of vegetable in a sweet-salty soy sauce broth, sukiyaki is full of bold flavors. Instead of serving in a donabe, sukiyaki is prepared in a cast iron pot.

    Soy Milk Hot Pot (Tonyu Nabe 豆乳鍋) | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    4. Soy Milk Hot Pot 豆乳鍋

    Also called the Tonyu Nabe, one of the key ingredients for this hot pot is soy milk, which is used as the main flavoring to the base of dashi broth. Vegetables such as napa cabbage, leafy green vegetables, and thinly sliced pork are then added to cook in the hot pot and dipped in the ponzu sauce to enjoy. The flavor is creamy and savory, with a slightly sweet flavor. A kid’s favorite.

    Nabeyaki Udon | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    5. Nabeyaki Udon 鍋焼きうどん

    Topped with chicken, tempura & heaps of vegetables in an umami dashi soup, this hot noodle soup cooked in a nabe would be your favorite kind of winter comfort food. The ingredient list may seem long, but you can speed up the cooking by using frozen tempura or use whatever ingredients that suit you.

    Mille-Feuille Nabe | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    6. Mille-Feuille Nabe ミルフィーユ鍋

    Inspired by the layering composition of a classic French pastry, Mille-Feuille Nabe is a simple Japanese hot pot made with napa cabbage and pork belly slices cooked in a savory dashi broth. The nabe is very easy to put together, making it one of the most popular hot pot recipes enjoyed at home in Japan.

    Monkfish hot pot in a black Japanese earthenware donabe.

    7. Monkfish Hot Pot (Anko Nabe) あんこう鍋

    An iconic winter hot pot, especially popular in the eastern part of Japan, Monkfish Hot Pot is the most flavorful nabemono one can make at home. One of the key contributing flavors to the heavenly broth is the steamed monkfish liver. It is the secret ingredient that elevates the soup broth with its unbeatable complexity and depth. No monkfish in your area? You can still cook this nabe with other substitutes such as grouper, halibut, mahi-mahi, sea bass, scallops, snapper, or swordfish.

    Yudofu

    8. Yudofu (Hot Tofu) 湯豆腐

    Light and healthy, yudofu is an incredibly easy, vegetarian style nabe, featuring dashi kombu and tofu. You can enjoy hot tofu as an appetizer, side dish, or simply a meal on its own.

    Hot Pot for One with Napa Cabbage & Sliced Pork Belly (白菜と豚バラの一人鍋) | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    9. Hot Pot for One 白菜と豚バラの一人鍋

    If you’re cooking for yourself, you have more reason to eat better with this Napa Cabbage and Pork Belly Hot Pot. It’s fast, easy and nutritious, and guaranteed to keep you warm and happy.

    Kimchi Gyoza Nabe served in donabe (Japanese earthenware pot).

    10. Kimchi Gyoza Nabe キムチ餃子鍋

    Cooked in a Korean-inspired, spicy kimchi base, this nabe is filled with succulent Japanese dumplings, spicy kimchi, tender vegetables, and hearty mushrooms.  It’s a simmering bowl of savory deliciousness!

    learn how to make japanese hot pot nabemono dishes at home

    Happy Hot Pot Cooking!

    Thank you for reading, and I hope you’re ready to get started on cooking nabemono dishes at home. You’ll find more detailed instructions on how to prepare each specific dish on the individual recipe post itself.

    Do you have any favorite nabemono dish you love to make? I’d love to hear from you. And if you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll try my best in answering. Happy nabe-cooking!

    Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.

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