Nabe (Hot Pot), Gourmet Guide

When people in Japan say "let's eat nabe", they are referring to a nabe dish. When cooking nabe, a portable cooking stove, a hot plate, or another kind of heat source are put on the table, and a big pot, a "nabe," is placed on it. When the meat, seafood, vegetables that are boiled in it are ready, you serve them into your bowl and eat them.

Depending on the type of nabe, you might put ponzu (a sour, spicy sauce), a beaten egg, sesame tare, or other toppings into your bowl first. Normally people share a pot, but in izakayas or at banquets with a large number of people, it is sometimes served one pot per person. A one-person nabe typically uses a smaller heating source, like a candle. When a nabe is shared by a number of people, the meat and vegetables are put into the pot, then served out of the boiling pot, and eaten while fresh ingredients are added. This is repeated over and over again. Nabe is eaten at home a lot, but you can also have it in a restaurant. Except for puffer fish, you can have anything at home the same way you can have it in a restaurant. There are many types of nabe, but one of the most typical is "sukiyaki," which is made up of thin slices of beef and seasoned with soy sauce and sugar. Among the many nabe dishes, sukiyaki falls into the luxurious dish category. Most people eat it with a raw egg. Another nabe that is made with thin slices of beef is "shabu shabu." For shabu shabu, the beef slices are dipped several times into the boiling dashi broth, and as soon as their color changes, they are dipped into tare and eaten. The tare can be ponzu or sesame sauce. The quality of the meat is crucial for the taste. Boiling chicken and vegetables in plain water and eating them with ponzu sauce is called "mizudaki." It has a relatively light taste. Yudofu is a specialty of Kyoto. For yudofu, kombu (seaweed) is put in a pot with water. Tofu is added and as soon as it has warmed up, it is ready to eat. In most cases, ponzu or soy sauce are used as dipping sauce. This nabe has an extremely light flavor. "Yosenabe" is a nabe where a variety of ingredients, such as meat, seafood, tofu, or vegetables, are cooked in dashi (fish stock) broth.  Depending on the region and family preference, the ingredients can vary. When this nabe is cooked in a sumo stable, it is referred to as "chanko nabe." "Oden" are a little different from nabe. Because the ingredients for oden are cooked over a period of time, oden never are cooked on the spot. Daikon, pastry products such as chikuwa (fish cakes), konnyaku (potato jelly), deep-fried tofu, and eggs, are boiled in dashi and then eaten. Sometimes it is eaten with mustard. In some housholds, the same dashi is used for more than one day, and many restaurants keep adding fresh dashi to the old one using the same secret dashi for years. Recently, oden has become available in convenience stores. The kamo nabe made with duck meat (kamo), the button nabe made with boar meat (button), the motsu nabe made with organ meat (motsu), or the kaki nabe made with oysters (kaki), are only a few examples of the countless nabe dishes that are named after their main ingredient. Apart from oden, all nabe dishes are usually "finished" by putting in rice or udon at the end. What makes this "finish" so exquisite, is the delicious flavor of all the ingredients that has infused the the dashi broth. Sometimes, when eating with a number of people, the person who controls the nabe is called a "nabe-bugyo," or nabe master. The nabe-bugyo dictates what ingredients and in which order they are put in the pot and when they are ready to eat. If there is one, leave the cooking to him.

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