Winter is almost here! And in Japan where space heaters are more common than central heating - it gets cold in the house! That's why the Japanese love eating hot nabe, which is one way Japanese culture readies itself for winter.
Nabe, which means "one pot" in the Japanese language, is a broad term that applies to a variety of "soups" where all kinds of vegetables, meat and fish are thrown into a pot of boiling water, fished out with chopsticks and then dunked in sauce to be eaten with joy. Winter, it seems brings out some of the best Japanese food.
What makes nabe different from beef stew or chicken noodle soup, however, is the manner in which it is cooked and ultimately eaten, which draws nicely upon Japanese traditional food culture.
Nabe is cooked in a special nabe pot that helps distribute the heat evenly and it is often cooked in the middle of the table on a portable gas range (don't forget to open a window for safety!),
Preparation for cooking means cutting up Nappa cabbage, green onions, Japanese-style mushrooms and tofu. Raw slices of pork or beef - no thicker than an apple peal - are then placed by nabe pot along with the vegetables. All of this is strictly according to "the book" of traditional Japanese food.
A portion of the vegetables and meat are dumped into the pot while everyone sits around the table drinking beer and socializing. When the food is ready, the lid comes off the nabe pot and everyone is free to dig in. And when you're talking about the Japanese and food - get ready for long night of drinking.
Nabe wouldn't be complete without an array of dipping sauces for the goods you scoop from the pot: ponzu sauce and sesame sauce are nabe favorites.
And once the nabe pot gets low, you simply dump in more raw vegetables and meat, put the lid back on, crank up the heat and get ready for the next round of eating not-so fast Japanese food. .
In Japan, when it comes to good friends, a cold night and smooth Japanese beer, there's no telling how many rounds of nabe you may conquer. Enjoy