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Japanese Food 101: Let’s Eat Nabe

By 3 min read 2

If you’re new to Japan and aren’t well versed in Japanese cookery, going to the grocery store is a bit of a nightmare. A shopping trip that should take twenty minutes turns into an hour-long mystery tour. Is that bottle soy sauce? Black vinegar? Some other magical sauce/liquid/concoction that could be used with a lighter to fend off intruders? After a while, your eyes kind of glaze over, you buy only what you recognize and stumble out into the night, saggy plastic bags in hand, confused and defeated.

This scenario is familiar to most, so I recruited a long-time resident to coach me in making a simple, cheap, healthy meal traditionally eaten during cold weather months: Nabe.


The name Nabe refers to the pot itself, like Japanese hot pot. It’s a one pot soup that’s really hard to screw up since you can put pretty much whatever you want in it. Here’s how I made it for the first time.

Sesame Miso Nabe
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
Serves 4

1) Buy a Nabe Pot: There are a couple different kinds- the ceramic pottery-style ones like this need to be seasoned by boiling cabbage in them first.

Ceramic: pretty traditional but also super heavy

Or a non-stick style like this. This is what I bought at Ito Yokado for 2000 yen.


2) Go to the store and get stuff. I bought what my Nabe coach told me to buy, and he read the suggestions of the package, but again—you can do whatever.


  • Soup base: You can buy this at any grocery store. It looks like this. There are different base flavors too: miso, kim chi, vegi-base… we bought the sesame-miso base. You can also make your own base, but in the interest of time and making something edible… we didn’t do that.
Sesame-miso nabe base (and photobomb by my grandpa)…
  • Negi (Japanese leeks)
  • Nira- (Japanese chives)
  • Mushrooms: eringi (big fattys), enoki (little skinny guys), shimeji (fluttery ones)
  • Shabu Shabu pork (any thinly sliced pork or beef would be good—you can do chicken, meatballs, seafood too or just vegi)
  • Hakusai (Chinese cabbage)
  • Tofu (firm—looks like this)
Mushrooms and tofu go with everything. Maybe not my feet…

This all cost around 1200 jpy. Hella cheap.

Nabe in process

Now do this:

1) Start the soup base on low heat.

2) While that’s warming up, wash and chop the hakusai. Rough cut it into big chunks because it shrinks. Set aside.

3) Rough cut the negi at an angle into 2-3 cm pieces

4) Rough cut the nira into 4-5 cm pieces

5) Chunk cut the eringi

6) Shimeji- clean and break apart

7) Enoki—wash, trim the yucky stuff off—pull apart

8) Cube the tofu—slice it in half if it’s block style

9) Toss everything in—you can mix it up or arrange it by vegi group for a pretty composite-style.

Pretty stuff in a thing.

10) Cook over medium heat until the negi and hakusai are tender.

11) Add the shabu style pork last… it will cook quickly.

BOOM. Awesome, easy, healthy, and cheap. Making this totally boosted my confidence at the grocery store. I must make all kinds of other winter deliciousness—if you have any cool cooking blogs or ideas—let me know!


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  • Dnai Fear says:

    I had the fortune of becoming friends with a gentleman of Japanese descent and, as I am prone to do, I decided I wanted to cook something to share when he came to visit. Among the many many nabe recipes I happened across, the basic dashi recipe I found again and again began with kombu and katsuobushi, and expanded to also include simmered shrimp shells and a separately made mushroom dashi (made from home-dried and then soaked portabella mushrooms. I tried shiitake, but just couldn’t quite abide the unusual taste or smell.) After some small batch experimentation, I turned out something that, at the very least, I enjoyed eating. Imagine my surprise when I served a bowl to my friend and he ate every bit of it, remarking that it reminded him of his childhood in his grandmother’s kitchen. I had fun making nabe up to that point, but that moment sparked an even greater joy and I resolved to keep kombu and bonito on hand at all times. Even my 7-year old daughter loves mommy’s nabe and is always right beside me to taste test as I add garlic and ginger, a splash of soy sauce, a dash of white pepper, and of course so she can steal bites of the veggies as she helps throw them into the pot.