What is curry nabe?
A symbol of family gatherings, where an entire family would eat surrounding a nabe.
A nabe, or hotpot, refers to a dish where a nabe pot used for food preparation itself is brought to the dining table, where a number of people eat from it by serving their own portion onto their individual serving bowls. Generally, ingredients such as meat, vegetables and fish are stewed on the table in a nabe pot, and are then eaten with a dip and condiments poured into individual dishes. The sight of multiple people circling a single nabe pot has been regarded as a symbol of family gatherings in Japan. Furthermore, a nabe is also a popular choice not only among families, but also among friends and colleagues. It is a dish that can create a friendly meal setting. In recent years, there have been nabe dishes for one person that target single people and nabe dishes for summer, showing that their serving methods are diversifying.
In the past, the most common type of nabe was mizutaki. It is a very simple nabe in which ingredients are cooked in unseasoned water. However, there has been a wider variety of nabe dishes in recent years. For example, there are unique nabe dishes targeting women, such as kimchi nabe and collagen nabe, as well as curry nabe, cheese nabe, dumpling nabe, and ramen nabe, which target households with children.
Other nabe dishes include chanko nabe eaten by sumo wrestlers, which has also become common and popular in recent years.
In addition, an eating style of putting in udon noodles and rice in the broth which the ingredients were stewed in is also common. Such udon noodles and rice are eaten as stewed udon and zosui (rice porridge) to finish off the meal.
Nabe dishes are not prepared by simply heating the pot with fire. It is a dish that is constantly changing and without a finished form, involving such processes as moderating the stewing of the ingredients, removing scum, moderating water temperature, and adding ingredients. This process of eating while, in a way, “cultivating”, is similar to yakiniku.
In addition, a division of roles exists when a group of people surround a nabe pot.
For example, there will be those who will look after the fire temperature, those who moderate the water temperature and those who add ingredients. Therefore, the dining table is surprisingly busy.
There is interesting trivia related to such roles.
Whenever a group of people gather to eat nabe, a person who tries to control the whole process almost always appears. In Japan, such roles are referred as nabe bugyo, based on the official positions that existed during the Edo period (1603-1868). Bugyo, or magistrates, are symbols of authority that had powers back during the Edo period. In addition, as such, the term nabe bugyo makes fun of those who manage the cooking process of nabe dishes at a table serving nabe.
Being a nabe bugyo can be a slightly bothersome existence, since they have their own fixed values toward nabe and force it upon others. At the same time, if one leaves the nabe bugyo to do the cooking, the others can enjoy a delicious nabe dish. Also, there is a nabe shogun that cannot be ignored.
The shogun is indeed the most powerful person in the samurai family, and in a nabe cooking scene, the nabe shogun has a character that even surpasses that of the nabe bugyo, showing anger at those at the table who go against their set of manners. In addition, there is the scum governor, whose only participation is removing the aku, or scum (since evil is “aku” in Japanese and is pronounced the same, the name comes from an “evil governor”, who frequently appears in samurai dramas).
Those who do nothing but simply wait for the nabe dish to be ready are called machi bugyo (waiting bugyo) for males and machi musume (waiting girls) for females. In Japanese, ‘machi’ means town, which has the same sound as ‘waiting’.
When you come to visit Japan, you may not be able to actually see such sights. However, you should have a Japanese nabe dish at least once.
Although the history of the nabe goes a long way back, nabe dishes are relatively new.
The nabe as a cooking utensil itself can trace its origin back to 300 BC, its history spanning many years. However, the nabe dish itself was not established for a long time.
Japanese residences before pre-modern times already had an irori, an open fireplace for lighting and heating, separate to the oven in a kitchen. It is said that a meal style where meals stewed in a large pot in an irori that were shared was a daily practice.
Thereafter, it is said that people started eating nabe dishes around the 1800s during the Edo period (1603-1868) by taking charcoal braziers and nabe pots into the sitting room. This is said to be the origin of the nabe dishes currently being eaten.
Techniques for making nabe dishes taste even better
The most obvious technique involved in nabe dishes has to be the dashi soup stock. There are many nabe dishes nowadays that can be enjoyed easily without requiring too much work, with retort-pouched and ready-made dashi being available. However, you should experience a real nabe dish at least once.
Although there are many different dashi soups in nabe dishes, the most common ones involve gathering sufficient dashi from kombu seaweed and skipjack, and stewing ingredients in it thereafter. Others include using seafood such as crabs and shellfish as dashi themselves, eating them as ingredients. Additionally, dashi can also be obtained from chicken. As a principle, the technique of fully extracting the taste of ingredients into dashi decides the flavor of nabe dishes.
Nabe dishes across Japan
Nabe dishes from different parts of Japan are unique. Since it is a simple dish, local special foods such as seafood, meat and vegetables are made prominent, making the dishes a pleasant sight to look at. Below are the major local nabe from different regions.
1. Ishikari nabe (Hokkaido)
Offal of fish (sections such as the head of the fish after the major parts have been removed. It is often used effectively in order to obtain dashi) which includes lumps of fresh salmon and backbones are thrown into the nabe, and eaten by seasoning with miso. Vegetables, such as cabbage and onions, and tofu are also added to this signature nabe dish from Hokkaido. Salmon fishing has been conducted in the Ishikari region since the Edo period. It is said that this nabe dish was started by fishermen eating it on board as a reward to themselves for enduring the harsh winter.
2. Shottsuru-nabe (Akita prefecture)
Shottsuru is a traditional condiment of Akita, and is a fish sauce made by fermenting small fish such as sailfin sandfish by adding salt and malted rice. The local nabe dish of Akita that uses such shottsuru is the shottsuru nabe. With fish such as sailfin sandfish also used as raw ingredients in shottsuru with codfish being the main ingredient, they are stewed in a nabe pot along with tofu and vegetables, such as naganegi onions.
3. Anko nabe
It is said that while blowfish is the delicacy in the western regions of Japan, anglerfish (anko) is the delicacy in the eastern regions, and as such, famous for being a high-quality fish. Contrary to its grotesque appearance, it is said that anglerfish does not have a part that cannot be eaten, with all sections but the bones being edible. The way anko is cooked varies by region. One such method is dobu-jiru, which is prepared by using no water at all, except for the moisture of the fish itself, and seasoned with soy sauce and miso.
4. Dojo nabe (Tokyo)
Dojo nabe is famous as a special dish from the downtown area of Tokyo. In the past, dojo, or loach, was a fish that could be caught in the rice-producing areas across Japan and was eaten in a miso nabe. Dojo is extremely high in nutritional values, and has traditionally been regarded as a food that gives a lot of stamina. A loach contains approximately nine times more calcium that an eel does, and also includes an abundance of Vitamin D, iron and zinc.
There are different types of dojo nabe, including maru-nabe (whole nabe) in which a dojo in its entirely is put into the nabe without its bones removed to be stewed to the point that even the bones become soft. Honenuki-nabe (boneless nabe) enables the eater to enjoy the actual meat of dojo by removing its bones, and Yanagawa nabe has thinly sliced burdock inserted and beaten eggs dropped in.
5. Fuguchiri (Yamaguchi prefecture)
Chiri nabe (a fish stew) is eaten by serving the ingredients, which have been stewed in water, with the broth onto a plate and then dressing it with sauces such as ponzu vinegar. Chiri nabe, which lets you enjoy the natural flavor of the raw ingredients, is perfect for blowfish from the Shimonoseki region with its light, elegant taste. There is an anecdote surrounding the Shimonoseki blowfish in which Hirofumi Ito, the first Japanese prime minister, was so moved by its delicious taste that he lifted the ban on blowfish for only Yamaguchi prefecture, which was prohibited in Japan at the time.
6. Motsu nabe (Fukuoka prefecture)
Motsu nabe, a dish that represents Hakata city in Fukuoka prefecture is said to originate from eating horumon (cow or pig entrails) stewed in an aluminum nabe in the period not long after World War II ended.
Motsu nabe in Hakata at present has two major types of soups; miso-flavor and soy sauce flavor. It is commonly prepared by stewing vegetables such as Chinese chives, cabbage and bean sprouts along with cow entrails (motsu). It is eaten with seasonings such as chili pepper and garlic and is also known as a stamina food.
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