invite your family to wonderful “things in a pot” 

Nabemono enhances collective identity

Nabemono is neither goulash nor soup, as they write on the Wikipedie, maybe something in between. But I suggest adopting the classic nabe as a separate category of food – nabemono. Translated as “things in a pot”. Nabemono puts people around the table together and for this I consider it extraordinary. All people eat at once from one pot – nabe. It may remind you of a fairy tale where hungry children eat with spoons from one pot, but nabemono is different. The dining of nabemono represents a very refined dining etiquette. The pot itself is usually a beautiful ceramic vessel with a lid, often a work of art. It is placed in the middle of the table and a flame burns under it. Based on regions the basic ingredients are put in the pot and still more ingredients are neatly distributed on a large plate. Each guest takes from there what he or she wants to eat and carefully puts it in the pot. He or she remembers what was inserted and respects the pieces inserted by the neighbor. It is not a good idea to catch from the pot what others placed in and eat it. If using own chopsticks, it is good custom to use the opposite side of it when dipping inside the pot. It is more hygienic to do so. Also it is not a good idea to choose the best pieces for self, such as thin slices of extra expensive beef. Good manner is to think about others. People around the table focus on each other and on what they put in the pot and what they eat. Every ingredient shines. For example, beef in sukiyaki nabe only needs to be entrusted to the pot for a few seconds. Eating nabemono is a small ceremony. The famous nabe shabu-shabu – also with the highest quality beef – you eat almost in meditative silence, mainly because it is a food of excellent taste for special occasions. 

Shabu-shabu decided much about my Japanese marriage

My first future husband wanted to dazzle me with a classy feast and invited me to the famous Pontochou district in Kyoto. The restaurant specialized in shabu-shabu. It was very expensive one. I came to Japan because my dad made it a condition that he would agree to our wedding only if I went to that distant Japan and made sure I could live there. He thought that either I would not get permission to travel – it was during deep communism – or if I could get a permit, I would not like it in Japan. But the things of destiny are sometimes strange. Shabu-shabu played a little role in mine life destiny. I’ve been in Japan that night for ten days. I was twenty and I was abroad for the first time. Everything I ate in Japan until the day I liked very much, but probably too many new things made the work. I was starting to be homesick. I found that as we walked past McDonald’s at the station, I longed for fried potato chips and burger. I didn’t dare say that I wanted to eat something so barbarically non-Kyoto like. I was glad that we finally entered the restaurant that my boyfriend had chosen for me. It was a restaurant that specialized in shabu-shabu. He didn’t expect me to know the serving and etiquette of eating this fancy food, so he served me. Well, instead of being happy, I didn’t show much joy. I even argued that it would be much better to have the meat cut into thicker slices and how great the meat would taste if we roasted it on an iron plate like steak and how nicely the oil could crackle. I complained that instead we wash the meat in water and that it’s a shame, and that even the dipping sauce won’t save it, and that and that. I’ve ruined the whole evening. We walked back to the hotel and neither of us spoke. And then we said to each other that we better break up and end our relationship because there was an insurmountable cultural gap between us which shabu-shabu had fully revealed. We each became alone. Separated. But our destiny and our love were stronger than the test of shabu-shabu. Thanks to that shabu-shabu evening, we knew how much we would have to overcome and how painful it would be, but strangely enough we couldn’t break up. We had to try. The next day when we visited Tenryu-ji Temple and when my boyfriend decided to go and taste yudoufu nabe in a famous restaurant there, I didn’t want to say anything in complain. Tofu didn’t inspire me. Strange pudding as if tasteless. I didn’t understand what beauty the Japanese saw in that meal… But I managed to be silent. Now, after forty years, now that I can’t even travel to Japan due to Covid pandemic, I can only dream of nice yudoufu. Wonderful yudoufu! Japan purified my taste buds. I already know that tofu, although it has a bland taste, can be a great delicacy. But at least I’d have to go back to the restaurant at Tenryu-ji Temple. 

Yudoufu not but oden and yosenabe yes

I will not offer Yudoufu nabe to you in Miyabi. I can’t even. I just don’t have that good tofu. Plus, you might be embarrassed. You may get a much better experience when you taste oden nabe. It has a distinctive flavor of broth, there is an egg, potato, radish and much more that you know, and karashi mustard is used for flavoring. In addition oden it is usually served separately for one person already fully prepared. You do not need to know the etiquette. It’s actually typically Japanese street food. It is not much known in the Czech Republic – everyone wants ramen –  but who knows oden knows. Despite the reality I decided to introduce this food to our Miyabi guests. In December. You can also find my blog with the topic Oden on our web. It’s winter food like most nabe. My second husband, who is not Japanese but Czech, considers oden to be the best Japanese food despite I have served him many Japanese delicacies, including best sushi, shoujin ryouri or kaiseki ryouri of high gastronomy. Now that we are cooking oden in Miyabi, he asks for it three times a week. Even for breakfast. 

I would like to introduce you also to another type of nabe, and that is yosenabe. It is basic type of nabemono and the meaning of “yose” is combine all what you desire. You will be able to taste it from Miyabi this weekend. The broth will be made from clams and kombu seaweed, and its taste will be enhanced by shiitake, Chinese cabbage, leeks, tofu and especially miso. It is a north type of nabe from the island of Hokkaido. So before the winter is over, let’s have another gastronomic pleasure. Nabe is a cooked dish and therefore healthy food. And you don’t have to overeat like sumo wrestlers. They are known for eating chanko nabe. It is a large pot of food and contains a lot of hearty components for sumo eaters to gain weight. Often at the end of eating the nabe they add udon noodles to the pot. The broth is made of chicken, not only because it is hearty, but also because the sumo wrestlers are superstitious. In a sumo match, they lose when the opponent gets them on all fours, so they want themselves to be like birds, because birds have only two legs. 

When you taste oden and yosenabe from Miyabi, you will have an idea of how good nabe tastes and what kind of food it is. You will fall in love with nabemono and then you will certainly get the courage to do nabe at home with family or friends. It’s not complicated and you can use for your pot in the middle of your table whatever is your choice according to your fantasy. Get a stove that can be placed on the table, you definitely have a flat thick-walled pot, and if you have a good kombu seaweed, mirin, sake, soy sauce and possibly miso as a base, your nabe will be foreign and homey at the same time. It will be great! You will enrich your repertoire and most importantly, you will create a nice atmosphere around your table. An atmosphere of cooperation and consideration for each other and even for the raw materials you choose in your creativity. Each will have chance to shine. Moreover you will fulfill the most important idea of Japanese cuisine and that is kansha – thanksgiving for the ingredients and for the people who grew them, for the dishes and for those who cooked them, and for those who eat them together as well. Nabe is a food that celebrates relationships. 

When people in Japan start eating and even when one is alone at the table, they say “itadakimasu”. It means, “Let us partake these gifts. I honor these gifts. Thank you for these gifts.” And precisely because of this I like nabemono – the “itadakimasu” seems to be present throughout the whole feast. Nabe is a social event like meal which longs for friendship. 

At that time long ago in Kyoto, in the shabu-shabu restaurant, I may have repeated “itadakimasu” after my friend as a mere word, but I did not understand fully its meaning. In addition, I was limited by my own idea of what was good. And so I really wish you to accept and get to know more and more food that is neither soup nor goulash, but it is nabemono. Nabemono banzai! 

Yours, Miyabi Darja 

Nabe recipe with salmon  (for 4 persons) 
8 tablespoons miso (preferably where there is barley, mugi miso) 
4 tablespoons mirin 
2 tablespoons sake 
1200 ml dashi from combo 
500 g salmon (cut into 4×4 pieces)
500 g cotton tofu (cut into bones, one blog in 8 parts) 
300 g of Chinese cabbage 
200 g baby spinach or chrysanthemum shungiku leaves (SAPA) 
4 – 8 pieces of shiitake (fresh, whole or half) 
300 g daikon (for slices about half an inch wide) 
300 g of negi or spring onion (for 4 cm long stalks, cut lengthwise) 
lemon peel or yuzu peel 
ponzu, if you want to use it as a dip

Spread 4 tablespoons of miso on the bottom of the casserole, add Chinese cabbage and spring onions and cover with another 4 tablespoons of miso. Put shiitake and daikon on it. Nicely lay the tofu, green leaves and salmon on a plate and place it on the table where the feast will be held. In the middle of the table, prepare the stove, turn it on, place the pot on it and add mirin, sake and dashi. Bring to a boil, cook for five minutes and add a few slices of lemon peel or yuzu peel to the scent. Then the co-diners can gradually add pieces of salmon, tofu and green leaves of their choice to the pot. You will need a small ladle to scoop the tofu, because it is difficult with chopsticks. Eaters can take the cooked ingredients together with the broth in their bowls and eat, or they can also have a cup with a ponzu sauce and dip the ingredients in it. When everything is eaten in the pot, put the cooked rice in the resulting broth and let it simmer lightly under the lid so that the rice absorbs the taste. Rice beautifully fills everyone and satisfies. Instead of rice, you can also add udon noodles to the broth. But as for udon it is important to have it there only for a short time so that they don’t stretch, so they don’t soften too much. Enjoy together! 

Homemade ponzu: 
100 ml of soy sauce 
100 ml of lemon juice, you can mix grapefruit or even a little orange slightly 
grated peel of citrus / citrus 
2 tablespoons mirin or sake with a little sugar (or you can slightly adjust the sake with water) 
100 g katsuobushi chips 
piece of kombu seaweed 

Mix everything, put in a glass jar and let it rest in the fridge for a day or two so that the combo and katsuobushi can be extracted well. Strain before use and the ponzu is ready. It will last a week or so. 

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