Friday, December 17, 2010

Japanese Hotpot

What is the most simple, quick and easy Japanese meal that you can prepare at home, yet it is healthy, comforting and satisfying for your family while it can also be an impressive dish to serve if you have guests at home?  

My Nabemono with meat, seafood and vegetables cooked in dashi

Nabemono (锅物) or Japanese Hotpot, is very much similar to our Chinese Steamboat, except in our Chinese steamboat, we cook the steamboat ingredients in batches or up to individual preferences.  For Japanese hotpot, all the ingredients (meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu etc) are arranged beautifully and cooked together in a pot with some broth.  It can be a simple meal of tofu, vegetables in broth or an extravagant hotpot with Japanese crab legs.  At meal-time, the hotpot is placed in the centre of the table and diners simply pick the cooked ingredients from the pot and eat it with a dip or together with some broth.

Japanese hotpot also hold a memorable dining experience for me during my recent Japan trip ......

We were at Hakone (hotspring mountainous resort area, about an hour from Tokyo by Japan Railway) and knowingly missed our last public bus back to our hotel.  The last bus service to our hotel stops at 3.30pm during winter time.  But hey, we are on vacation, I should'nt be staying in the hotel room at 3.30pm!  At around 5.45pm, we were at the Togendai Ropeway Terminal Station, trying to catch a private line Izu bus service back to hotel (ropeway services ended at 4.15pm, hence no tourists in sight and the whole area was a dead silence).  We checked the bus schedule at the bus-stop and realised the next bus is scheduled to arrive at 7.50pm!  What are we to do at the almost pitch-dark bus-stop for 2 hours, with no street lights except for the dim lighting from the vending machine behind the bus-stop, at a freezing cold temperature of below 8 degC and no taxi in sight???  The whole place looks like a scene taken out from a horror movie, where anytime a werewolf will pound onto you from nowhere!  My husband and I sandwiched our daughter tightly between us, so that she does not feel too cold.  Then, we saw lights from a shop, about a few hundred meter away (yes, only one shop is opened).  I prayed hard that it is a restaurant, so we can have something to keep ourselves warm (and hopefully not too expensive - things at Hakone are really expensive).  

Yes, it was a restaurant!  The restaurant (仁屋)is run by two jovial Japanese young men.  The menu is written in Japanese, but we managed to figure out what we ordered as we saw the Chinese characters "锅物" (literally mean stuffs in pot) and "豚" (pork).  It was a simple Japanese hotpot with cabbage, beansprouts and pork slices, but it was very satisfying for us at that time.  We asked the owner for rice to go with the hotpot, but he told us (in a mixture of Japanese, English and the universal language of hand-gesturing) he will add rice in the hotpot and prepare a porridge for us at the end of the meal.  My hubby looked at me and said "Wah... you can understand what he's trying to say?".  I grinned.... "I watched Japan Hour mah ... ha!"

The ingredients I have now in my hotpot are much better than what I had in Hakone.  But, it was a very different experience when you have hotpot in a cold weather.  I truly appreciate the meaning of our Chinese saying “雪中送炭”, though of course, we do have to pay for our Japanese hotpot then, at Y2200.  


1) Prepare dashi - combine a handful of shaved bonito flakes, few pieces of dried Japanese seaweed (kombu) with about 600 - 800ml tap water.  Boil for 5 minutes, off heat and let it seat for another 5 minutes.   Sieve the liquid and you have your clear dashi stock (you can add another 300ml water to the pot to obtain a 2nd batch of stock, though the taste will be less flavourful).

2) Pour dashi into hotpot and add salt, soya sauce or miso paste to taste.  Place your cut vegetables, meat, tofu etc into hotpot, cover and turn heat on high.  When hotpot starts bubbling, wait for another few minutes and you can start your meal.

3) After you finished your food from the hotpot, with the remaining stock in the hotpot, add some cooked rice and turn heat on high.  Add more stock, if necessary.  When the porridge starts bubbling, add beaten egg and turn off heat.  Stir, add some chopped spring onion and shredded Japanese seaweed on top.

My yummy Japanese seaweed porridge:

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