8 November 2023

Cold Outside, Boiling Inside: How to Make Nabe

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Around mid-October, the weather in Japan begins to settle into the chill of autumn. With autumn comes good vibes: the leaves change, the sweaters come out, the windows open to let cool air in. All this means it's time to plan a menu that warms you from the inside out — and one of the top choices in Japan is nabe.

Nabe means "hot pot" and is a common sight at mealtimes when the temperatures drop. It's traditionally made in a donabe, a clay pot that doubles as both cookware and serving dish. Place the pot directly on your heating element to cook to perfection, then transfer it to the table to eat. Or use a tabletop stove to cook directly at the table for a more interactive experience.

Nabe itself is completely customizable, with no two nabe dishes being the exact same. Simply start with your favorite soup base, then add protein, vegetables, konjac, noodles, and more. Whatever your heart (or stomach) desires, it can be put in your nabe.

If you're new to nabe, worry not. We at Musubi Kiln are great nabe connoisseurs, so to celebrate the season, we've compiled a list of some of our favorite ingredients (or nabe no gu), to give you some starting points. But, as long as it’s delicious, there's no wrong way to do nabe.


  • The Heart of Nabe: Soup
  • The Starring Role: Ingredients
  • The Finishing Touch: Condiments
  • A Few of Our Favorite Donabe

The Heart of Nabe: Soup

Ultimately, it's not a nabe dish without the soup. The soup can be incredibly versatile, and lends a lot of the flavor to the dish itself. Some common soup bases are made with dashi and miso, but can even include kimchi and soy milk for the more adventurous palate.

The Starring Role: Ingredients

Once you've picked your foundation and set it to boil, it's time to start building your nabe with the nabe no gu. We should quickly mention that ingredients, especially meat, may be sliced quite thin so they cook rapidly in the boiling soup. Keep the cooking times of the various ingredients in mind as you eat so you don't accidentally overcook anything. That said, even overcooked items are full of flavor from the soup, so it's not a real loss.

We recommend putting any mushrooms or hardy vegetables in first. You can also swirl a few pieces of meat around, shabu-shabu style to impart even more umami. Other vegetables come next, and then tofu and mochi can go in last, as they'll soak up flavor while you eat the other ingredients.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of ingredients that the Musubi Kiln team recommends that you add, to give you an idea of just how flexible this meal is:

Chrysanthemum greens, which are called kikuna in eastern Japan and shungiku in western Japan. They provide a crunchy texture and herbaceous flavor. You can also fill up the pot with other vegetables like napa cabbage, spring onions, carrots, and bean sprouts.

Maitake and shiitake mushrooms — perfect for adding more umami to the broth. These mushrooms are also an excellent substitute for meat if you don't partake.

Meatballs and fishcakes, including chicken dango (recommended to eat with a lot of garlic added in!) and nerimono. Add all the spheres you like, they'll enhance the soup with fishy, meaty flavors.

Thinly sliced meats are great to cook quickly and dip in sauce. Go for classics like pork belly (with a lot of green onions) and beef, or try lamb!

Seafood is a popular choice as well, with the team recommending shrimp and scallops. Fish recommendations included blowfish (fugu), splendid alfonsino, and monkfish.

Finally, no nabe is complete without a few mochi kinchaku, which are little aburaage tofu pouches with a piece of mochi tucked inside. These sit and soak up flavors while cooking, so they're best saved for later.

The Finishing Touch: Condiments

Make sure to set out little plates and bowls for people to let their cooked ingredients cool down and then dip in their favorite sauces. Not all nabe meals typically come with sauce, but since it's customized, you can play around and see what you like. Sukiyaki-style nabe could include a raw egg for dipping, while Shabu Shabu-style pairs well with ponzu sauce or sesame sauce.

You're now equipped with the knowledge to stay warm this winter over a hot pot of nabe. Musubi Kiln has a variety of donabes and cooking utensils, so all you need to do is make the grocery list and hit the shops. Itadakimasu!

A Few of Our Favorite Donabe:

Ginpo Kikka Banko Donabe Japanese Clay Pot for 2 to 3 persons

This pot holds portions for up to 3 people, making it excellent for a small dinner gathering. The design is available in other sizes, so you can choose the right one for your plans. It's pre-seasoned, meaning you can start cooking the same day it arrives at your home.

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Ginpo Mishima Banko Donabe Japanese Clay Pot for 3 to 4 persons

The gradient floral design on this donabe has been gracing tables for over 50 years, and has been a long-time favorite of professional chefs here in Japan. Its capacity holds portions for up to 4 people, but it's lighter than other pots so you can easily take it from kitchen to table.

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