Tag Archives: hakusai

Is Nabe Japan’s Potjiekos?

South Africans love potjiekos, meaning ‘little pot food’, but it does mean braving the cold, sometimes for hours, for that scrumptious dish. Perhaps the Japanese can offer us an alternative: nabe.

Japanese Nabe (Source, adapted: commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 2.0)

On these frigid winter evenings, there’s nothing more comforting than a warm, hearty meal. What better than a one pot dish that you simply throw all the ingredients into and let simmer. Donabe, or nabe for short, means ‘pot’, and while it can be cooked over a fire, it is typically prepared inside, on a stove top, in less than an hour.

What’s in the Pot?

Traditionally, a large clay pot with an inner glaze is used for nabe, but these days, the more economical cast iron variety can be found in many Japanese homes.

Unlike potjie that begins by frying meat, nabe starts with a broth. This broth is made from dashi (dried bonito and seaweed stock), mirin (low alcohol, sweet rice wine), sake (rice wine), soy sauce, and salt. Meat and an assortment of vegetables are added to this. The ingredients vary according to region and taste, but napa cabbage, Japanese leek, enoki mushrooms and carrots cut into a flower shape are popular. They are arranged aesthetically and, in the same way as potjiekos, not stirred but left in place to cook and absorb the flavour of the broth.

Napa cabbage, daikon radish, Japanese leek, and spinach.
Napa cabbage, daikon radish, Japanese leek, and spinach (Source, adapted: rawpixel.com)

Fighting Fit

South African potjiekos was brought over by the Dutch in the 17th century. The Voortrekkers found this method of pot cooking a useful way to feed a lot of people. Similarly, as sumo gained popularity in Japan around 1909, nabe became a good solution for providing the growing number of wrestlers with a filling, nutritious meal.

Each sumo stable has their own recipe for chankonabe. So called by combining the affectionate term for their leaders (chan) and youth (ko) who would eat together. Chankonabe can contain pork, beef, and seafood. However, before a competition, chicken is favoured as it is believed to be good luck to eat meat from a two legged animal.

You don’t have to be a sumo wrestler to sample this tasty dish. Today, this delicious treat can be enjoyed in restaurants in the sumo district of Ryogoku, Tokyo, or whipped up at home following a simple online recipe.

Every Last Nabe Drop

It would be a shame to waste all those yummy juices, so here’s where mottainai — the Japanese philosophy of waste not, want not — comes in. Once the meat and vegetables have been eaten, the remaining broth is poured over cooked rice to make a second course: ojiya. It’s a bit like mopping up your potjie with a slice of bread.

Nourishing Our People

No matter your preference, nabe and potjiekos have a lot in common. Most importantly, they share the concept of nabe o kakomu — gathering around the cooking pot — bringing communities together, united through good food.