Warm Up with Japanese Hot Pot: A Guide to Savory Comfort in a Pot

by Nana Young

There’s nothing like a simmering bowl of Japanese hot pot to warm you up in cold weather. But the dish has a lot more to offer than its heat. Discover the delicious broth and ingredient varieties of hot pots in Japan.

Introduction to Hot Pot in Japanese Cooking

the tradition Japanese style hotpot which put meat and vegetable boiled and grilled in hot soup

The Japanese hot pot is a famous dish that is typically eaten during the winter. The dish is popular in modern homes due to its delicious taste and ability to stimulate conversations at the table. “Nabe” is the term used for hot pot in Japanese. It typically consists of a variety of fresh ingredients, like meat, seafood, or vegetables, in a delicious broth.

There are a wide variety of hot pot dishes available across the country. Sukiyaki, shabu-shabu, and chanko-nabe are only three out of over a dozen variations. They are also among the most popular hot pots in Asia. Besides providing warmth and communal dining, Japanese hot pots are highly nutritious, easy to prepare, and fun to eat!

Let’s dive into the true meaning of the nabe, its key components, and its different varieties. We’ll also explore some must-try sauces and dips to pair with the simmering dishes.

What is Japanese Hot Pot?

One ingredient of the oden pot, sardine fish ball

The Japanese hot pot, or nabe, is a mixture of fresh ingredients, especially meats, seafood, or vegetables, all cooked and served in a pot of simmering soup. Common ingredients used to make the dish are: beef, pork, chicken, fish, shrimp, clams, tofu, soybean products, sweet potatoes, carrots, green onions, cabbage, and shiitake mushrooms.

Nabe is made using a simple concept: you cook a series of fresh ingredients in a flavorful broth at the table and eat the food while the pot simmers. Everyone at the table scoops hot food directly from the pot. In most cases, more ingredients and side dishes like rice or noodles are added to the pot over time.

You’ll find Japanese hot pot served in Asian restaurants. If you hope to make it at home using the traditional method, you’ll need a special clay pot and a portable stove.

Japan is not the only nation with hot pot dishes. China, South Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand also have their own versions. However, the Japanese hot pot is different from the others because its broth is made from dashi soup stock. People from all over the world can enjoy the different kinds of nabe originating from Japan.

Exploring Different Types of Japanese Hot Pot

Sukiyaki with high class Japanese beef

There are many different kinds of hot pots in Japanese cooking, each with their own unique flavors and ingredients. The following are some basic descriptions:

  1. Sukiyaki: a simmering dish made with beef and vegetables cooked in a soup of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. Sometimes, pork is used instead of beef. It has a complex and sweet flavor.

  2. Shabu-shabu: a popular hot pot dish made by cooking thinly sliced beef, chicken, or pork, and vegetables in a umami-rich broth of kombu (dried kelp) dashi. Swishing the meat in the pot before serving is a big part of shabu-shabu’s identity.

  3. Oden: a dish made by cooking various ingredients in a light, soy-flavored dashi soup. Common oden ingredients include daikon, eggs, konjac, potatoes, and fish cakes.

  4. Chanko-nabe: a robust and protein-rich hot pot typically eaten by sumo wrestlers looking to gain weight. It contains chicken, fish, shrimp, bacon, pork, sausages, vegetables, or any other protein served in chicken broth.  

  5. Yose-nabe: a basic Japanese hot pot made by cooking chicken, seafood, and vegetables in dashi broth. It offers a light and rich flavor.

  6. Yudofu: a simple dish of hot tofu cooked in broth and topped with umami-rich soy sauce, chopped green onion, and ginger.

  7. Motsu-nabe: a dish made from motsu (beef or pork small intestines), tofu, and a variety of other ingredients cooked in a dashi broth of soy sauce and miso. It has a tender, yet fatty taste.

The Art of Japanese Hot Pot Broth

Sukiyaki with high class Japanese beef

The broth used in hot pot preparation is the foundation of the whole meal. It holds most of the flavors and helps to keep the ingredients simmering at the table. You can easily identify Japanese hot pots by the presence of a dashi base, which is typically made from dried kelp, shiitake mushrooms, and bonito flakes. Other types of hot pot bases include miso (fermented soybean paste) and soy sauce.

To make the hot pot broth at home, we recommend that you use a donabe pot. Its ceramic design and ability to retain flavors and distribute heat make it an ideal choice for hot pots. The following is a basic recipe (plus cooking tips) for a versatile Japanese hot pot broth: 

  1. In a large pot, mix 4 cups of dashi and 4 tablespoons each of the other base ingredients: mirin, soy sauce, sake, and mirin. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and some water.

  2. Cover the pot and allow it to simmer on the stove.

  3. Get the meat, seafood, vegetables, and seasoning of your choice ready.

  4. Increase the heat on the pot and allow the broth to boil. Your hot pot broth is ready for the main ingredients.

  5. Fill the pot with the first batch of ingredients (meats and seafood first) and close it.

  6. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes and serve hot.

Essential Ingredients for Japanese Hot Pot

Chicken sumo wrestler's stew Japanese foods(chanko)

The key to a delicious Japanese hot pot dish is finding the right ingredients. To ensure an authentic experience, you need to prioritize freshness when selecting the different ingredients. Make sure that whatever you pick looks and smells fresh. If possible, only use restaurant-grade food items. Below is a list of the essential ingredients that go into making a traditional hot pot.

  1. Meat: It’s one of the main sources of protein in the dish. Meats for hot pots are mostly chicken (meatballs, tender, or thighs), pork (belly or loin), or beef (steak, brisket, short rib, or ribeye).

  2. Seafood: You might prefer seafood as a protein alternative to meat or combine both for a more robust diet. Examples include shrimp, clams, or fish (salmon, squirt, or shellfish).

  3. Vegetables: They add healthy fibre to the dish. Examples are carrot, cabbage, daikon, and mushrooms (shiitake, enoki, or shimeji).

  4. Tofu: The meal may contain different kinds of tofu, including medium-firm tofu and egg tofu.

  5. Staple food: After cooking all the meats and veggies, it’s common practice to add cooked rice or noodles (mostly udon) to the pot and enjoy.

  6. Seasonings: Add a burst of umami to your hot pot with the help of flavorful sake, soy sauce, mirin, chili, and salt.

  7. Garnish: These are toppings that add color, taste, aroma, and texture to the hot pot dish. You can use scallion, yuzu, or chicken tempura.

Japanese Hot Pot Dining Etiquette

Enjoy eating Shabu Shabu and Sukiyaki in hot pot at japanese restaurant

The hot pot has its own set of cultural etiquette created to help you and others get the best experience from the meal. The first unwritten rule is to add the initial set of ingredients when the broth is boiling. You and others will add more ingredients over the course of the meal. However, try to remember the correct cooking order: heavy meats and seafood first, followed by root vegetables, and lastly thin slices of meat or leaves. Be careful not to add too many ingredients at once. Doing that would lower the broth’s temperature and slow the cooking considerably.

Learn the difference between personal and communal utensils. You can only add or remove food to and from the pot using the communal utensils. So, keep them separate from the personal utensils you use for the food on your platter. Once your ingredients are done cooking, carefully remove the food and add it to a dipping sauce of your choice.

Pairing Sauces and Dips for Hot Pot

Sukiyaki sauce, Japanese cuisine, Japanese food

Not all types of Japanese hot pots require you to dip food in a sauce. However, sauces and dips are a big part of nabe, especially with sukiyaki, shabu-shabu, and yodofu. The most popular dipping sauce for this purpose is ponzu. It’s made with soy sauce and citrus juice. Ponzu gives the food a tart and savory flavor.

Another popular hot pot sauce is goma dare, also known as sesame sauce. It’s a creamy, savory, and flavorful dipping sauce prepared by mixing sesame paste, dashi, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar.

We can’t talk about dipping sauces without mentioning the Japanese spicy miso sauce made with white miso paste, mirin, sake, sesame oil, chili oil, and a variety of spices.

Vegetarian and Vegan Options for Japanese Hot Pot

Soy Milk Hot Pot, with napa cabbage, bok choi, mushrooms, cooked in a creamy and savory soy milk broth

You don’t have to give up your vegetarian or vegan diet to enjoy Japanese hot pot. The dish is quite flexible and you can stick to adding only non-meat ingredients to the pot. All kinds of vegetables, tofu, and mushrooms are your best bet.

Things get slightly more tricky when you consider the broth, as most dashi contain katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and other dried fish. Thankfully, there’s a vegan dashi made with kombu (dried kelp) and shiitake mushrooms. It’s very easy to make and is available in Asian grocery stores and restaurants. The best part is that you get to enjoy the same umami-rich flavor in your hot pot.

The Health Benefits of Japanese Hot Pot

Hot pot with meat with Vegetable.

The Japanese hot pot can be a healthy meal if you are conscious of the type of ingredients you add to it. Already, boiling the meat and vegetables means that the meal does not contain additional fat or oil. However, the common hot pot ingredients also provide a lot of nutrients.

Vegetables like mushrooms, scallions, and cabbages are great sources of vitamins and minerals. Also, dashi contains amino acids that help control appetite and fight tiredness. The kelp and bonito flakes in the stock can also provide anti-inflammatory properties. Overall, most hot pot dishes are low in calories and high in proteins and other essential nutrients. 

Japanese Hot Pot Across the Seasons

Tonyu nabe. Soy milk soup hot pot in Japanese.

The simmering hot pot is most popular in the winter; however, you can enjoy it all year round. One way to do so is to use seasonal vegetables and ingredients to reflect the time of year. This will ensure that you use only fresh and nutritious ingredients in the meal. Below are the seasonal ingredients that you can add to your hot pot for each season in Japan:

  1. Summer: bell pepper, edamame, lettuce, ginger, yuzu (citrus fruit), sardine, horse mackerel, and eel.

  2. Autumn: shiitake mushroom, rice, sweet potato, chum salmon, bonito, and mackerel.

  3. Spring: bamboo shoot, shiitake mushroom, potato, citrus fruit, and clam.

  4. Winter: napa cabbage, daikon, tuna, sweet shrimp, and renkon.

Where to Experience Authentic Japanese Hot Pot in Japan

Happy waiter bring seafood and serving group of friends in restaurant.

Hot pot dishes are common in Japanese restaurants and households. If you find yourself in Tokyo, there’s no shortage of well-known restaurants to cater to your needs. Nabezo Shibuya Koendori in Shibuya, Tokyo, is one of the best places to enjoy hot pot. They offer both regular and vegan options. You’ll love their outstanding service and flavorful soup broth.

Other famous hot pot spots in Tokyo are MO-MO-PARADISE Shibuya Center-gai, Nabezo Shinjuku Meijidori, and Iberico-ya (Roppongi Branch). Feel free to try out local hidden gems like Chanko Tomoegata and XIao Way Yan Ayase.


Family having hot pot together at home

The best part of the Japanese hot pot experience is sharing a tasty meal with friends, family, and even strangers. Nabe has the unique ability to bring people together through a shared love for food. Experience the joys of diving into the rich world of Japanese hot pot by making it at home or seeking it out during your next visit to Japan. If possible, share the meal with friends and loved ones.

All aspects of Japanese culture are better shared with people you love. We’ve made it much easier to do so. Explore Bokksu Boutique and choose from our collections of snacks, treats, and all kinds of authentic gift items from Japan.

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