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Japanese Hot Pot: 10 Types of Nabe Dishes in Japan

When it’s cold outside, one of the easiest and most comforting go-to dishes for people in Japan is nabe. Having originated in the Jōmon period (14,000 BCE to 300 BCE), it’s also one of the oldest types of food in Japan.

Nabe (鍋, なべ) is a Japanese hot pot dish consisting of meat and vegetables that are simmered in a broth in a pot, which is also called “nabe”. 

This balanced meal is popular in Japan for its versatility since you can put lots of different ingredients inside, and it is delicious yet easy to make. Simply heat the broth, add the meat and veggies, and let it simmer until cooked. After that, take out what you want to eat into a small bowl and enjoy it with a side of rice. 

Nabe is also easy to share and is a common meal for families to enjoy around the table, especially in winter, with everyone taking what they want to eat out of the same pot. 

After the meat and vegetables are done and only broth remains, nabe tends to be finished off by adding either ramen or udon noodles to the broth, or cooked rice and cheese to make a risotto.  

There are various types of nabe in Japan, so in this article, I’ll dive into popular nabe dishes that are enjoyed across the country.

1. Yosenabe (寄せ鍋, よせなべ)

This is the quintessential nabe that consists of a dashi broth made with konbu (also romanized as kombu) or bonito.

People usually place tofu, chicken, seafood, mushrooms, and Chinese cabbage into this type of nabe, but there are no hard rules. It’s truly a stew made with whatever you have on hand!

A white ceramic pot (nabe) absolutely packed with ingredients for a type of Japanese hot pot called 'yosenabe' - including fish, oysters, prawns, fish balls, tofu, various types of mushroom, and cabbage.
Japanese hot pot: ‘Yosenabe’ can easily accommodate lots of different ingredients, making it great for using up whatever you have on hand /via Photo AC.

2. Tōnyū Nabe (豆乳鍋, とうにゅうなべ)

Tōnyū nabe contains a soy milk (tōnyū) broth and dashi, so it tastes creamy and a little sweet. Common ingredients for this nabe include thinly-sliced pork, carrots, and both soft and fried tofu. 

Sometimes people like to add chili oil, miso, or white sesame paste on top to give it a little more kick. It’s also recommended to finish off the broth by adding rice topped with cheese.

A Japanese hot pot called 'tonyu nabe' in a black ceramic nabe pot. Inside is a milky soy milk broth with thinly sliced pork, cabbage, enoki mushrooms, green (spring) onions, and either pork or fish balls.
Tōnyū nabe: This creamy Japanese hot pot features a soy milk broth /via Photo AC.

3. Kimchi Nabe (キムチ鍋)

This is one of my favorite kinds of nabe and it is quite popular throughout Japan. Unsurprisingly, the broth contains kimchi, so it’s red, and a little sour and spicy.

Typically, this nabe has thinly-sliced pork, scallions, bean sprouts, Chinese cabbage, carrots, and tofu.  

Although this nabe can be finished with ramen or udon noodles, people also like to enjoy the remaining broth with rice and cheese.

Kimchi nabe: A golden bronze nabe pot filled with a red kimchi-based broth. Close to camera, a pair of black chopsticks are holding up a thin slice of pork out of the broth. In the background, other ingredients, such as greens and tofu, can be seen in the pot.
Kimchi nabe: This type of Japanese hot pot uses a kimchi-based broth and is a fantastic winter warmer /via Photo AC.

4. Chanko Nabe (ちゃんこ鍋)

Chanko refers to meals prepared by sumo wrestlers. To provide the necessary nutrition for the wrestlers, chanko nabe is packed with chicken, meatballs, seafood, tofu, and vegetables such as mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, and carrots, which are all simmered in a chicken-based broth. 

Although this dish was originally made for sumo wrestlers, it is also commonly eaten by the general public nowadays.

Interestingly, people tend to avoid making chanko nabe using meat from animals that walk on all fours, such as pork and beef, since being on all fours is associated with losing a game in sumo.

Chanko nabe: A large silver stainless steel pot on a portable gas stove. The pot contains 'chanko nabe', a type of Japanese hot pot designed to satiate the dietary needs of sumo wrestlers. The pot is packed to the brim with meat, vegetables and tofu.
‘Chanko nabe’ is a type of Japanese hot pot designed to satiate the dietary needs of sumo wrestlers /via Photo AC.

5. Curry Nabe (カレー鍋)

As the name suggests, this is a nabe with a broth consisting of dashi and curry roux. Although it has curry in it, it has a milder taste and is commonly eaten with sausage, potatoes, and tomatoes, making it popular with kids.

This is another broth that people like to finish with rice topped with cheese. 

A pot of curry nabe. Inside the Japanese curry-based broth is thinly-sliced pork, frankfurter sausages, cabbage and broccoli.
Japanese hot pot: ‘Curry nabe’ featuring a Japanese-style curry roux broth is a popular crowd pleaser /via Photo AC.

6. Motsunabe (もつ鍋)

This nabe contains pork or beef offal, called motsu (もつ) in Japanese, which is cooked in a dashi broth with Chinese cabbage, green onion, and tofu. Since the dish is packed with collagen, it’s considered quite healthy and good for beauty.

Motsunabe originated in Fukuoka prefecture in the Shōwa period (1926-1989). It is believed that men working in coal mines in the area needed something cheap to eat that gave them energy. At the time, offal was discarded, but instead they decided to use it to make motsunabe, a nutritious yet budget-friendly dish that gave them much-needed stamina.

A silver stainless steel pot on a portable gas stove containing 'motsunabe', a type of Japanese hot pot featuring offal. The broth is a yellow miso color and, along with the offal, lots of tofu can be seen in the broth. Down the center of the pot, the green tops of green (spring) onions cut into lengths of a couple of inches have been arranged carefully in a row. The onions are topped with some sliced dry chili and sesame seeds.
‘Motsunabe’ is a type of Japanese hot pot containing offal as its key ingredient /via Photo AC.

7. Mizutaki (水炊き, みずたき)

Mizutaki nabe consists of bone-in chicken and vegetables simmered in water, hence the name “mizutaki”, meaning “cooked in water”.

Once cooked, the ingredients are eaten with ponzu sauce or sesame seed sauce (gomadare, ごまだれ).

This is another nabe local to Fukuoka.

A black ceramic nabe pot containing a Japanese hot pot dish called 'mizutaki'. The broth is simply water and a combination of meat, vegetables and tofu can be seen in the steaming bowl.
In the Japanese hot pot dish known as ‘mizutaki’, the broth is simply water and the ingredients gain additional flavor by being dipped in a sauce /via Photo AC.

8. Shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ)

Shabu-shabu is a popular dish on its own but it is also a type of nabe. The name shabu-shabu comes from the motion made when swishing something in the water.

Japanese hot pot: One piece of thinly-sliced, marbled Japanese beef is about to be swished shabu-shabu style with chopsticks in a clear, steaming broth.
Japanese hot pot: In ‘shabu-shabu’, the meat is cooked quickly with a few swishes in the broth and enjoyed with a dipping sauce /via Photo AC.

Unlike other kinds of nabe where the meat simmers in the pot, thinly-sliced raw pork or beef is briefly swished in a dashi broth made with kelp just until it is cooked. The meat is then dipped in a sauce such as ponzu or goma (sesame) and eaten. 

However, although the meat is cooked quickly, the vegetables (Chinese cabbage, mushrooms, beansprouts, leeks) and tofu simmer in the pot like in traditional nabe dishes. 

Below is a helpful video on how to enjoy shabu-shabu.

9. Oden (おでん)

For this dish, various ingredients such as boiled eggs, daikon radish, konnyaku (konjac or “devil’s tongue”), fried tofu, and chikuwa (a type of Japanese fish cake) are slowly simmered in a seasoned kelp and bonito broth with soy sauce.

Sometimes these ingredients are skewered before being cooked to help make it easier to take out of the pot and eat. After being cooked, the oden contents are commonly eaten with a little bit of karashi (mustard).

A small plate of 'oden' (including simmered vegetables, fish paste products and egg) have been removed from a simmering broth/nabe dish in the background.
‘Oden’ is commonly found at convenience stores around the country in cooler seasons. You can also easily find the base ingredients at supermarkets to add to any nabe broth you’d like /via Photo AC.

There are regional differences in terms of types of ingredients and even the soy sauce that’s used. For instance, nabe in Okinawa contains pig’s feet and Okinawa soba

Oden can be found at convenience stores across Japan during fall and winter, as well as some food stalls and izakaya.

10. Sukiyaki (すき焼き)

Sukiyaki consists of thinly-sliced wagyu beef and vegetables that simmer in a pot with a sweet sauce of mirin, soy sauce, and sugar.

Everything is then dipped into beaten raw egg, which helps cut the strong flavor of the sauce, before being eaten. If you’re not a fan of raw eggs, it’s completely fine to skip dipping but you might not be able to eat as much due to the strong taste. 

A black cast iron nabe pot filled with a brown-colored broth, wagyu beef (the beef still sticking out of the broth remains raw), tofu, glass noodles, and a mix of mushrooms and greens. Next to the pot is a ceramic dish containing a raw egg for dipping.
‘Sukiyaki’ is a type of Japanese hot pot that involves dipping the cooked ingredients in raw egg /via Photo AC.

There are regional differences in terms of how exactly sukiyaki is made. In the Kanto region, the ingredients are added to the sauce all at once whereas in Kansai, the meat is grilled separately, much like yakiniku, before the sauce and then vegetables are added.

Since sukiyaki uses high-quality beef, it tends to be eaten during celebrations and special occasions in Japan. This may be why sukiyaki is one of the most-liked nabe dishes in the country.

Where to find Japanese hot pot in Japan

Hopefully, you’ve spotted some nabe favorites in this look at Japanese hot pot or found some new kinds you would like to try. If you’re in Japan and looking to have nabe, popular chain restaurants include Kisoji for shabu-shabu and sukiyaki, and Shabu-shabu Onyasai for shabu-shabu.

There are also packaged nabe broths in dozens of flavors for sale at supermarkets to make cooking at home even easier (although it can be hard to decide which one to get!). 

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