NABEMONO & SUMO CHANKO-NABE
Nabemono, or literally "things-in-a-pot," is the bouillabaisse of Japanese food. The ingredients, fresh-cut vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, firm whitemeat fish, or chicken, are artfully displayed and brought to the diner's table on a platter together with a communal earthenware pot containing a delicious broth. Everything is then set brewing in the middle of the table where the diners themselves, add, tend and select their own favorite tidbits. Nabeiiiono demonstrates the elegant simplicity of Japanese cuisine.
History of NabemonoThe nabe, or "pot" which spawned the one-pot repast, is the traditional cooking utensil of the farmhouse. A thick-walled earthenware casserole, or a heavy castiron soup kettle would hang over the open hearth or irori. Into it would go everything to keep a family warm and nourished in the midst of Japan's Snow Country.
Nabe protocolAccording to the rules of normal Japanese etiquette, it is impolite to use one's chopsticks to pick up food from a communal dish unless, of course, one has turned them around to use the back end. In the case of nabemono, however, this caveat is ignored, or should we say, nabemono are the exception that prove the rule. "Would you like to share the same pot with me?" is the unspoken invitation to friendship that the dish expresses. No wonder, therefore, that in Japan, Nabe restaurants are among the most convivial, and the service is the most down-home of Japanese cuisine.
Gourmet TipsThe gourmet will appreciate the even matching of light-flavored fish to the more subtle vegetables, such as cabbage. Woody mushrooms are used to balance the richer flavors of the fish offerings. Diners can order a second platter containing the partial or full line of ingredients.
Ordering from the Nabemono MenuTogether with a bowl of steaming white rice, and a vinaigrette (sunomono) or tiny salad (aemono), nabemono is a complete bouillabaisse banquet fit for a king. (Indeed, read on about sumo wrestlers' own special chanko nabe version!) The standard dish will include vegetables and fish (or meat), in the ratio of two-to-one. The vegetables include Chinese cabbage, spinach, edible chrysanthemum leaves (shungiku or kikuna), white delicate enokidake mushroom, shirataki (chewy filaments made from konnyaku devil's tongue root), leeks, parboiled turnips, giant white radish, potatoes and more. On the fish side, cod or sea bream, or with heavy fare, the oilier tuna or yellowtail are used. Chicken, and rarely, beef, is another entree. In ordering, one need only to decipher the list of ingredients, and whether the broth is clear or creamy, the latter being suited for meat dishes.