"The Nabe pot is here!" These were the words we've been anxiously waiting to hear (or say) for two months since our return from Japan. Although we had purchased it at a shop in Denenchofu, Tokyo when we were there in late January, because of its weight and size, we asked Hiroko's parents to ship it to us via sea, the least expensive (and slowest) postal option.
Nabe is the quintessential winter Japanese dish, which is prepared in a hot pot at the table. It is sort of like a healthy fondue in that the cooking medium is not oil, cheese, or chocolate but a type of Japanese stock made from water, kelp, and/or dashi depending upon the type of nabe. Popular types of nabe include the familiar Sukiyaki and Shabu Shabu, as well as lesser known (to U.S. eaters) dishes that are enjoyed in the various regions and families of Japan. The only rule for nabe is that you cook anything that you like in the pot at the table and that it be shared with your family and friends.
A nabe pot can be anything from ordinary to artistic. The "ordinary" variety can be easily found at Mitsuwa Marketplace in New Jersey or other Japanese grocery stores in New York area. We wanted something unique and special, so we waited until we were able to buy the beautiful black one that we had fallen in love with while looking through The Nabe Cookbook (purchased in Matsuyama on our winter '06 trip). Hiroko's always expert research located Doraku, the small family run pottery shop where it could be purchased.
"This is it!" we exclaimed after walking into the charming shop that was the first place we visited after our arrival in Tokyo. The Denenchofu area of Tokyo is an affluent neighborhood modeled after a similar section of London. Run by the Asami family, the shop was small and a little cluttered, and focused on artisan yakimono. Mrs. and Mr. Asami love yakimono and are quite proud of their shop's selection.
Mrs. Asami excitedly showed us the nabe that was the object of our visit. It is made by Shiro Yoshii in Kyoto, and is surprisingly light weight. She explained to us that this nabe was individually handmade and that it needs to be well cared for. She was ecstatic when we told her that we were from NYC and had learned about her shop and the nabe from the Nabe Cookbook. We happily purchased it, and told her how much we adored it. Our excitement made her even more excited so much so that we were thanking each other until we left the shop (in fact, they followed us out of the shop while continuing to thank us!).
Remembering our visit with the Asamis at their shop, we opened the long-awaited package from Japan. The nabe was wrapped meticulously and with lots and lots of padding. There was no damage to our nabe, no scratch or broken pieces, it is as beautiful as the first time we saw it. We were so excited to see our NABE finally sitting on our dining room table, and wasted no time in inviting friends over to put it to use immediately!