Japanese winter foods   冬の食べ物

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Bishu nabe, a stew made with sake

Bishu nabe, a stew made with sake



Cold weather specialties

As temperatures drop, what's better than a good, satisfying meal to help you warm up? Discover the winter culinary specialties of Japan!

Nabemono, the Japanese hotpot

Ishikari nabe, a Hokkaido speciality made with salmon

The nabemono is a family winter dish, which is more of a concept than a recipe. The literal translation of nabe is "pot" or "saucepan". In Japanese, nabe refers to the clay pot in which the dish is cooked. To make a nabemono, it's very simple: you need a nabe pot and a hotplate, to cook in the middle of the table. Although the ingredients vary a lot, the basics are Chinese cabbage, tofu, mushrooms, noodles ( such as udon, kuzukiri, or konjac noodles), fish and/or thin slices of meat (beef, pork). Cut all the ingredients into bitesize pieces and then cook them in broth (katsuobushi fish broth or kombu seaweed broth are most common) and enjoy!

Read : Nabemono

  • Sukiyaki  すき焼き

The ingredients for sukiyaki

Sukiyaki is a traditional winter dish, officially introduced in the Meiji era (1868-1912). It consists of slices of beef, accompanied by vegetables and various other ingredients, all cooked in a rich, sweet broth (soy sauce, sugar and mirin). Finally, it's customary to dip the hot cooked food in a small bowl of raw beaten egg before eating! Most of the time sukiyaki is served in a shallow metal pot. You can try this dish in winter and especially at the end of the year, during a bonenkai ("party to forget the past year"), celebrated among work colleagues or friends.

  • Shabu Shabu  しゃぶしゃぶ

The name shabu shabu comes from the onomatopoeia "shabu shabu", of the sound that the food makes when plunged into the hot broth and swirled about to cook. Although sukiyaki and shabu shabu are alike, the latter is less sweet and rich. Shabu shabu is an adaption of the Chinese hotpot. This meal is cooked and served in a ceramic pot, donabe. The ingredients are presented raw on plates so that everyone can cook them according to their taste. The shabu shabu broth is lighter than that of sukiyaki; it usually consists of a mild recipe made with kombu seaweed. Finally, once cooked, the food is dipped in one of two sauces: ponzu (tangy citrus) and gomadare (sesame) sauce. When all the ingredients have been eaten, it's common to add udon noodles to the broth (now much more flavorful after all the previous ingredient dipping!) to finish.

Everything you need for a delicious shabu-shabu


  • Oden  おでん

This Japanese stew is a dish from Kanto (Tokyo region). To prepare an oden, start with kombu seaweed broth. Then add eggs, daikon radish, chikuwa (fish cake), tofu and konjac noodles (konnyaku). Oden is often accompanied by karashi mustard. In Japan, you will find oden served at food stands, yatai, as well as in konbini and even at izakaya. Different regional versions exist: in Nagoya, where it is called Kanto-ni, the ingredients are dipped in soy sauce; while in Kansai (Osaka region), it is known as Kanto-daki and comes in a broth more seasoned than that of Kanto. On Shikoku Island, in the Kagawa region, udon noodles with sweet miso sauce are served before the oden.

Read also : Miso

Kiritanpo, a stew from Akita

  • Kiritanpo  きりたんぽ

Kiritanpo is a specialty of Akita Prefecture in northern Honshu. This local stew is made with local chicken, hinai-jidori, vegetables, cooked rice, mashed and shaped into cylinders and toasted, Japanese leek (negi)maitake mushrooms, seri, Japanese parsley, and burdock root (gobou).


Tarabagani crab being grilled

  • Tarabagani, the crab of Hokkaido  たらば蟹

Mid-winter is the season of the tarabagani, the Red King Crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus). It is the most expensive and most sought after crab in the world. In European countries like France it sells for, on average, 250 euros per kilo! It can be eaten in the form of sushi (cooked or raw), boiled or grilled. In winter, we recommend the Hokkaido specialty crab nabe, kani nabe.

See : Culinary specialties of Aomori

  • Fugu  ふぐ

Winter is also the season of the famous fugu pufferfish, known for its deadly venom. A special license is required to open a fugu restaurant in Japan. The fish is eaten boiled, head included, cooked in a nabe pot with mushrooms, vegetables, and tofu, all washed down with a glass of hirezake (sake with a fugu fin in the bottle) or beautifully translucent sashimi, forming a Winter flower on the plate.

By defensive reflex, fugu swells when he feels attacked.

The pufferfish swells in defence when he feels attacked.

The slats of fugu (sashimi) are a delicacy very refined.

The slices of fugu (sashimi) are a very refined delicacy.

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