Chefs Interview

Jan 1, 2015

Japanese Nabe Chefs in Singapore

A hearty wintertime specialty, nabemono (Japanese hotpots) is a one-pot meal cooked over a mini stove at the table. Three masters tell us more about the different ways to enjoy this communal dish.

The nabemono, or nabe, is a dish that has come to symbolise reunion in a Japanese family. As a communal cuisine, the sight of family members and friends gathering around a pot of steaming stew is heartwarming and paints the picture of festive joy.

There are several types of nabemonos – from the traditional Chankonabe, originally served only to sumo wrestlers to help them gain weight, to newer inventions like collagen nabe for women hoping to get a dose of beautifying benefits from the food they eat – because, unlike Chinese-style hotpots that let you cook whatever you want in a soup base, nabemonos tend to feature meat from one animal.

Nabemonos are also categorised into light-flavoured stock and strong-flavoured stock. The former is made typically with kombu and served with a dipping sauce like ponzu, the latter is made from miso or dashi and the food items are eaten without further flavourings.

When it comes to partaking in a nabemono, things can get pretty amusing. Usually, a division of roles happens: one person will be in charge of looking after the fire temperature, one person will be tasked with adding ingredients to the pot, and so on. If somone tries to take control of the whole process, he will earn himself the nickname of hotpot governer “nabe bugyo”. Depending on how involved you wish to be at the dining table, the presence of a “nabe bugyo” can be annoying to some people. However, leaving such a person to cook everything also means you get to sit back, relax and enjoy the dish.

Ready to tuck into a good meal? In the following pages, three chefs share with us the mouthwatering nabe creations of their respective restaurants.

Koji Tsukamoto Executive Chef of Fuku

Twice a week, by air, Fuku receives its shipment of tora fugu from Shimonoseki. The restaurant is Singapore’s first and only fugu-centric eatery and it serves a hotpot featuring the notorious fish. Excutive chef Koji, who has over 20 years of experience handling the fugu, tells us more about enjoying the fugu tecchiri.

How did the practice of eating the fugu come about?

The Japanese have been eating the fugu since before the Edo period (1603-1867). In Japanese literature, it is recorded that the samurais were eating the fugu. There was a mention of a top samurai named Hideyoshi Toyotomi partaking in fish when he went to the Korean peninsular to fight a war. But actually, eating the fugu as a sashimi is a relatively modern way of consuming it. Using the fish as an ingredient in a hotpot dates way earlier.

What makes eating the fugu tecchiri so special?

The flavour of the fugu is light but, nonetheless, it still is flavourful and tasty. Consuming the fugu as a hotpot makes it easier for people across all ages to enjoy the fish. The fugu also packs a lot of health benefits. It is high in protein and low in cholesterol. Together with a light stock made from kombu and vegetables, the fugu tecchiri makes for a very healthy meal for the whole family. I also recommend that ladies eat the fugu tecchiri regularly as the fish also contains high amounts of collagen.

What’s the difference between eating the fugu as a hotpot ingredient and as a sashimi?

The flesh of the fugu is actually quite firm and solid. As a hotpot ingredient, we cook the fish until it’s tender and easy to bite through. As a sashimi, we have to slice the flesh more thinly so people can enjoy it better.

Is there a correct way to eat the fugu tecchiri?

When you start cooking the hotpot, you cook the fugu with its bones so the flavour of the soup is more intense. As the flesh cooks, a foamy scum will form on the surface and you need to scoop it out. Then you add in the vegetables. When the fish is ready to eat, you dip it into a ponzu sauce. This is a must! We use a special ponzu sauce made in Shimonoseki – it’s an area that specialises in fugu. We call it fugu shoyu as it’s specially made for the fugu tecchiri.

How else is the fugu served in Fuku?

The fugu meat is very versatile. Here, we also serve it karage style where we deep fry the meat like nuggets. We also grill the meat or have it slightly roasted. The more adventurous can also try the fugu shirako (milt or soft roe) – which we consider a delicacy.

14 Mohamed Sultan Road, #01-01.
Tel: 6235 8216

Takahiro Yamane Executive Chef of Goku

The motsunabe is an interesting hotpot for anyone who prides himself as an adventurous eater. Instead of muscle meat, this dish cooks offal in a soup base made from soy sauce or miso. The motsunabe at Goku uses beef intestines, which are apparently rich in collagen. Judging by Chef Takahiro’s youthful looks, this is definitely another nabe dish ladies have to try.

What is the history of the motsunabe?

Historically, it’s hard to say. This came about because people needed to find a way to use the parts of an animal most people don’t eat. If you go to Hakata in Fukuoka, you will find a lot of restaurants specialising in the motsunabe, whereas if you visit Osaka, you’ll also find people eating offal in a barbeque style.

What’s so special about the motsunabe at Goku?

The first highlight would be our soup base. It’s made fresh every day by stewing chicken for five hours. From this soup base, we create four different flavours, using seasoning like shoyu or miso. Another notable thing is that we clean the intestines very thorougly. I remove the lining of the intestines so that they are not chewy when you eat them. And finally, the motsunabe is a dish that is rich in collagen – I’ve had a lot of my female customers telling me how their complexions look better the day after they’ve eaten here!

Where are the ingredients of the motsunabe from?

For the intestines, we use the ones from Australian grain-fed organic beef. The vegetables are mainly from Malaysia. The cabbage, however, is from Beijing; it is sweeter. This is also the cabbage we use to make our pickled cabbage – which is very popular with our customers. The dried chilli is from Japan as is the yuzu kosho, a green pepper dip with a citrus flavour.

What is the best way to enjoy the motsunabe?

The ideal weather to eat the motsunabe should be during the cold season. Because the nabe is a warming dish and this is also when the animals start to carry more fat, the meat and intestines are tastier. But in Singapore, admittedly, people seem to like hotpots all year round, so I guess that’s irrelevant here. I also don’t recommend that you cook the intestines for too long because they will crinkle up. Cook the intestines for about a minute after the soup boils, then turn off the heat. You can still leave the intestines in the soup for the flavour to blossom. To end the motsunabe, you can add champon noodles to the remaining soup or cheese risotto.

33 Mohamed Sultan Road.
Tel: 6735 4232

Kyota Ishida Chef & Owner of Torikin

Eager to bring a taste of home to Singapore, Chef Kyota introduced the Hakata mizutaki – a hotpot featuring fresh chicken and vegetables. According to popular lore, this dish was first created by combining Western and Chinese elements. The creator got the idea to blend consomme with the Chinese method of boiling chicken in water to create a soup.

What are some of the ingredients found inside the Hakata mizutaki?

We use chicken bones, feet and wings to cook the soup for six hours. Then we cook the thighs and breasts in the soup. We then accompany the chicken and the broth with some spinach, Shiitake mushrooms and carrots. While the customers are eating the chicken, we will add chicken balls to the soup. These are made with the remaining meat of the chicken so in the end, you end up eating the whole bird. Nothing goes to waste!

What are some of the health benefits associated with the Hakata mizutaki?

The soup is rich in collagen! The Hakata mizutaki provides a well-rounded, nutritious meal rich in protein and fibre.

Is there a particular way the dish should be enjoyed?

Yes. There are some steps one should follow when eating the Hakata mizutaki. You start by drinking some of the broth with some salt. Then you cook the chicken, which you dip in a ponzu sauce. Finally, you enjoy the vegetables and the meatballs together.

Where are the ingredients from?

The chicken is very important. I tried many different types of chicken before I decided on this Sakura chicken from Malaysia. Sakura chicken is reared without using antibiotics and growth hormones, while lactobacillus is used to enhance their immune systems naturally. I was pleasantly surprised that the broth that resulted from using this chicken was similar to the one at home. For vegetables and other ingredients, I also try to use those found nearby as freshness is very important in the Hakata mizutaki. Of course, everything must be cooked with love!

557 Bukit Timah Road, #01-14/16.
Tel: 6465 5908

Text: Deborah Tan Photography: Raymond Toh/Vineyard Production