Asuka Nabe

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Not too long ago, I chance upon this book, Japan Country Living: Spirit, Tradition, Style at our local library. It is a very interesting book with a glimpse into the daily lives of the Japanese people in the countryside, far away from the fast-paced, high-tech modern cities we so often associate Japan with. The pictures are beautiful and they show the traditional homes, indigo fabrics, washi (paper making), pottery, food, and country culture of the Japanese people.

The country homes are open and airy with high ceilings and wide verandahs (engawa). This architecture is more suited for the humid summers but make little provision for the cold winters. The picture below is that of a traditional thatched roof home which is now part of a museum in Komagane, Japan.

However, at the heart of the home is the sunken hearth (irori), where charcoal is constantly kept burning. A large hook is suspended from a beam where a pot or kettle hung. The family would gather around the hearth to keep warm and to cook food.

The book has a simple recipe that intrigued me. It is a soupy one-pot meal using milk, an ingredient that is rarely seen in typical Japanese soups. It was shown cooking in a large cast iron pot hung over the irori. Asuka nabe is a specialty of ancient Asuka (8th century AD) region near Nara. Having visited Nara a few years back, I had to try this dish. I have made this warm and hearty soup several times. I like to do the first part of the cooking on the stove and finish the second part at the table. It keeps the soup nice and warm.

I really enjoyed my visit to Nara. Pace of life is definitely slower. We rented bicycles and cycled around the city.

The boys feeding deer with shika senbei (deer biscuit). They were younger then. :)

Shirataki noodles are long thin noodles made from the konjac plant. They are composed largely of water and glucomannan, a water-soluble fiber. Konnyaku is made of the same substance but comes in blocks. Since I ran out of shirataki, I cut the konnyaku into long strips to use in this recipe.

Asuka Nabe

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 18 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Asuka Nabe


  • 2 cups (480ml) chicken stock
  • 1 lb (450g) skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 8 shiitake mushrooms, soaked, rinsed, and stems removed
  • 8 napa cabbage leaves
  • 1 bunch (300g) spinach, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups (480ml) low fat milk
  • 1 medium-sized carrot, sliced into rings
  • 1 packet (7oz/200g) shirataki
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt


Place spinach in a large bowl with 2 tbsp water. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much of the moisture as possible. In another bowl, microwave cabbage leaves with 2 tablespoons of water on high for 5 minutes. Drain.

Divide spinach into 8 portions. Place each portion on a cabbage leave and roll tightly. Cut each roll into half cross-wise.

Pour stock into a large flame-proof earthenware casserole or cast iron pot. Add chicken, shiitake mushrooms, and cabbage-spinach rolls. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes over medium heat, skimming off scum appearing on the surface. Add milk, carrots, shirataki, soy sauce, sugar, and salt and continue to cook for another 5 to 6 minutes. Serve immediately.


Nabe is best cooked at the table with a portable cooking unit. If you are using a small fondue unit, you may want to cook the first part using chicken stock on the stove. Then transfer to the table and finish cooking by adding milk and the rest of the ingredients.

Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day! 8)

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36 Responses

  1. What a beautiful presentation – that home – brilliant design, isn’t it?

  2. Shri says:

    Biren, this looks gorgeous; particularly loved the cabbage leaf rolls. This recipe could be tweaked in so many ways.

  3. Shu han says:

    I love the idea of the cabbage and spinach rolls! they look beautiful!

  4. Beautiful presentation. Everything looks so colorful and yummy!
    Very nice deers :) Have a wonderful week.

  5. Nutmeg Nanny says:

    This meal is absolutely visually stunning! Plus it looks like it taste amazing…yum!

  6. That dish looks so delicious and comforting, Biren! You did such a beautiful presentation too!

  7. This meal sound so healthy!

  8. Blackswan says:

    Biren, your post makes me wanna book a tix right away & fly to Japan again. Love the way u wrapped the veg. Beautiful dish!

  9. This looks so incredibly difficult and elegant, but it’s really not. It’s an amazing dish. I don’t think I’ve seen another Asian dish that uses regular milk before. I’ve never heard of those noodles, but I guess I’ll be hunting for them.

    Thank you for sharing those beautiful photos as well. They exude peace and tranquility.

    • Biren says:

      There really aren’t that many Asian dishes using milk. Sometimes just a little milk may be added for color and flavor. I am glad you like the pictures. We enjoyed our excursion to Nara as it was a break from the hustle and bustle of the big cities.

  10. Juliana says:

    Biren, you just brought memories of my visit to Japan…I remember Nara and the deers :-)
    I sure was wondering what was the rolls with the green fillings…interesting wrapping spinach in cabbage…the soup looks delicious and very comforting.
    Hope you are having wonderful week and thanks for this lovely post.

  11. Kelly says:

    Wow this looks so delicious, I love all the flavors in this dish!

  12. The soup looks so beautiful and you did such a great job presenting it and breaking it down. What a wonderful post. Can’t wait to read more. :)

  13. Gina says:

    Biren, this looks so delicious, I love the way you cut up the carrots to look like flowers. I’d love to visit there one day and your photos make me want to even more.

    • Biren says:

      The carrots were cut using a vegetable cutter. In the old days, we just use the good old knife…a little tedious but can be done! :)

  14. LeQuan says:

    What an interesting dish. I love the spinach rolled up in the cabbage leaves and the use of milk. You’ve presented this dish beautifully, Biren. I like my meals burning hot to the tongue so I would enjoy this since it’s cooked at the table.

  15. Great post Biren! So jealous that you went to Japan! And I love the fact that you use Shirataki noodles in here too. So healthy!!

  16. Biren-your soup is so impressive, comforting, and delicious! You are so meticulous, even with the fancy cutting of the carrots and have perfect little section for all the ingredients.
    Thanks for sharing the lovely, and educational photos of those homes, in Japan!

  17. DongXing says:

    I love the presentation of this one pot noodle soup – a very nice and warming dish indeed! I love what you did with the cabbage and spinach, and I am certainly intrigued with the addition of milk. I am bookmarking this to try in the near future.

  18. kristy says:

    My goodness, finally a photo of yours without glasses! :o) The preparation of this Japanese dish sounds really easy. Hopefully, I’ll manage to put my hands on this one someday.
    Enjoy your day, dear. And happy thanksgiving to you & your family as well.
    Blessings, Kristy

  19. rebecca says:

    lovely post Biren and great soup Japan is a lovely country we went a few years ago and your boys must have loved feeding those deer I want too he he

  20. it looks wonderful, love cabbage, mushrooms and spinach together and the rolls are too cute!

  21. Thanks for sharing some pictures from your Japan trip! It’s great that you featured some of the regional Japanese food like this and I had never seen napa cabbage & spinach roll before. I should make it for nabe!

  22. Trix says:

    I love how that spinach looks rolled up in the cabbage – I couldn’t figure out what it was at first, until I read the whole post. What a healthy and nourishing soup. And that pic with the deer is SO cute!

  23. yummy looking dish pictures look fabulous

  24. Julie M. says:

    That sounds like a fabulous dinner. Healthy, colorful and succulent all rolled into one! I love the cute shaped carrots as well. If I don’t get back here for a visit before Thanksgiving, have a wonderful holiday!

  25. Carolyn Jung says:

    I love the look of the rolled veggies. It makes the whole dish look even more beautiful and inviting. ;)

  26. tigerfish says:

    The rolled veggies are absolutely interesting to me! And such a warm pot of comfort to enjoy in the fall/wintry nights.

  27. Thanks for sharing the pics and this dish sounds excellent, a neat specialty to try!

  28. denise fletcher says:

    Hi Biren – I like to come up for some air, once in a while ;) What a lovely dish and I just love the concept of traditional Japanese homes;so easy to keep clean lol

    The picture of your boys feeding the deer is just adorable!!! Deer eating deer biscuits :D

    • Biren says:

      Yay…good to see you here! :) You are so right. Those traditional homes would be easy to clean, very little mess and clutter. I also like the idea of an irori in the house. We have a fireplace but you can’t cook in it. Might set off the fire alarm. ;)

      The boys were still little then. One is taller than me and the other almost my height. How fast they grow.

  29. MaryMoh says:

    Such a lovely post. I just love all the pictures about Japan, a country that always intrigues me. Your dish looks so healthy and delicious, perfect for a cold day. Take care and hope you have lots of fun cooking and baking :D

    • Biren says:

      Japan is a lovely country to visit. There is so much to see, do, and eat. Hotpots are great at this time of the year as it stays warm at the table.

  30. How cool is that…Japanese country cooking! It is a stunning one pot meal. I need to check out the library more often, it’s so close to me.

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