Asuka Nabe

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
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 4 servings
  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. Divide spinach into 8 portions. Place each portion on a cabbage leave and roll tightly. Cut each roll into half cross-wise.
  3. 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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    • 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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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! :)

  3. 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.

  4. says

    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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. denise fletcher says

    Hi Biren – I like to come up for some air, once in a while πŸ˜‰ 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 πŸ˜€

    • 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. πŸ˜‰

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

  10. 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 πŸ˜€

    • 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.

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