What’s your idea of winter comfort food? Ask somebody who’s Japanese, and the first thing that comes to mind is nabemono: Japanese hotpot.
Nabemono isn’t really a dish, it’s more like a way of eating. Together with friends or family, you sit around a big clay pot where all kinds of mushrooms, winter vegetables and fish or meat are simmering, and share the bounty as it cooks before your eyes. Ingredients go in a little bit at a time, and come out a little bit at a time, imprinting a relaxed, leisurely pace on the meal. Of course, while you’re waiting for each new ingredient to cook, you drink sake. When the weather outside is frightful, a nabe is delightful!
To this day, I remember clearly the moment I found my roommate eating this brown minced-meat-like thing for dinner. “Oh,” I asked, “but aren’t you a vegetarian?” To my astonishment, he informed me that what he was eating was “tofu.” Now, I know there are many ways of cooking tofu, but that weird, meaty-looking edible material didn’t look anything at all like the tofu I’ve loved all my life…how could that stuff be tofu?!