Tasty Japan: Time to Eat!
The Kami-nabe Pot
Why Doesn’t the Paper Burn?
When winter comes to Japan, hot pot is sure to be one choice on the menu. Everyone gathers around a big earthenware or iron pot at the dining table, and when the heat underneath gets everything piping hot the chopsticks get busy, transferring food from pot to dinnerware. It may be cold outdoors, but in homes and restaurants, happy voices ring out.
Enjoying a hot pot alone is also an option—then the pot is smaller and the meal’s ingredients are for one. At traditional inns in tourist spots, the amazing thing recently is, the pot is often made of paper! The kami-nabe (paper pot) is just for you, with your own supply of solid fuel. As food from the sea and fields heats up and becomes ready to eat, its appearance and taste are star attractions at the table, creating long-lasting travel memories of a culinary feast.
Since the paper is thin, the heat spreads evenly and the ingredients cook more quickly. The pot absorbs froth seeping from the food, another benefit of using paper. Even if the heat comes in direct contact with the paper, the water never gets hotter than 100 °C, of course, whereas the ignition temperature of the paper is more than 300 °C. As long as there is water in the pot, the paper will not burn.
Today’s paper pots are almost all made of machine-made paper treated to make it waterproof. But some specialty shops serve menus of kami-nabe made from traditional washi paper, which tends to be strong due to its long fibers. It is probably these qualities that inspired this intriguing idea, simmering food in paper.
“Kami-nabe are light, they can be stacked, and they are the perfect image of clean cookware. Paper pots—what a great invention!” says Okuda Toru, the owner of a Japanese restaurant called Kojyu. A chef there prepared the food photographed for these pages.
“Japanese people find being in nature soothing and relaxing, and we have long favored natural materials such as clay, wood and paper for many uses, and cuisine is certainly no exception. I suppose it was that appreciation of nature that led to the paper pot.”
Taking pleasure in both the food and the dishes it is served in, while feeling close to the natural world, led to the eminently unique invention of the paper pot.