The Donabe: the clay pot that will warm your heart.
A couple of months ago I bought a donabe (earthenware pot). Its vision, white and so terrestrial because of the material of which it is made, the clay, seems to give back to my table a familiar warmth that, because of the distance of my loved ones in a foreign land, sometimes lacks. Donabe is beautiful because it allows you to share food, giving you comfort with a complete view of the food during cooking, like a bouquet of flowers seen from above. This purchase also allowed me to recreate a recipe I tried during my vacation in Los Angeles last summer at Jynia Ramen in Santa Monica: spicy creamy vegan ramen. I never had creamy ramen before, and it was a culinary discovery to savor that triumph of flavors. I was also reminded of that moment when I recently saw the movie “Shoplifters” by one of my most admired Japanese directors: Hirokazu Koreeda.
Koreeda movies, such as Still Walking or Our Little Sister, are always sprinkled with familiar moments spent in the kitchen or at the table, where the protagonists cook and eat together in very small but joyful and colorful spaces as in a fairy tale. It is a traditional and popular cuisine indeed that warms the heart and sweetens the mind. In “Shoplifters”, a strange and very improvised family finds its meeting point right at the table, a small one, where donburi (the Japanese bowls) of different patterns and colors come together to give life to moments of pure joy.
In Japanese cuisine, it is very common to have bowls of all sizes and pots, like donabe, to be served directly at the table. Unlike Italian culture, for example, no one leaves the table: everyone is the protagonist of the meal that is being consumed together. I remember, instead, the moments when my grandmother established that her seat should be the one closest to the kitchen, to allow her to fade away, unnoticed, behind the curtain of the family stage. Sometimes she would disappear to continue cooking, but very often to wash dishes in religious silence. By the way, donabe is a precious object and as such requires care in its maintenance. I bought mine from Muji, and to use it you must scrupulously follow some steps such as (from the webshop Muji):
Preparation: Before placing ingredients for your dish, fill the pot with water and a starchy base (i.e. flour or cooked rice). Boil down the water and the starch on low heat. This helps to coat the inner surface of the clay pot and to keep the clay moist when simmering. The starch also seeps through any cracks from constant usage and seals them to sustain the pot.
Notes on Usage
• Never heat the pot without any liquids
• The Donabe pot is not microwave safe.
• Do not fry anything in the pot.
• Before using, dry the bottom of the pot completely.
• Do not leave the pot empty over an open flame.
• Keep a steady temperature, the pot is vulnerable to sudden jumps of temperature on an electric stove.
• Handle with care, the pot will be increasingly hot.
• Dry the pot completely before storing away.
Speaking of ingredients, to recreate the fifth flavor, which the Japanese call Umami, it is necessary to use Kombu seaweed that gives the dish a delicate flavor, comforting, I dare say melancholy. The seaweed serves only as a base for the broth, can then be removed and stored for a new use.
I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail.
Vegan Creamy Ramen Donabe
- 1/2 cup miso
- some piece of Kombu seaweed
- around 500ml warm water
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 cup edamame
- mushrooms (shitake, enokitake, yanagi matsutake)
- 1 garlic clove /grated)
- 100ml soy cream
- around 125gr ramen
- fresh herbs
- fill the donabe with warm water on low heat
- dissolve the miso and add the kombu
- add the mushrooms, the sugar, and the grated garlic
- cover with the lid and let it cook gently for about 20 minutes
- add the soy cream
- add the ramen and let it cook for 3 minutes
- serve with fresh herbs (spring onions) and sprinkle with sesame seeds