The donabe or Japanese hot pot, is one of the most beloved tools in kitchens throughout Japan. Because of its unique ambient heat, the earthenware vessel is perfect for making rice, slow-simmering soups and even steaming or smoking meats, fish and vegetables. No matter the dish you choose, a donabe yields joy-sparking flavor while creating a communal experience around the table.
For the unfamiliar, selecting and purchasing a first donabe can seem daunting — but in reality, it’s a simple kitchen addition that will bring joy every step of the way! Here is a guide to picking a donabe for your home, care instructions and a few tips and recipes from Marie’s close friend Naoko Takei-Moore, the bestselling author of Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking.
What is a Donabe?
Do means clay and nabe means pot, which is precisely what a donabe is: a pot made from thick clay that yields consistent, gentle heat for cooking traditional Japanese dishes. Donabes are usually unglazed inside, then glazed outside, a process that allows the vessels to heat slowly, then retain that heat over time. Because each design and glaze varies, donabes patina over time — a direct reflection of the love and care each chef puts into every meal.
Typically, donabes are also carried directly from kitchen to table, where they become a functional centerpiece. Dinner guests linger over the meal, enjoying second helpings and joy-sparking conversations.
What kind of Donabe should I buy?
The best donabes, unsurprisingly, come from Japan. Think of your first donabe as an investment piece — a beautifully-crafted donabe will cost anywhere from $100-$250. These pots are meant to be used and loved for years — even handed down through families — meaning they make a joy-sparking gift for food lovers.
There are several styles of donabe and additional accessories that will help you put your donabe to use in countless ways. In her book, Naoko recommends that those unfamiliar start with a traditional donabe (see here, here or here), which is perfect for making the dishes she creates on her beloved Instagram (@mrsdonabe).
But other donabes deserve a spot on the shelf, too, including smokers, donabes with attachable grates for grilling meat and fish and even single-serving donabes for small apartments. In the end, the best donabe for you is the one that sparks joy — that way, you know you’ll put it to good use!
What to Cook in a Donabe
Steamed rice: Donabes release ambient heat resulting in glossy rice that’s perfect for accompanying a main dish or simply enjoying on its own. Once you’ve steamed your rice, try using it to make our green tea rice recipe on a cold night.
Japanese soups and stews: Use your donabe to make stew or soup with any ingredients you have on hand. Try this recipe from Bon Appetit for “Anything Goes” Soup or this Japanese Clay Pot Seafood Stew.
Steam-fried vegetables: You can use your donabe to make simple vegetable sides by sauteeing garlic in olive oil, adding vegetables such as bok choy, asparagus or spinach and placing the lid on the donabe to finish steaming. Try this recipe for steam-fried kale with shio-koji.
Everything else: Once you get the hang of how the donabe works, you can use it for cooking any dish you’d make on the stovetop, including non-traditional recipes. Marie and Naoko use their donabes almost daily and so can you!
How to Clean and Care for your Donabe
Similar to cast iron skillets, you will need to season your donabe before using it for the first time. Most donabes come with a set of simple instructions for seasoning.
As for cleaning, caring for and storing your donabe, good news: It’s not as fussy as cast iron! You can clean it with a sponge and mild dish soap after each use. Other tips:
- Make sure to allow the donabe to dry completely before storing or placing it back on heat.
- Don’t store leftovers in your donabe; instead, transfer them to a storage container before placing them in the fridge.
- Don’t use it to deep fry.
- Like all ceramic vessels, a donabe is sturdy by breakable, so be careful when replacing it on the shelf!
Bonus: Marie Kondo’s Favorite Hot Pot Recipe
While donabes are perfect for cooking with whatever you have on hand, it always helps to start somewhere! Naoko shared one of her favorites, Kinoko no Tsuke-Soba, or Soba Noodle with Hot Mushroom Dipping Broth, with KonMari. It requires only a few steps and pantry ingredients!
The best way to fall in love with a donabe is to start simple. When it comes to Japanese cooking, less is more. Start with a few ingredients, seasonings and flavors that spark joy for you and your family, then place your donabe on the stove. What happens next is magical.