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Gobbling Up Gyunabe: An Introduction To The Japanese Hot Pot Dish From Yokohama

Updated: Jan 9

Japanese hot pot, commonly known as sukiyaki, is easy to find in Japan. It's predecessor called gyunabe, however, is dying out. Dating back to nearly 200 years ago, this Japanese specialty historically reigns from the Port of Yokohama, and I had to try it from its founding city while I was there. Below, understand the history of gyunabe and what it is, and how to best take in the Japanese hot pot experience at the infamous Araiya restaurant for its set course meals.

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The History of Gyunabe

For hundreds of years in Japan there was a Buddhist ban on eating any meat coming from a four-legged animal. This ban created what I have to assume is the reason for a large dependency on the seafood trade in Japan as we know it today (other than the obvious that it is surrounded by sea).

Raw fish, rice, miso soup and vegetables commonly accompany every meal, so the emergence of meat from cows or pigs was not only not present, but not acceptable.

When the Port of Yokohama opened in the mid 1850s, ships brought in all manner of people and produce. Foreigners were bringing in new appetites for meat and other dishes not seen in Japan prior, like Spaghetti Napolitan, a ketchup based pasta. As palettes changed and meat was re-introduced, gyunabe was born.

Modern Japanese Hot Pot

The traditional serving for Japanese hot pot, or specifically gyunabe, is to cook raw beef in a hot pot consisting of soy sauce and sugar broth.

Did you know you can sample gyunabe as part of a private food tour in Yokohama? With a customized experience, you can't "mess up" or "eat it wrong". You'll have a guide to show you the way.

It's really not that hard though to figure it out.

Very Important: The Egg Bath!

Bubbling with vegetables and flavor, the beef is dipped in a raw egg bath before consuming. Many might find the idea of eating raw egg unpleasing with worries of salmonella infection.

a woman is dipping beef into a raw egg bath with chopsticks

In fact, the Japanese hold their standards of egg care and distribution so high, that this is actually not a concern whatsoever. This is why you will see raw egg often served over white rice, or predominantly for dipping meats prepared sukiyaki style.

The egg adds such a depth of flavor to the otherwise less exciting meat, that dipping it is a must when trying this Japanese hot pot style. Without the egg bath, you will find that the flavor is much less enjoyable.

So Is It Just Sukiyaki Then?

Although the name gyunabe seems to have died out, this is pretty much identical to the preparation of sukiyaki, which is a very popular dish in Japan.

The only difference may be in the preparation of the hot pot broth, which may contain more sugar than other versions of sukiyaki.

Discover the differences for yourself on a walk through a peaceful Tokyo valley with a guide, followed by a meal comparing shabu-shabu and sukiyaki. Then, treat yourself to gyunabe at Araiya (below) in Yokohama. Once you've tried them all, you will surely be an expert on the subtle differences between these hot pot dishes.

Other Ways to Try Sukiyaki Style Meals Near Tokyo

Try sukiyaki on board a Yakatabune dinner boat. Pair your dinner with a leisurely sail around Tokyo Bay with the sounds of traditional music performed for you while you dine.

A truly unique experience, enjoy your sukiyaki hot pot and evening out for less than $100 a person.

This spellbinding full day tour takes guests out to the Jigokudani Monkey Park to witness adorable creatures in natural hot springs before enjoying the deliciousness of sukiyaki and returning back to Tokyo.

This truly unique tour provides an inside look at the Ningyocho neighborhood, known for tasty treats and centuries old traditions. Shops and vendors will cater to your curious tastebuds, and guests on this tour will get to try something your friends haven't - wagyu beef sukiyaki croquettes. YUM. Being a fan of Spanish croquettes and a newfound fan of the Dutch treat bitterballen, I'm sold. This tour is for those who want a new look into Tokyo.

Gyunabe at Araiya Restaurant

Gyunabe does not appear to have a strong hold in the Yokohoma area as it once did when the port first opened in 1859. Upon seeking out this special dish, Google renders only modest results - 3 or 4 in Yokohama and a handful in Tokyo proper.

the entrance to Araiya restaurant with wooden exterior and a navy blue curtain entrance

One of the few found in Yokohama, Araiya Restaurant has been making "Sukiyaki Yokohama Style" since 1895!

a coaster with japanese writing and english writing saying "sukiyaki yokohama style"