Motsu Nabe: The High-Protein, Low-Calorie Hot Pot

Hot pots are an essential part of Japanese food culture, especially during the cold winter months. There are many varieties of hot pot dishes (or nabe) that span the breadth of each region of Japan.

Recently, the Japanese Culinary Center showcased Motsu Nabe, a hot pot famous in Fukuoka, a city on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. Koji Hagihara, Executive Chef Hagihara of Hakata Ton Ton, a popular Japanese izakaya (gastropub) in the West Village, was the special guest.

Hakata Ton Ton, Japanese cuisine
Chef Koji Hagihara at a street fair

If you’ve ever attended a Japanese street fair in New York City, chances are you’ve seen Chef Hagihara at Hakata Ton Ton’s booth, sporting a pig’s nose and hawking the restaurant’s grilled specialties. At this particular Japanese Culinary Center event, Chef Hagihara, who trained at the prestigious Tsuji Cooking Academy in Osaka and specialized in upscale Chinese cuisine, discussed the history and nutritional value of Motsu Nabe while showing attendees how easy the dish is to prepare.

As traditional hot pots go, Motsu Nabe is relatively new, having become popular in Japan during the 1950s. The main ingredient of the dish is the large intestine of a cow, which Hakata Ton Ton sources from Arkansas. (Pork intestine can also be used.) Before you cringe at the thought of eating animal innards, Chef Hagihara wants you to know that Motsu Nabe is high in protein and low in calories.


So how does this . . .

offal, Japanese cuisine
Motsu, the large intestine of a cow


Become this?

Motsu Nabe, Japanese cuisine
Motsu Nabe


It’s relatively simple. In addition to the offal, Motsu Nabe contains only a handful of ingredients:

  • Cabbage
  • Nira, Chinese garlic chives
  • Togarashi, a Japanese spice made of hot chili peppers
  • Garlic cloves
  • Gyoza wrappers
  • Soup stock made of chicken broth, sake, salt, and soy sauce that Chef Hagihara stews for up to six hours
Motsu Nabe, Japanese cuisine
Heating the hot pot

Since the offal is rather chewy, Chef Hagihara starts by cutting it into bite-sized pieces, which he combines with the soup stock in a wide aluminum pot that is standard in Motsu Nabe cooking. Without stirring, Chef Hagihara layers the cabbage and nira, creating a mountain of sorts. To the top of the pile go the gyoza wrappers, which act as an insulator, allowing the heat to cook one ingredient at a time. Lastly, Chef Hagihara sprinkles togarashi.

When the stock reaches a boil, Chef Hagihara ladles it over the ingredients. The cooking process takes about ten minutes. The result is a hearty and healthy dish that has about 300 calories per serving.

The general rule in Japanese cooking is that nothing is wasted, so Chef Hagihara adds ramen to leftover broth, creating a tasty way to end the meal.

Ramen, Motsu Nabe, Japanese cuisine
Ramen with Motsu Nabe broth


If you want to make Motsu Nabe for yourself, Chef Hagihara recommends shopping in Chinatown, where you can find good quality pig intestines. You can ask your neighborhood butcher for cow and pig offal as well.

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