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What’s in a name? Often, for a restaurant, a lot rides on the naming of dishes. There is a science — and a whole consulting industry — devoted to food-item names and their placement on menus. Cooks everywhere, even before it became a science, have labored to find names suitable for their latest creations.

Japanese is a language that lends itself to the subtle naming of dishes. In the late ’60s, when chef Toshikatsu Osako was looking for a name for a new nabe (one-pot soup dish) he had created, he turned to one of the oldest pieces of Japanese literature available, the eighth-century collection of poems, “Manyoshu.”

Among the poems he found a word, kawatare, which seemed to describe his soymilk-infused soup perfectly. Kawatare, similar in meaning to the word tasogare, is written with the kanji characters that mean “who is he” or “who is that person” ( ). It refers to the twilight, when it is not yet dark but it is difficult to see the faces of even your traveling companions clearly.

Just like the gradual fall of night, the soymilk (tonyu) in the dish begins to cloud as the soup is heated and the proteins coagulate. Kawatare nabe became one of the specialties at Osako’s restaurants and continued to be a conversation piece until the doors closed in the spring of 2000. This dish may still be seen, however, all around Kansai and in other regions of Japan, in the restaurants of the dozens of apprentices who worked under the chef’s watchful eye.

Kawatare nabe

At a loss to translate kawatare, I one day came across Alice Elliott Dark’s 1994 short story, “In the Gloaming.” The gloaming is an old Scottish term for that time of evening when the whole world becomes hazy and purple. In the story, Dark uses the gloaming literally and as a reference to her terminally ill son slowly slipping away. Further reading revealed that there are many quite elegant words in English as well.

For this nabe, first you have to make the dashi. You can buy chicken bones (tori gara) at any meat counter. Have them cut the chicken into manageable pieces. Roasting or blanching the chicken bones removes some of the fat and gives the stock lots of flavor. For depth, mochigome (glutinous rice) is roasted, simmered with the stock, passed though a sieve and then returned to the finished soup.

You may combine the dashi and the seasoning on the portable gas burner at the table, but make sure that you then remove some of the soup and set it aside to add later. As the vegetables cook, they will give off water and prevent the soup from getting too thick, but you may need to add a little water to thin it.

The meats and fish may be added raw, but be sure they are fully cooked before removing them to eat. Vegetables cut into reasonable pieces may also be added raw. There is no rule for the garnish, and you may add or substitute anything that is fresh and available at the local market. If you are new to the nabe style of cooking, try it just once with someone who is an experienced hand, and you will catch on immediately.

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Kawatare dashi

3 liters cold water
Bones of butchered chicken, cut into 16 pieces
30 grams konbu
50 grams katsuobushi (bonito flakes)
1 cup mochigome, roasted

1) In a dry pan over medium heat, roast the raw mochigome until it has a nice golden color. Place in a gauze satchel and set aside.

2) In a hot oven or top-flame grill, roast the chicken bones until brown.

3) In a large stockpot, place roasted chicken bones, konbu and the satchel of mochigome. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil over a high flame.

4) When the pot boils, reduce the heat to a simmer, remove konbu and skim any foam or fat off the surface of the dashi.

5) Simmer on medium-low heat for 90 minutes, skimming as needed.

6) After 90 minutes, remove satchel of mochigome and set aside.

7) To the stockpot, add the katsuobushi and let it sit for 10 minutes. Strain dashi through a cheesecloth.

8) Remove mochigome from the satchel, pass it though a fine sieve (uragoshi) and return it to the dashi.

9)If not using immediately, cool and refrigerate.

Kawatare soup

1,800 ml kawatare dashi
180 ml mirin
180 ml usukuchi shoyu (light soy sauce)
1,000 ml tonyu

1) In the pot that you will use at the table, combine dashi, mirin and shoyu and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and add tonyu.

2) Set one-third aside to add later when the soup reduces as you are making the nabe at the table.

Kawatare main ingredients

1 chicken thigh, boneless, cut into four pieces
100 grams pork, preferably marbled, sliced very thin
4 hard clams (hamaguri), in shell, washed
4 prawns (kuruma ebi), de-veined
100 grams suzuki or mutsu (domestic and imported sea bass), cut into four pieces
100 grams salmon, cut into four pieces
1 package tofu, momen, cut into eight pieces
1/2 head napa cabbage (hakusai), washed and trimmed
2 bunches spinach, washed and trimmed
1 bunch leeks (shiro negi), washed and cut into 5-cm pieces
4 shiitake mushrooms, trimmed
1 package enoki mushrooms, trimmed
2 packages fresh udon noodles
1 bunch scallions, sliced thin
1/2 cup grated daikon with cayenne pepper (ichimi)

1) Into simmering soup, slowly add meats, fish and vegetables. As they cook, remove to individual serving dishes in which you add sliced scallions and grated daikon. Add soup to pot as needed.

2) After the ingredients have been eaten, add udon noodles. When noodles are fully heated, remove to serving dishes and enjoy. Serves four.

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