Nabe Japanese Hot Pot at Matcha Time Cafe

With fresh vegetables, lean meats and a light broth, nabe is a wonderful way to welcome spring.

There’s a chill in the air with cloudy grey skies and a light sprinkling of rain. It’s perfect weather to experience nabe. Nabe is a Japanese hot pot dish where everything is cooked in one pot. I’ve never had nabe before and didn’t know what to expect, so I was eager to try it at our Matcha Time Cafe T-Eat.


Hatsumi, Matcha Time Cafe’s owner, prepares the nabe.

Hatsumi is the very sweet and friendly owner of Matcha Time Cafe. She prepared the entire nabe meal from scratch, including the dashi broth that serves as the liquid base for the hot pot. Nabe isn’t listed on the menu. It’s a special homemade meal that takes extra time to prepare. It’s something you have to request and advance reservations are required.

An assortment of fresh vegetables and ingredients simmer in the pot: daikon (Japanese radish), negi (green onion), shiitake and other mushrooms, hakusai (nappa cabbage), shungiku (edible chrysanthemum), and tofu. The white slices with pink swirls are naruto. It’s a fish paste that’s been steamed and has a scallop-like taste and texture. The pink swirl represents the Naruto whirlpools in the Naruto Strait near Japan.

Nabe with turkey meatballs.

We start with ground turkey meatballs. Hatsumi plops them into the pot one after the other, stirring them occasionally, but quickly, until they’re cooked.

Speaking of turkey, I have to share this completely random occurrence. I caught sight of a huge turkey on the drive to Matcha Time Cafe. It was strutting around in the wooded area along the highway. I have absolutely no idea why it was there or what it was doing. I wish I was able to get a picture of it. Oddly enough, this isn’t my first unusual bird sighting, but I digress.

Bergamot Sage ice tea (top) and lime flavored ponzu sauce.

Hatsumi and her staff serve our bowls. We’re encouraged to dip the food into ponzu sauce, a tangy citrus seasoned soy sauce. My table has the lime flavored version. I now refer to it as “magic sauce” as I couldn’t stop myself from dipping every bite into it. We’re also treated to complimentary Bergamot Sage ice tea. Although too herbal and spiced for my liking, the tea is refreshing and worked well as a nice palate cleanser between servings.

Nabe with cod and shrimp.

Hatsumi later adds cod, then shrimp to the hot pot. It’s like the nabe takes on a life of its own. The flavors keep changing over the course of the meal with different vegetables and meats being mixed into the pot.

A bit of octopus peeks out of the takoyaki ball. Photo by Julian Stuckey.

I stop eating the nabe after two servings so I could have room for other food. I order takoyaki — balls of fried batter with minced tako (octopus) inside. They’re simply delicious. It’s garnished with bonito flakes, which are shavings of dried, smoked bonito fish. The flakes appear to be “alive” as they move and dance in reaction to the heat. It amazes me every time I see it.

Black Sesame Dragon Ball Ice Cream. The dessert utensils are so cute!

I finish the meal with not one, but two desserts. I couldn’t resist trying the Dragon Ball Ice Cream. It’s not related to anything Dragon Ball Z like I initially thought. It’s ice cream served with whipped cream, red bean paste, and mochi (a chewy Japanese rice cake that’s pounded into paste and then molded into shape). You can select from three flavors of ice cream. I choose black sesame. It’s an unexpected, yet surprisingly savory taste. It isn’t sweet at all. I’d say it’s like eating toasted ice cream.

Japanese Waffle dessert. JUST LOOK AT IT.

Then there’s the Japanese Waffle. A delectable matcha ice cream-stuffed waffle dessert topped with fresh strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate drizzle. Pardon me while I drool.

I greatly enjoyed myself and the food at Matcha Time Cafe. I couldn’t stop smiling. The atmosphere is really casual, like you’re eating a good meal at home with family and friends. The gift shop nestled in the back of the cafe is also a delight. It’s filled with many cute, traditional and authentic Japanese items. I didn’t get anything from the gift shop, but I didn’t leave empty-handed. I ordered onigiri (rice ball) to go.

I feel like I barely scratched the surface with all Matcha Time Cafe has to offer, especially with their desserts and teas. I’ll be back for more.

T-Eaters enjoying nabe. The gift shop offers a variety of Japanese trinkets.

T-MODE staff Julian and Taylor having a great time.

Beautiful Japanese doll display.

Renee (T-MODE CEO) and Hatsumi.

Restaurant Information

Matcha Time Cafe
3875 Hamilton Street, Ellicott City, MD 21043 // 410-418-4832

T-MODE T-Eats is a food focused series of our T-MODE T-Meets events. We dine at unique restaurants that specialize in Japanese and Asian cuisine. It’s good times with delicious food and great company.