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Centuries-Old Craft of the Japanese Donabe

Cooking without a recipe, let the pottery do the work.
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In the country that gave the world sushi and mochi—rice, the most basic of staples, is more than revered; it’s been elevated to an art form. Japanese earthenware-maker Nagatani-en has mastered the art of ceramic cookware, enabling home chefs to work their own magic on rice dishes, thanks to its sophisticated, time-honed techniques.

Founded in 1832 in the Japanese city of Iga, the family-run company is known for its Igá-Monó donabes: handmade ceramic clay cooking pots in the Iga-yaki pottery style, said to have originated in Iga’s Mie prefecture.

The distinctive pottery is made from clay obtained from the region’s Lake Biwa, where it originates through shifting river waters. The clay is thought to be rich in organic matter that incinerates during the heating process, leaving behind tiny air holes in the clay. The porous surface aids in the retention of heat, which results in evenly distributed and aromatic cooking.

Kamado-san, a double-lidded donabe pot, is designed by Nagatani-en specifically for cooking rice. After the clay pot is formed, the outer layer is scraped off to reveal the naturally-formed cavities on the unglazed surface. The pot also boasts two lids with separate steam openings. The result is perfectly steamed rice with just the slightest crisped edges, ready to move beyond the humble side dish to the centrepiece of the table.

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 103

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