What is oden?
Oden is a winter feature of Japan.
“Oden” is a type of hot cooking pot cuisine. Tube-shaped fish paste, sliced daikon radish, konnyaku, and other ingredients are stewed in soup stock. It is a popular family dish enjoyed in winter. Different soup stock and ingredients are used depending on the region or household, and sometimes, these differences can lead to a heated dispute. In addition to eating at home, “oden” are sold at local convenience stores or street stands, and also served at restaurants. It has become a feature of winter in Japan. If you have an opportunity to visit Japan in winter, you would definitely want to enjoy hot “oden” at a street stand. There are some specialty restaurants that serve hot oden throughout the year including the summer season.
In recent years, consumers can buy new types of oden products such as retort pouched oden, canned oden called “Oden-kan” (available at Akihabara. It can be stored as emergency food), and “chilled oden” with jellied soup for hot summer.
Popular oden ingredients
1. Daikon radish
Most popular ingredient. Daikon absorbs the soup stock well and become quite tasty.
2. Grilled, steamed, or deep-fried fish paste
Fish paste is made by steaming, grilling, or deep frying minced fish meat. Chikuwa (tube-shaped fish paste) is the most popular type. Vegetable cut into small pieces may be mixed to the paste.
3. Deep fried tofu balls with vegetables
Made by mixing crashed tofu with vegetables and deep frying them.
4. Kombu seaweed
After being cooked to make soup, kombu is tied into a decorative knot and used as one of the ingredients for oden.
Comes in different shapes such as triangles or balls. Konnyaku is added to oden for its unique chewy texture.
6. Boiled eggs
Egg yolks can add a different taste to the soup.
7. Beef tendon
Popular ingredient in Kansai region (Western Japan).
8. Wheat gluten made into a tube shape
A type of wheat gluten based food. Popular in Kanto (Eastern Japan) or Tohoku (Northeastern) regions.
The name “oden” originates in a traditional tofu cuisine called “dengaku.”
“Oden” can date back to the Muromachi period (1336-1573). It is said that in the old days, “dengaku” referred to skewered tofu grilled with miso, which became the origin of “oden.” By the way, “Dengaku” was a type of performing arts played at agricultural rituals and festivals to pray for a good harvest. Performers danced on a pole, and it seems that from this, a skewered tofu dish came to be called “dengaku.”
During the Edo period (1603-1868), in addition to grilling, a new way of cooking “dengaku” by stewing tofu was invented. After the Meiji period (1868-1912), more ingredients were added, and the ways of eating “dengaku” gradually became verified and finally became the “dengaku” as we know nowadays. In modern days, “dengaku” and “oden” are considered two completely different types of cuisine. Consumers need to be careful since not all oden shops and restaurants may serve “dengaku” or vice versa.
The taste of “oden” is influenced by the length of time it is cooked.
The longer it is stewed, the more enhanced the flavor becomes. When you order “oden,” we recommend you to first try ingredients that take a long time to cook such as daikon radish or konnyaku. You should be able to tell the distinct flavor of the restaurant by tasting these ingredients.
Eating “oden” can reveal the food culture of each region.
“Oden” is a type of cuisine that strongly reflects regional differences. That is, by eating “oden,” people can learn about the regional food culture. Following descriptions tell a little bit about the various regional differences.
1. Shizuoka oden (Shizuoka prefecture)
In Shizuoka, chicken or beef tendon is used to make the soup. Since the soup is seasoned with thick soy sauce, it looks black. Locally procured ingredients such as the kurohanpen made from mackerel and sardine from Yaizu, konnyaku, tube-shaped fish paste, deep fried fish paste, fish paste with burdock, eggs, kombu, beef tendon, and potatoes are used. In Shizuoka, people sprinkle dried and powdered sardine or bonito called “dashiko” and powdered seaweed over “oden.” There is even a local group called “Shizuoka oden no kai.”
2. Toyama oden (Toyama prefecture)
In Toyama prefecture, it has been customary to put tororo kombu (shredded kombu) on “oden” since long before. The recipe for “Toyama oden” was developed from this custom.
The soup stock is made from kombu and dried bonito and seasoned with a pinch of salt. Locally produced ingredients are used with added variety. For example, since Toyama Bay is a rich source of fish and shellfish, fish balls made with minced white shrimp or deep-water shrimp and deep fried fish paste made from minced squids are added to “oden.” Thinly sliced skewered konnyaku called “Anbayashi” is also a local specialty. “Toyama oden” has become quite popular as a local specialty.
3. Aomori ginger-miso oden (Aomori prefecture)
In Aomori city, “ginger miso oden” has been enjoyed as a unique food culture of this region. A generous portion of miso sauce mixed with grated ginger is poured over “oden” before eating. It is said that “ginger miso oden” originated in the “oden” served at street stands (black market) that appeared one after another after the World War II. In the extremely cold winter of Aomori, a female vendor added grated ginger to her miso based “oden” to warm the people who were embarking the Seikan renrakusen ferry. Her miso and ginger oden was appreciated by the travelers and became popular.
4. Miso oden (Aichi prefecture)
One of the popular local cuisines of Aichi Prefecture. Ingredients like daikon radish, konnyaku, and beef tendon are stewed in a mild tasting soup made from Haccho miso (miso mainly produced in Aichi prefecture. Unlike regular miso, Haccho miso is made only from soy beans without the use of malted rice or koji for fermentation). Ingredients slowly stewed in Haccho miso based soup have a strong miso flavor, and the vegetables become dark red because of the miso. This dark red color seems to stimulate the appetite of the locals since it is a familiar color of food to them. In addition to “miso oden,” soy sauce flavored regular “oden” is also popular in Aichi. People pour miso based sauce or dip the ingredients in it when eating soy sauce based “oden.”
5. Himeji oden (Himeji city, Hyogo prefecture)
“Himeji oden” has been enjoyed by the locals of Himeji city and the surrounding area since long before. It is a light tasting “oden” to be enjoyed with grated ginger and soy sauce. Originally, people used to eat Kanto style “oden” without soup and poured soy sauce mixed with grated ginger over the ingredients. However, with the appearance of light tasting Kansai style “oden,” the new style of eating by dipping “oden” to a soy sauce in a small dish with grated ginger gradually became popular. Currently, there is the “Himeji Oden Popularization Committee (cooperative)” that promotes “Himeji oden,” and there are about 50 shops and restaurants that serve “Himeji oden” in and outside of the city of Himeji.
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- The oden is also one of the so-called nabe dish. However the remaining soup stock is usually not finished up with rice and noodles.
- The taste of oden is based on its soup stock, which is made from kelp, dried bonito.
- A specialty of Akihabara 'Oden Can' Canned oden can be purchased from vending machines. There are also canned products featuring animated cartoon characters, only available in Akihabara/