The Japanese Delicacy (X): Oden
Oden is a traditional Japanese nabemono (Japanese one-pot dish) enjoyed during the cold winter. Oden is a healthy and casual food, made from soy products, meat, seafood, and vegetables simmered in a soy sauce-flavored broth. Its savory flavor makes it a perfect couple with rice, noodles, and sake.
What is Oden
Oden is an essential dish for Japanese people, especially those who love drinking sake. All the ingredients are cut into bite-sized pieces, skewered on a stick, and simmered in dashi for 2-4 hours. The dashi is a kind of broth made from dried bonito flakes and seaweed, seasoned with ingredients such as fried tofu, Japanese fish cakes, beef strips, and vegetables, and simmered for a long time.
Oden is usually served at food carts, izakaya, and convenience store chains, and there are also oden restaurants. Many varieties are sold, with single-ingredient dishes sometimes as cheap as 100 yen. Some carts and restaurants offer oden year round though it is often considered winter food. Many of these restaurants feature their broth, which is replenished as it simmers to make the flavor deepen and develop over years.
The recipes and flavors of oden vary from region to region. In Tokyo and most of the Kanto region, the broth is made from boiled kombu (dried seaweed) and dried katsuo flakes.
History of Oden
Oden originated in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), which was not the same as today's oden. In those days, the dish was grilled tofu skewered with miso paste. The dish was called "dengaku" because of its resemblance to dengaku-hoshi (a priest who gave performances of himself on a stilt).
During the Edo period (1603-1868), nameshi-ya (casual restaurant) began serving dengaku, a dish of rice cooked with vegetables and konjac. Subsequently, the Japanese began stewing dengaku in the broth, creating the precursor to today’s oden. It became popular as street carts began to sell it with hot sake.
The oden we know today didn't take shape until the end of the beginning of the Meiji era (1868-1912) when the oden added more ingredients. The name was also abbreviated from dengaku to "den," with the addition of the honorific “o."
Ingredients of Oden
Konjac (Konnyaku): It’s a root vegetable with a texture similar to jelly, though chewier. It’s made into cubes or noodle-shaped gel bits added into the oden for its salty taste.
Daikon: It’s white radish. Daikon may be the first ingredient that comes to mind when mentioning oden. When you simmer it, it absorbs the dashi stock and adds a special flavor to the broth.
Tofu: It is a popular ingredient and it comes in many different forms.
Shiitake: Mushrooms are one of the most popular ingredients in oden. The taste of the mushroom itself melting into the dashi stock creates a very special flavor.
Yude tamago: Boiled Egg is an essential ingredient in oden. Depending on the boiling time, the egg yolks can be hard-boiled or soft-boiled.
Rorucabetsu: It is Japanese cabbage rolled and stuffed with pork/beef mince. Both the cabbage and the mince will absorb the broth and present a special aroma.
Chikuwa: It is a hollow, tube-shaped Japanese fishcake made from ingredients such as fish surimi, starch, and egg white.
Tsumire: Fishballs made from minced sardines and potato starch. Depending on the boiling time, the egg yolks can be hard-boiled and soft-boiled.
Rorucabetsu: It is a Japanese cabbage roll stuffed with pork/beef mince. Both the cabbage and the mince will absorb the broth and present a special aroma.