Winter in Tokyo sweeps in and out of the country, alternating between temperate and cold, gradually turning into a long span of freezing weather by late October or November. And while you agonize about whether to change your closet to warmer clothes, remember your best weapon against the cold is steaming hot, tasty food.
What do the Japanese crave when the weather turns bitterly cold? Chances are your first answer is ramen, but what I have in mind is something quicker that goes well with rice. It’s right there near the fried food display at the register counter in the convenience store, inviting you in with its steaming soup cauldron. This, my friends, is oden.
The origins of oden are pretty surprising. The predecessor of oden is miso dengaku, squares of skewered tofu or konyaku jelly with miso sauce. Eventually, during the Edo period, someone noticed that konyaku was excellent in soup and decided to throw it together with other foods easy to sell in small stalls lined up next to yakisoba and yakitori.
Oden is popular because it’s so easy to display, and because of its variety of ingredients and additional seasoning such as miso or yuzu paste to customize the soup according to one’s taste. If you keep ignoring oden because you don’t know how to order, you miss out on a delightfully warming comfort food.
To order oden, you need merely line up at the register and say that you are ordering oden, and then the clerk will attend to your order. Choose the size of the bowl, sho for small, chu for medium or dai for large. You pick out the ingredients and how much each you want in the bowl and then finish up by saying how much soup you want to include.
What Ingredients Are In Oden?
Chikuwa (served fried), or Chikuwabu, a mixture of fish meat steamed or fried and made into a tube. If you’re not a fan of raw fish, chikuwa is a good choice for some much needed healthy DHA and EPA.
Atsuage which is fried tofu, and ganmo, tofu crushed and mixed with vegetables and then fried.
Konyaku and shirataki are made from yam. The smell puts some people off, but the benefits of are worth it. They’re recommended for people on diets as they fill up the stomach with practically zero caloric intake, and clean up the intestines and stabilize digestion.
Konbu, or seaweed, is rich in vitamins and minerals like algin, calcium, iron, sodium and iodine. It helps control sugar and fat intake.
Satsumaage, along with the variant wrapped around with burdock vegetable called gobo-maki, is another mix of different kinds of fish fried and vegetables.
The funny looking bag is the kinchaku, which literally means “pouch”. Inside is hot mochi, which makes it my favorite oden, especially when mixed with cheese.
Daikon, the Japanese radish is extremely soft, and after seeping up the soup, it loses all bitterness. Inside the rolled cabbage is minced meat that may somewhat remind you of hamburger meat.
The oden boiled egg is no ordinary boiled egg. The oden soup flavor seeps into the yolk, making it a hard favorite.
If you’re craving meat try sausage, the beef stick and weiner-maki, (sausage wrapped in satsuma-age). Tsukune is minced chicken meat, and tsumire is a ball made of sardine and mackerel.
One item only found in oden is the hampen, soft like a half-melted savoury marshmallow, rich in DHA, EPA, calcium, and vitamin B12.
Are you tempted to try oden? Once you do, you’ll be back for more every winter.
Making oden by yourself is also great. You can buy the soup in powder form. First, warm it up over low heat and gather your favorite ingredients. Daikon and eggs need time to absorb the taste, so they go in first. Fried ingredients like tofu and satsumaage go in the pot early and hampen should go in right before eating, or it will bloat up. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
Oden also goes great with beer, which I intend to try next. I recommend that you also be adventurous and try it out!