Oden, the smell of Winter in Japan
One of Japan's oldest "fast food", served mainly in winter and colder seasons, a definite must try in Japan.
What is Oden?
Oden is a type of pot food in Japan, particularly popular during the colder seasons. With variety of pieces simmered in a clear soup, which differs from different regions in Japan.
There are up to 20 or more different types of oden items which can be cooked in the soup and eaten from a simmering pot. Usually, Japanese people know that the colder season has approached when convenient stores start rolling out their oden sales.
Oden has said to originated in the 14th century, during Muromachi period with tofu skewers cooked in a miso broth base. Only until around the 17th century, dashi broth was introduced into oden.
Oden is a traditional food that can be eaten as a snack or as a meal for a family to sit around the table with. It's also said that oden is one of Japan’s oldest fast food.
Where can you try out Oden?
In Japan, the most common and convenient places where you can get oden is at the convenient stores such as 7-11, Family mart or Lawsons. Usually, you can pick what you want and put it in a bowl where you can take it away.
If you would like to cook it at home, in recent years Japan has started selling prepacked heat-and-eat oden at supermarkets, one can purchase pre-made packets of oden with the dashi soup and 7 or 14 pieces of a variety of oden in it.
For people who prefer a more particular soup base or if they have their hands on a secret recipe for their soup base, during colder seasons, supermarkets sell the different oden pieces and one can cook their own oden pot at home.
Although the most traditional way of eating oden was on food stalls or food carts back in the days, but as urbanization becomes a reality, those are more difficult to find in cities.
However, there are some restaurants in Japan that imitate the olden day traditions with restaurant décor set up as the food cart and one can pick their favorite oden at the table.
Some izakayas (small drinking stores) have oden on their menu with typical favorites from the locals. So be sure to check in store if they oden on their seasonal menus.
My experience with Oden
From my Chinese/Taiwanese heritage background, we also eat hotpot and soup based cuisines, so eating oden in winter is comforting for me. When I was still studying at the university, I would rush to the convenient store and pick my own favorites and sit on a cold winter morning during my lunch breaks.
Oden is especially good for people who are looking at controlling their weight, because things like the radish and egg can be super good for people who are watching their fat and protein intake. The soup base is also oil-free, which makes it warming yet not fattening.
Due to Covid-19 this year, I became a bit more conscious buying from the convenient stores, because the oden pot is in the open, so I noticed in the supermarkets, there are prepacked oden soups packs, going around 198-250 yen for a 7 piece oden pack.
It is super easy to make, just open the packet and pour into a container or pot to heat up on the stove or microwave. Definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a warm snack for winter or adding some extra items into the soup pack to make a scrumptious meal.
For my partner, who is Japanese still prefers to make oden from scratch and not buying the prepacked oden packages. For him, he prefers to cook the dashi (soup base) and buy the items fresh, such as the egg and radish to put into the soup. Of course, this would be a lot more difficult for a quick snack or meal.
So what is the most popular oden ingredient?
It really depends on where one was brought up, but the most common ingredients are daikon (white radish), tofu (the fried version is usually more popular) and hard boiled eggs.
However, what fascinated me, when I was working at the convenient store, most customers would always add a hanpen (white fluffy fish paste) in their oden order.
Other popular oden ingredients:
- Chikuwa: tube-shaped made from a mix of fish and egg whites.
- Satsuma-age: a fried fish cake with pieces of vegetables and bits of seafood.
- Gobou maki: a piece of burdock root wrapped in fish paste.
- Chikuwabu: These blocks of wheat are usually only found in oden.
For the calorie conscious ones:
- Onnyaku: this is a plant also known as konjac, has really low calories, it tastes a little bit like harder jelly.
- Shirataki: white, almost clear noodles made from konnyaku. Don’t really have a distinct flavour of their own, also low in calories and absorbs the soup very well.
Other popular ones:
- Atsuage: Small piece of fried toufu, which allows the firmness to stay and absorbs the soup well.
- Kinchaku: one of my favorites, a little packet looking like ingredient made o fried toufu and has a small piece of mochi wrapped inside.
- Ganmo: this piece of fried tofu is different from the top normal plain fried tofu, it is made with vegetables and some roots. For the meat lovers
- Tsukune: chicken meatballs. You will usually get them on a stick and you can sometimes find the same grilled as yakitoris.
- Tsumire: another kind of meatball.
- Gyu suji: like the tsukune, it's usually served on a stick but these are sometimes know as types of hormones in Japan which is a kind of animal intestine.
- Roru kyabetsu: literally 'rolled cabbage'. This is a cabbage leaf with a beef or pork filling inside.
Born: Taiwan Raised & Education: South Africa Background: Int Telecommunications. Currently living: Tokyo, Japan. Studied @ Waseda university. Current Job: @Tokyo in Technology Consultancy. Interests: Love exercise, Food, travels! Follow me for more insight into Japan life!
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