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Goin’ Japanesque!

What is Oden? Its History and How or Where to Eat It

Come the cold days of winter, the one food Japanese are sure to want to eat is oden. We’ve put together a compilation article of oden’s need-to-know, so read this and you’ll be fully prepared when the time comes to eat it in Japan.


What is Oden?

A type of hot simmered dish in Japanese cuisine, oden involves a large number of various ingredients simmered in a soy-sauce broth made from a stock of kelp and dried bonito.


The Origin of Oden


It’s said that oden has its roots in a dish of the Muromachi period (1336–1573) called dengaku, which referred to pieces of tofu and konjac (konnyaku) coated with miso paste and grilled on skewers. The name “oden” is the first part of “dengaku” with the polite “o” prefix added.


Types of Oden

There are a huge variety of ingredients you can use in oden: daikon radish, boiled eggs, konjac (konnyaku), chikuwa (ground fish shaped to look like tubes of bamboo), ganmodoki (fried tofu patties with vegetables), hampen (triangles of flavored ground fish), cute pouches of fried tofu called “kinchaku” (literally, “cloth purse”), and more. The secret to oden’s popularity lies with how easy it is to eat and how many ingredients it contains. What’s more, every region of the country has its own unique oden ingredients, so they probably number in the hundreds (though we can’t know exactly.) The stock used also varies with region, so even the flavor of the broth differs between areas.


How to Eat Oden

The essential condiment for oden is Japanese mustard. Oden may be perfectly tasty by itself, but adding mustard will accent the flavor for additional deliciousness.

As alluded to earlier, oden stock is made from richly savory ingredients, and one of the most famous ways to enjoy the broth that remains is to add udon noodles and eat it like you would Japanese hot pot.


Where to Eat Oden


In the olden days, you’d often see oden stands in front of train stations. One particular scene of bygone times that almost any Japanese person can bring to mind is that of an office worker on his way home stopping at an oden stand to have some oden together with sake. However, the number of stalls specializing in oden has dropped drastically, replaced by the spread of till-side oden service at convenience stores.


Buying Oden at the Convenience Store


Long ago, the shop staff would prepare your oden for you, but at most shops nowadays it’s self-service. Take the ingredients you want from the oden simmering beside the register, put them in a cup or a container (provided), and then bring it up to the register. Add as much broth as you’d like.

If you’re not certain what to take, try this selection: daikon radish, egg, fried tofu patty, fried tofu “purse”, and one of the small hot dogs wrapped up in fried ground fish.

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