Oden...Japan's best winter food (according to my stomach)

Good morning everyone,

It's raining now and will continue to rain for most of the day, but should stop sometime in the late afternoon or evening. Tomorrow will be overcast with a slight chance of rain and then it'll be partly sunny on Tuesday...which is nice...however, Tuesday will also bring the beginning of cold mornings as the overnight lows all next week will be around 1C or 2C...brrr!

Oden started from dengaku and evolved

It is said that oden originated from tofu dengaku, a regional dish from Kyoto where pieces of tofu were put onto bamboo skewers and grilled. Later in the Edo period (1603–1868), a new style of eating the food emerged where people heated tofu dengaku in stock, instead of grilling it on skewers—the style that today’s oden originated from.

The variety of ingredients also grew, from just tofu to konyaku and Japanese yam. The food was apparently widely popular at the time, like today’s fast food. Later, more soup-like oden emerged. It spread to the Kansai area, where it was known as Kanto stew.

Cross Country Japan oden tour. Local oden simmered in each region’s culture

Oden, now available all across Japan, has spawned many variations depending on the region’s culture and local produce. 



Oden from Hokkaido contains mountain herbs, like butterburs and bracken, and shellfish, like whelks and scallops. Around Sapporo and Kushiro, the stew could also contain fresh seafood, and some restaurants serve their oden with mashed Arabesque greenling fish balls and soft cod roe. In the warmer seasons of spring cherry blossom viewing parties and summer festivals, you will find miso oden, where the stew’s ingredients are served with a miso sauce that has been accented with ginger.



It is said that the soupy version of oden reached Tohoku after the Second World War. In the mountainous regions of Iwate, Fukushima and Yamagata, most people still have tofu and konyaku dengaku oden. In regions around Aomori City, most people eat their oden with soup, served with ginger and miso sauce, an influence possibly from Hokkaido’s miso oden.



In Tokyo, there is an oden restaurant named Otako, which opened during the Taisho period (1912–1926), serving oden with strongly flavored soups made with bonito stock, soy sauce and sugar. Another restaurant named Ippei opened during the Showa period (1926–1989) and triggered a trend towards lighter-flavors. Both of these restaurants still offer the same oden that were popular back when they first opened. Chikuwabu, a dough tube, and hanpen, fish paste cakes, have both been popular ingredients amongst people since the Edo period. Suji means beef tendon in Kansai, but in Kanto, it is a mashed paste made from the by-products of the hanpen-making process, such as shark cartilage.



In Chubu, Shizuoka oden is popular; there, the dish is sprinkled with fish flakes. It comes with soup extracted from cut beef or beef tendons, and crescent-shaped black hanpens made with mashed sardines and mackerels. In Aichi, which has a rich miso culture, oden is served with ample Haccho miso—a special miso paste made with soybeans. There is also miso-soup oden in the central part of Nagoya, containing pork giblets simmered in miso.



In Osaka, oden is called Kanto stew, as oden simmered in bonito stock came from the Kanto region. These Kanto stews deepened their flavor with the addition of kombu seaweed stock in Kansai and were taken back to Tokyo after the Great Kanto Earthquake, from where they expanded nationwide. In Kansai, the must-have ingredient is beef tendons. Some restaurants also add chicken and chicken wings for more flavor.


Chugoku and Shikoku

Shikoku’s oden have many dips. In Kagawa and Tokushima, people regularly have mustard miso, and in Ehime, Migarashi miso, which is barley miso-based mustard miso. In and around Hagi, Yamaguchi, a type of fish cake known as kamaboko is made in large volumes, so the oden in the Chugoku and Shikoku regions also contain this fish cake.


Kyushu and Okinawa

In Kyushu, people like chicken-soup oden and some people put yuzu and chili peppers on the ingredients instead of mustard. Bars in Kagoshima City often serve tonkotsu (pork bone) oden, with soup made from pork and chicken bones, mixed with blended miso (mostly barley miso), crystalized sugar and Japanese sweet potato liquor. Okinawa also has many oden restaurants and the stews are often sold beside the deli section of supermarkets. These oden are rich, with bonito stock and pig’s feet, uniquely assorted with sausages and green vegetables.

Which is your preference? For me...I lean towards the taste we have here in Chugoku.

Have a great day!

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