What is oden?
The Japanese winter dish, oden, is a soup-like stew based on soy sauce, involving a whole range of ingredients that are simmered in a broth. A typical oden contains fish balls and/or fish cakes, tofu, hard-boiled egg, jelly-like konnyaku and vegetables.
In the winter months, oden can be purchased ready-made in shops or from street vendors, paying the seller per ingredient that you choose. Oden is also often prepared at home. Many people buy packaging in the store with a selection of oden ingredients (oden no mi); they don’t make it all themselves.
The ingredients of oden are almost all beige-brown and, in the eyes of most tourists, have an unrecognisable, almost extraterrestrial appearance. Fortunately, many of the ingredients look stranger than they taste. The pans in which oden is served resemble large cookie tins, with separate compartments for the different ingredients; if you dare to eat a bowl, you can officially call yourself an advanced eater of Japanese food.
How to make oden
In a clay pot (donabe) or oden pan a salty broth is prepared based on kombu (seaweed), dashi, katsuobushi (bonito flakes), soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar and salt. All of the following could be used in your oden:
- daikon – an oden without daikon is like a pizza without cheese. It is possible, but why would you?
- yaki chikuwa – a cylindrical baked package of fish paste. If you are not convinced of how good this sounds, let yourself be persuaded by the funny appearance
- mochiiri kinchaku – a “bag” of tofu containing mochi, a rice cake
- yude tamago – a hard-boiled egg discoloured due to long simmering in the broth. It has a salty taste
- konnyaku – jelly-like cubes made from the root of the konjak plant. It has a mild taste and has hardly any calories, but the Japanese love its texture
- shirataki – noodles made from konnyaku, tied together with a thick bar of konnyaku
- atsuage – thick slices of fried tofu
- ganmo – a deep-fried tofu vegetable slice
- satsuma-age – fried fish cookies
- tsukune – a stick with chicken meatballs
- rooru kyabetsu – stuffed cabbage packages
Often, after cooking, everything is left cold for one night and warmed up the next day. This allows the bouillon to optimally absorb the flavour of the ingredients. The result is a filling, varied and extremely tasty dish.
How to eat
Oden is served in bowls. In addition to a ladle of broth, you get the ingredients you have chosen or anything else you fancy, such as some mustard.
Japanese eat oden with rice and/or sake.
If you don’t feel adventurous, you can also try tod man pla, Thai fish cakes. After all, fish cakes regularly feature in an oden …