In Japan the classic hot pot dish oden is their chicken noodle soup, although it's a little bit more complicated. The mix of so many ingredients that vary from prefecture to prefecture can be very overwhelming to foreigners and can make it so they avoid the dish all together.
Luckily for you your days of confusion are now officially over! With this helpful guide you'll gain the knowledge of what's in oden and where to find it in Japan.
Overview: What is Oden?
The simplicity of preparing this dish is also why it's so popular during the winter because you can spend more time cuddling up under your kotatsu than in the kitchen.
The broth or dashi soup stock is made from water, soy sauce, sake, sugar, salt and mirin (sweet cooking rice wine). Kombu (dried kelp) and dried bonito flakes are also added. The stock can be heated before adding the other ingredients but it isn't essential.
The broth may be slightly altered by how much of each ingredient is added, or how strong the broth flavor is but the ingredients used are usually the same from prefecture to prefecture.
Daikon is a type of radish that's found in Japan and is a key staple in oden. Daikon are opaque before they're cooked, but gradually get softer and clearer once they simmer. Daikon are perfect for oden because they soak up the wonderful oden broth. There are usually a couple big slices of daikon in oden, but they won't take you but a few seconds to consume.
Yaki Chikuwa (焼ちくわ)
These are tube-shaped fish cakes that you'll find in almost any oden. The fish cakes are pre-cooked, lightly fried and are also sometimes filled with cheese or other ingredients that melt when they begin to simmer.Mochiiri Kinchaku (餅入り巾着)
This ingredient is named after the kinchaku's that women carry around when they wear kimono or yukata. The pouches are made from deep-fried tofu and are filled with mochi (sticky rice cake). The pouches are tied with kanpyo (dried gourd strips). These are also pre-cooked and once they've been simmered they can be a little bit difficult to eat in one bite, so you can try tearing them apart with your chopsticks.
This ingredient might throw you off a little bit. Konnyaku is a grey jellylike substance made from the root of Amorphophallus konjac. Generally, konyaku is cut into triangles with tiny criss cross cuts on the top to absorb the broth. Konyaku on it's own tastes...bad, but once it's added to oden it can be quite delicious.
These are clear noodles made from the konnyaku potato plant. Unlike regular noodles, shirataka are bound together with a thick band also made from konnyaku. These really have no taste until they're added to the broth and are more of a texture than a flavor. Shirataka are chewy and can be a little difficult to pick up with your chopsticks if you're not skilled in holding them.
Ganmo (がんも)/Atsu-age (厚揚げ)
These are two very common tofu products that are added to oden. Ganmo is a tofu patty that is about half-an-inch thick and made from deep-fried tofu and vegetables. Atsu-age is a thick bar of fried tofu.
Satsuma-age (さつま揚げ )
These look a bit similar to ganmo in terms of shape, but satsuma-age are fried fishcakes that are typically made of cod. Satsuma-age also contain vegetables (usually shredded carrot).
This is a special type of fish cake that is very soft and melts in your mouth. The taste of hanpen is very mild and mainly takes on the flavor of the oden broth.
Along with these ingredients oden also contains eggs which usually become softer the longer they are simmered in the oden.
Less Common Ingredients/Regional
Rooru Kyabetsu (ロールキャベツ)
This is a very simple ingredient and consists of cabbage being wrapped around a filling (usually ground pork). The cabbage is tied with a thicker band of cabbage or noodles.
Gyuu Suji (牛すじ)
This may not be for everyone. This is beef muscle and has a very rubbery texture that not everyone can deal with. The Japanese tend not to waste any meat products like many westerners do and they tend to put them in soups. The good news is that gyuu suji is easy to spot in oden because it's usually on a skewer when you order it at restaurants.
Chikuwabu (ちくわぶ )
This is very similar to the fishcake chikuwa, but instead of being made of fish it's made of flour-paste. These tend to be a little bit on the blander side, but they're also really filling.
These are meatballs made of chicken and are usually skewered with some sweet soy sauce on top. These can be found all over Japan around the year, but are sometimes added to oden.
This is a type of processed seafood and is made of different type of fish formed into a loaf. These are sliced and a couple pieces are placed into oden. You might recognize these because they are commonly put into ramen. Kamaboko with swirls in the middle are also referred to as naruto's.
Where Can You Get Oden?
Every convenience store in Japan will have oden during the winter months, so you don't need to look very hard. The most common convenience stores in Japan are Lawson, Family Mart and Seven Eleven, there may be some smaller ones in different towns and prefecture, but they will also have oden.
Once you enter the convenience store (konbini) you will find an oden stand with different ingredients for you to choose from. Each individual ingredient has its own price and you can mix and match what you want in you're own personal oden! Simply take one of the bowls provided, pour in some broth and dump in your favorite ingredients.
Once you're down creating your oden simply take it up to the cashier and they'll charge you for the ingredients you picked. This is one of the best ways to eat oden because not only is it portable and affordable, but you also get to pick the ingredients yourself, so you won't have to worry about getting something you won't like.
During winter festivals such as New Years you can find oden at food stalls. Ingredients are prepared fresh daily, so you know you're getting some good quality oden. Simply pick out your ingredients, pay the vendor and enjoy a nice hot meal!
Izakaya's are Japanese bars. Oden is considered a drinking food that goes well with beer and other types of alcohol. Izakaya will sell oden during the winter months, so if you want to enjoy some drinks and oden head on over to the izakaya.
There are also oden restaurants and food stands all around Japan. You can easily spot these restaurants by looking at the flag or lanterns outside that say oden or おでん. These restaurants will serve a variety of oden ranging from traditional ingredients to a specialty that's served in that specific region.
Some popular oden resturants include Inagaki located in Kojimachi, Takokyu located in Ueno and Owariya located in Kanda.
Types of Oden
Hokkaido and Muroran-style oden has pieces of scallops and whelk from the northern sea in their oden while Kanazawa-style oden has crab meat stuffed into its shell. Okinawa oden is made with Hakata (pigs feet) and has a chicken soup base.
Shizouka-style oden has a soup base made from pork gibblet. The oden is also topped off with flour and is commonly served with dried seaweed. Nagoya-style oden includes both beef tendon and taro simmered in their famous Haccho miso paste.