Oden and Its Ingredients In Pictures- Japan's Soul Winter Dish!
Have you ever heard of "oden"? It is a common Japanese winter (and autumn) dish. It can be served at restaurants, food stalls, convenience stores, and made at home. One interesting thing about oden is that it has a great variety of ingredients. Here is a list of common items you'll find in a pot of oden!
But first, what is oden exactly? Oden (おでん) is a kind of Japanese hotpot dish commonly eaten in winter. It consists of various ingredients simmered in a soy-flavored light dashi (Japanese cooking stock made from seaweed and bonito) broth. Oden can be served at fancy Japanese restaurants, but it can also be made at home. You can also find convenience stores and food stalls selling oden at reasonable low prices. It's a warm dish, a kind of Japanese comfort food, that you'll surely love to eat during the winter.
Oden as a street food. You'll often see it sold at stalls such as this one. Notice how all the ingredients are separated into different compartments. This allows you to customize your bowl of oden. Usually, every piece is sold for a small price (50 to 150 yen is a common price range). A filling bowl costs about 500 yen.
Ingredients vary so widely in each region and household that there will be no limit to the list of ingredients that can be used for making oden. In other words, oden is a very adaptable dish. Here are some most common ingredients.
Daikon is one of the most common and popular oden items. You'll find daikon in many types of Japanese cuisines. It's a root vegetable that belongs to the radish family and it looks like a huge white carrot. The taste is a little bitter and eye-watering kind of spicy when eaten raw. Simmered in an oden soup for a long time, however, it's a whole different vegetable. It becomes very soft and almost translucid for having sucked up all of the good oden broth. The mix of its natural flavors and the dashi soup makes it one of the best ways to eat it. What's more, daikon has natural properties that stimulate digestion. You'll find it in oden cut in large pieces such as the one shown in this picture.
Tamago means boiled egg, which is also a must-include item in oden. It becomes soft and rich in the oden broth. The color of the egg changes to a light brown. When it has been soaking in the oden soup for a long time, the deep taste will have permeated to the core of the egg which makes it so savory. Eggs are a great source of protein and are rich in vitamins too. You get the best of both worlds, great taste, and good nutrition.
Konnyaku, also known as konjac, is a mystery as to what it is even to many Japanese. It has a hard jelly-like texture and almost no taste. It is often found in oden in large triangular cuts. As for what it is made from, simply put it's a mix of a super starchy kind of potato and some limestone water. 97% of its content is water and the rest is mostly viscous dietary fibers, hence it has virtually no calories. In Japanese it is often called "i no houki" (胃のほうき) which means broom of the stomach. So make sure to try the wobbly grayish konnyaku! It has a nice texture and is good for cleaning your digestive track.
Shirataki is a close relative of the konnyaku. In fact, it's made from the same raw ingredients so the texture and the nutritional properties are essentially the same. The shape is what makes them different. Shirataki (白滝) literally means "white waterfalls", and in oden, they are usually found as bundles of translucid noodles. These are a kind of decorative element to the dish. The hard-jelly-like texture is nice too.
Another interesting ingredient you'll find in oden is chikuwa (竹輪). Based on the kanji forming the word in Japanese, it literally means "bamboo ring". And they are, put simply, tube-shaped fish cakes that do resemble bamboo plants. They are made by mixing together fish paste, salt, sugar, and starch among other things. The resulting paste is coated over a bamboo or metal stick and then steamed or boiled. Once removed from the stick, it has this interesting tubular shape. The texture is soft and it does have some taste, unlike the previous two items, and it goes well with the soup.
Nerimono is a general name for "paste products" that actually have many variations (chikuwa being one of them). Main ingredients usually consist of fish paste, but you can also find other things such as vegetables and other kinds of meats. This may sound strange, but it is actually quite common to make processed foods from fish paste. For instance, imitation crab meat (which is made of white fish flesh and starch) is a common one found in many countries.
Imitation crab. This is also found in Japan and can be put into an oden hotpot.
Hanpen is a special type of fish cake which also falls into the nerimono category. It's so nice that it deserves an explanation of its own. It's made from Alaskan pollock paste, seaweed dashi, and Japanese mountain yam. The combination of these ingredients makes the texture very soft and fluffy. No other nerimono melts in your mouth like hanpen. Plus with the seaweed dashi and the fish, the taste is really nice!
Kinchaku literally means "pouch", so this is a pouch made from deep-fried tofu. The filling is usually mochi.
Kinchaku is actually a kind of Japanese traditional purse or drawstring bag. Women wearing a kimono or yukata sometimes still carry one to complement their traditional outfit.
Wakame seaweed tied in a not is also a common ingredient. It has a crunchy texture even though its boiled and the natural flavor of the wakame adds its own umami taste to the broth. Wakame seaweeds are full of nutrients and dietary fibers so you should definitely add some to your oden.
Octopus adds a great dashi of its own to the soup. Simmered a long time in oden, it becomes very savory and retains some of its chewiness. It's a great addition to any oden.
Oden is one of the most common dishes in the winter in Japan. A great and interesting thing is the wide variety of ingredients it has. Try many kinds of oden and find your favorites!