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What Is Oden?

Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Updated Feb 23, 2024
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Many Japanese regularly partake in a traditional dish called oden, which is a one-bowl meal composed of several diverse and nutritional elements. A popular wintertime recipe, diners can either choose from a pre-made oden pot at the store or roadside stand, or they can choose their elements from a list of ingredients on a menu. These are then thrown in a bowl with a familiar miso-style fish stock called dashi to create a stew that is brimming with new tastes.

This recipe is an offshoot of another Japanese favorite, misodengaku, which is a tofu-laden miso soup. some chefs started making this dish with tofu and a different kind of soup, dashi. This combines a quick seafood broth with kelp and soy sauce. A miso, by contrast, is made from various grains and lentils, enduring first a fermentation process before use in a soup, usually as a store-bought cube or paste. Both soups have common added ingredients though, like sake, garlic, mushrooms, ginger and even sugar.

Some restaurants or stands have menus that allow customers to choose their favorite oden combinations. According to the Bento Web site, common elements, however, are boiled potatoes and eggs, fried or grilled tofu, white radishes known as daikon, and konbu, which is the kelp that has been boiling in the fish stock. These pieces are customarily tied into tidy little bows.

As the stock simmers with the kelp, potatoes, daikon, tofu and soy, other ingredients are arranged in the bowl. When the potatoes and other ingredients are cooked through, they are then poured into the bowl. The broth makes the dish a soup, but it really becomes the sauce for several elements that were cooked by other methods like grilling or baking.

This is just the baseline of potential ingredients for the medley — the snack version. For more money, diners can feast on fish cakes made of shark or pollack, pockets made of tofu with noodles and mushrooms inside, and even gyusuji — the tendons of a cow, stewed in the stock. Whole pieces of fish can be added, as can skewers of tentacled seafood like squid and octopus.

Oden is often served with pickles and white rice as well as a mustard dipping sauce. Also commonly available is the konnyaku, which is a tuber that is coagulated into see-through, Jello®-like cubes, as well as shūmai pork-stuffed fried dumplings. These are either coated in broth or served on the side.

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