Hi there, This is Ayumi!
Kyoto is really cold in November. So cold that my legs hurt and I have problems getting up every morning! I don’t know how cold it is where you live (please share your winter coat in the comments :P) but if you live in Japan then you surely want to eat some nabe (Japanese hot pot) and maybe some traditional oden (japanese stew.) Thanks to the Osomatsu-boom last year, a lot of people have come to associate oden with the sextuplets!
In Osomatsu-san, the character Chibita sells oden from a food stand. He often riles up the sextuplets and has quite a foul mouth, but he is a good boy at heart. If you think of Chibita’s oden, then you probably imagine the ingredients on a bamboo skewer (It even appears in the anime opening.) However, even though you can buy oden at the convenience stores these days, you can’t find the skewered ingredients you need for Chibita’s oden.
Let’s learn more about modern oden, why it is the way it is, and where it comes from!
What is oden?
If we look up ‘oden’ in a dictionary (you should watch Fall 2016 Fune wo Amu if you like dictionaries), it tells us that ‘o’ is a polite prefix and ‘den’ comes from the word ‘dengaku’, which refers to traditional agricultural rituals in Japan and now also refers to miso-covered tofu.
Oden is a dish composed of konnyaku, tofu, taro, pounded fish cake, fish balls and so on, all simmered in a soy sauce-based broth. I also found the definition: Simmered dish from Kanto. If you have ever visited Japan, then you have probably seen it in convenience stores.
‘Oden’ is a word associated with winter, and is a well-loved comfort food in Japan.
I’m sure you have seen it appearing in anime, but there is nothing quite like eating oden from a hot pot, warming your whole body from the inside out.
What is in oden?
The Kansai-style oden, which contains konnyaku, ganmodoki, and naruto makes its appearance in the original work.
Konnyaku is a jelly-like food made from devil’s tongue. It’s very low in calories and known as a health food.
Ganmodoki is a delicious kind of deep fried tofu that contains chopped vegetables.
Then there is naruto. Yes, the one that we put on top of ramen. No, not the anime character. It’s a kind of fish caked with a pink and white spiral. Although it’s thinly sliced when used as a ramen topping, it’s sliced in half for oden. Surprising, right? (These days it’s really rare to find places that add naruto to their oden)
The author of Osomatsu-kun (the original manga), used his own life experiences as a basis for the manga. During his childhood, oden that was pierced with bamboo skewers was not for adults, but was sold to children as a street food snack.
Can you still find that kind of oden?
Actually, on January last year, Osomatsu-san teamed up with the convenience store Sunkus Circle K and released a product called ‘Chibita Oden.’
The ingredients differed a little to the original work: this had konnyaku, quail eggs, and fried chikuwa (a kind of fish cake.) The ingredients may have been different, but the shape was just right!
However, this item, which was speared with a bamboo skewer, was small and something not seen here in the Kansai region. When it comes to convenience store oden, only beef tendons and the like are served skewered.
You often see it in anime, but it is already something of the past so you can’t see it today that often.
Where can I find oden with bamboo skewers?
Fuji Akatsuka, the author of the original manga, was from the Niigata prefecture in the north of Japan. So, that got me wondering as to whether or not the north has a tendency to use bamboo skewers. I decided to look it up and I was right!
Even now, konnyaku and fried tofu are skewered in Aomori Prefecture.
You can’t make oden without dashi (a kind of stock). Let’s look at this picture from the official site for Yamaki, the famous dashi company …
Here’s some regular oden.
If we compare the two, there sure are a lot of skewers in the first. It looks hard to cram it all into the pot.
Aomori Oden originated from the boats coming in from Hakodate in Hokkaido. It was made to keep the people on the boats warm. What makes it unique is the use of ginger miso, which is not found anywhere else. It’s thought that the skewers make it easier to dip the ingredients in the miso.
There is also skewered oden from the Shizuoka prefecture. Shizuoka oden is also topped with powdered fish and powered seaweed.
It looks a little like Chibita oden! Just a little. In this case, it is flavoured by using a topping and the skewers make it easier to eat.
If you search around Aomori or Shizuoka, it may be possible to find oden made of the three ingredients skewered in the Chibita oden.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen anything like that yet, so if you happen to see some oden that looks like Chibita oden then please let me know in the comments!
Japan has so many kinds of oden!
All over Japan, there are so many kinds of oden. It’s still the same dish with the same name, but the ingredients and broth are different depending on where you are.
The oden in Tokyo is considered pretty standard. There is nothing bad or particularly special about it.
It tends to have a strong soy sauce taste, and is just your regular ol’ oden.
The broth is flavoured with a bonito and kelp stock and ingredients include beef tendons and octopus. I’m from Kansai myself, so I find Kanto oden with its lack of beef tendons, to be a little strange. The broth is much more effective than that of the Kanto-style oden. In very traditional restaurants, there are places that still use whale crackling as an ingredient.
Like Osaka, Kyoto oden uses a kelp stock. There are many ingredients that are very Kyoto-like, such as tofu skin, apricot kernel and Kyoto vegetables. It has a very soft flavour, and it’s great to eat after a drink or two!
The ingredients are simmered in a stock made from bonito and local miso. It has a dark red color and has a strong flavor. It goes really well with beer, so be careful!
The skewered ingredients are simmered in a very dark broth with a strong soy sauce flavour. It isn’t quite as dark as the oden from Nagoya, but Shizuoka oden is topped with fish meal and powdered seaweed.
It has a stronger seas smell that the oden from other areas.
Oden from Fukuoka generally uses a broth made from chicken bones. It has a much deeper taste. This area is famous for its ramen made with pork broth, so I wonder if people from Fukuoka just really like thick, strong broth.
Oden here often contains pig’s feet and wieners, It’s just like Okinawa to be a little bit different. It’s a very warm area, but it seems that people can enjoy eating it even there.
These are not the only kind of Japanese oden you can find in the country. If you travel around Japan, then maybe even the ingredients in the convenience store oden differ depending on where you are!
Oden is a famous Japanese comfort food.
There are very few people these days who sell oden at a stall like Chibita. However there are specialist oden shops where you can try really great oden.
Oden may be full of ingredients that you have never tried before. However, if you travel around Japan a little, you may make even more new discoveries when it comes to oden!
More than that, if you eat oden and drink a little sake, you can understand how the sextuplets are feeling when they are with Chibita♪ They have no money yet end up going anyway. Oden is just so great during the winter!
Have you ever tried oden? Which version is your favorite? Let me know in the comments!