Sit down and warm yourself this winter with a steaming bowl of tasty Japanese stew.

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 left bottom corner: Karachi Mustard

Cold-weather comfort food

Oden, a traditional and simple Japanese stew, is comfort food at its best. Chock full of rich flavour, hot, filling and healthful, oden is a perfect bowl of indulgence for our ever-chilly days. The often soy-flavoured dashi broth is simmered for many hours, and ingredients are added to this mild and aromatic base. Whatever ingredients you choose, an explosion of tastes and textures awaits you.

To heat things up even more, and to clear your sinuses in between bites, oden is served with fiery hot yellow karashi mustard on the side. You control the amount of mustard added according to your preference, and you can either add it straight to the broth or else take a small amount with your chopsticks and use it to give individual ingredients some kick on their way to your mouth.

A variety of tastes and textures

One of oden’s notable features is the sheer variety of ingredients you can enjoy in your version of the stew. Popular choices include daikon (mild stewed Japanese white radish), tamago (hard-boiled egg), konnyaku (konjac root, also known as “devil’s tongue”) and chikuwa (fish cake), though the full list of ingredients is much longer, with many establishments offering upwards of 30 different options to choose from. Your choices include veggie, meat and seafood options, and ingredients range from what you might expect in a stew—like boiled potatoes, cabbage, dumplings, chicken or beef—to more exotic selections, like squid, octopus, bamboo, sticky mochi balls or quail egg, to name just a few!

And within each ingredient type there are often many varieties, especially in the case of the fish cake. It’s sometimes fried first before being added to the oden, and other times is puffed or fluffy; it’s sometimes round, or it can be thin and flat; it may contain shredded vegetables; and it’s sometimes served in long, noodle-like tubes. Tofu also comes in several varieties: it can be deep-fried and served in the shape of a disc, while other times it comes fried and thickly sliced. Often, diners pick their favourites from a list, ordering by the piece, though there are also chef selections and recommended combinations offered at most restaurants. The flavour, texture and visual combinations are endless!

History of oden in Japan

Oden is highly aromatic, and one can usually tell it is oden season (late fall/early winter) by the telltale scents wafting out the doors of convenience stores. Oden is recognized in Japan as a winter soul-food, and most people have strong feelings about oden, either loving it or hating it. In Japan, oden can be found in convenience stores (conbini) such as 7-Eleven, outdoor stalls or food carts (yatai), as well as in specialty oden restaurants. You might also find oden on the menus of many an izakaya, as it is often eaten as a nighttime snack. In this case, a cold beer or sake is the perfect accompaniment to the warm, hearty stew, balancing out the salty flavours.

At specialty oden restaurants, the broth is simmered in large, copper, gourd-like oden pans specially made for just this purpose. As with many Japanese dishes, there are quite a few regional variances and styles in terms of oden’s broth and ingredients. Some of the specialty establishments devoted solely to the making and serving of oden offer a seemingly endless list of ingredients, all simmered for hours in their unique broth.

Regional specialties

For instance, much of the oden made in Tokyo is prepared in the Kanto style: hearty and long-simmered. In contrast, oden from Osaka is prepared in the Kansai style: it has a lighter-coloured broth that is delicately simmered with shiitake mushrooms and bonito flakes to achieve a rich, decadent flavour, full of umami. Diners enjoying oden prepared in the Kansai style might also opt not to add any of the karashi mustard, instead savouring the unique tastes of each ingredient.

While these are two of the major oden styles, you can find other distinctive recipes across Japan. In Shizuoka, for example, the local oden has a darker broth—made with beef and soy—while the meat tends to be served on a skewer. Or, if you find yourself in Nagoya, you’ll have to try the miso oden. In this variant, the ingredients are seasoned with aka-miso, a sweet red bean paste.

Finding oden close to home

Thankfully, the oden craze has also made its way to our city, where diners can try a variety of traditional ingredients and both soy-based and fish (bonito)-based broths. Oden with a chef’s selection of ingredients—usually five or six, enough to feed one or to be split between two people—will typically put you back no more than $10. For a more customized experience, individual ingredients usually run no more than $2 per piece, and you can pick and choose from the list to make your perfect meal. We now have one more reason to love winter in our beautiful and delicious city!

Japanese style slow-cooked hotpot

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These ingredients’ contrasting flavours and textures make for a healthful and delicious meal. 
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Chikuwa

Fish cake, or Chikuwa, is an essential oden ingredient. This mild, sponge cake is made from a steamed surimi (fish paste) mix, and it usually comes in the form of long, hollow tube.
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Atsuage

Deep-fried tofu loves to bathe in oden broth, really soaking up all the flavourful juices. The slow frying process gives it a crisp, brown skin, while the inside remains white and tender. 
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Shirataki 

Like konnyyaku, shirataki is made from taro, but in this case the rate is shaped into noodles. It has a neutral taste that blends well with the other ingredients.
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Daikon

Stewed white radish (daikon) is one of the staples of oden. It’s sweet and crisp – much milder than the typical North American radish – and acts as a sponge for the oden broth.
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Tamago

Hard-boiled egg is a favourite ingredient for most oden lovers. After spending such a long time in the broth, the eggs taste quite delightfully salty, and they almost fall apart in your mouth.
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Konnyaku

Konjac root (konnyaku) is used mostly for its unique texture, which is firm and slippery. It’s also known as a weight-loss food, as it’s made up mostly of water, yet is still incredibly filling.

 

Where to enjoy oden in the city

Zakkushi – Dig into a fresh bowl

Authentic tastes and sharing portions

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The version of the Japanese stew on offer at Zakkushi is made with fish and seaweed stock, then flavoured with soy sauce, mirin and sake. There are nine different kinds, with the favoured selections being the daikon, egg and ikamaki (fish cake stuffed with squid). The chewy beef tendon option is also very popular at Zakkushi. Most diners order a chef’s choice of assorted five-ingredient oden to split between two.

CONTACT: 193 Carlton St., Toronto • 647-352-9455 • www.zakkushi.com

OPEN HOURS: Sun–Thu 5:30 pm–1 am (Last call 12 am)
Fri–Sat 5:30 pm–2 am (Last call 1 am)

Ocean Food Company Ltd. – Make oden in your home kitchen

The easiest way to have a bowl of your own

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Ocean Food makes a prepackaged oden for you to prepare and enjoy in the comfort of your own home. Each package contains a broth and assorted ingredients such as fish cake and kelp. Once home, add water and, if you wish, your own precooked ingredients to a pot, then cook everything together. Ocean Food’s oden is available at most Korean, Chinese and Japanese grocers in a 300-g or a 750-g package.

Kinka Izakaya Original – Plenty of combos to choose from!

Lively atmosphere and a world of choice

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At Kinka Izakaya Original, there are eight kinds of oden: tamago, daikon, ikaten (squid and fish cake), hanpen (puffed fish cake—unusual in Canada), atsuage, takenoko (bamboo shoot), chikuwa and konnyaku. They are all just $1.70 each. You can also pick three-ingredient oden for $4.50, or a six-ingredient chef’s selection for $8.50. Oden is served in a gorgeous stone bowl with a Japanese hot mustard on the side, floating in a mild, delicious broth. The puffed fish cake is a must-try here!

CONTACT: 398 Church St., Toronto • 416-977-0999 www.kinkaizakaya.com
OPEN HOURS: (Lunch) Mon–Fri 11:30 am–2 pm (Dinner) Daily 5 pm–12 am