おでん / Oden -The Taste of Home Cooking Loved by Everyone for Generations-
As the evenings become really cool, you can really feel the coming of autumn these days. Yes, the season that inspires your appetite and heals your summer fatigue has finally come! But, in saying that, you also want to be careful not to gain too much weight. In this edition, we focus on a healthy Japanese food that is perfect for the season, oden. We’ll close in on the attraction of that home cooking taste that warms your stomach and your heart to the brim!
Filled with things like daikon radish, boiled eggs, konnyaku (jellied yam cake) and atsuage (tofu cutlet) all boiled together in dashi (fish broth), oden really is part of the culture of cold seasons in Japan. Wether it be enjoyed with sake from a yatai (street vendor), or as ‘take-out’, choosing your favourite ingredients directly from the pot in a convenience store, oden is extremely popular. A variety of different broths and ingredients are popular in different regions of the country, oden is both a home cooked meal and a regional cuisine. And now, here in Adelaide it is gaining attention for being a healthy meal to add to your regular cooking menu!
The History of Oden
Oden fits into the category of nimono (simmered dishes) and nabemono (Japanese hot pot), and the name originates from the Muromachi period (14th to 16th centuries) where the term became popular amongst wives who served in the Imperial Court. One type of cooking that began in this period was ‘Dengaku’ (tofu on skewers). It was called this as it looked like the ritual dance that involved jumping up and down on one stilt called ‘Dengakumai’ (held on rice fields to pray for rich harvests prior to planting rice seedlings). Over time, dengaku became shortened to oden. These days ‘oden’ is the term used for foods that are slow boiled in broth, ‘simmered dengaku’, while ‘dengaku’ refers to skewered foods that are grilled.
In the Edo period (17th to 19th centuries) the food service industry flourished and yatai displaying noren (shop curtains) that had ‘Oden Kanzake’ (Oden and Warm Sake) written on them became a common sight. During that time, the production of koikuchi shōyu (dark soy sauce) in the suburbs surrounding Tokyo prospered which led to the development of making oden from a dark, sweet-salty broth made with katsuo (bonito) dashi, shōyu, sugar, and miring.
In the Kansai region, dengaku refers to foods that are simmered in a konbu (kelp) dashi and served with sweet miso paste. To differentiate the two types of food, the simmered oden that has been passed down since the Edo period is known as ‘Kantō daki’ oden in Kansai.
Due to the fact that Kantō oden can be pre-simmered and left ready to be eaten at any time it has become a popular item in yatai, izakaya (Japanese ‘tapas’ style restaurants), and dagashiya (penny candy shops) and a stable item in home cooking.
The most common way to eat oden is by placing a bit of mustard or miso on daikon, fish cakes or boiled eggs that have been simmered in dashi. Each of the four big cities, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyōto, and Ōsaka has their own traditional styles; the amber coloured daikon radish in Tokyo oden is characteristically a deep shōyu colour and the sweet-salty broth is katsuo dashi and koikuchi shōyu based. Oden in Ōsaka is a light colour, simmered in a slightly sweet broth made of katsuo dashi with a strong konbu flavour, usukuchi (light) shōyu, and mirin. In Kyōto it has a sweet flavour similar to Ōsaka, with a sharp and sophisticated taste. Oden in Nagoya is simmered in Hatchō-miso (a famous miso from Nagoya).
Ganmodoki are patties made of ingredients such as yamaimo (mountain yam), carrot, gobo (burdock root), shitake, konbu, and ginnan (ginko nuts) that have been mixed with drained tofu then deep-fried.
Chikuwa is a fish cake made by wrapping fish paste around a stick of bamboo or similar rod and then fried or steamed.
Shiraraki are noodles made from the rhizome of the konnyaku potato plant, a member of the arum family that includes satoimo (taro). The glucomannan in the konnyaku rhizome is gelatinized and forced through fine holes then coagulated in an alkaline solution to make light grey shirataki noodles which have a strong elasticity. Konyaku potato came to Japan from Korea in the middle of the 6th century as a medicine and quickly became used as food in shōjin cooking (a religious form of vegetarian cooking). Finely chopped hijiki (a brown sea vegetable) and other seaweeds are added to the konnyaku mix to give the blackish colour that is popularly recognised.
<Uses of Shirataki>
- Prevent constipation and clean out the digestive system
The glucomannan in shirataki and konnyaku is a non-water soluble fibre making it pass through the body without dissolving. It travels through the intestines picking up the toxic substances working to excrete them from our bodies. It also stimulates the intestinal walls encouraging bowel movement.
With only 5 to 7kcal per 100g, it is extremely low calorie. It fills you up so it is really useful for your diet as a replacement for pasta, ramen and fried soba noodles!
- Great for your skin
Konnyaku potato contains ceramides which help your skin to retain moisture and prevent the intrusion of allergens.
- Prevent diabetes and high blood pressure
In the stomach, glucomannan envelopes the other foods that are consumed with it working to prevent their digestion and absorption into the body. This reduces the amounts of sugars, salts and fats, etc. from being absorbed in the small intestine leading to the prevention of diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Calcium Absorption
In our regular diets, the amount of calcium that is absorbed tends to be insufficient. Konnyaku contains the coagulant hydroxide calcium.
- Decrease cholesterol
As glucomannan breaks down bacteria in the intestines, it produces acetic acid (a short-chain fatty acid), propionic acid, and butyric acid, amongst others that work to reduce levels of cholesterol in the body.
Amongst local variations of oden, one of the most famous is Shizuoka (Shizo~ka) oden. Black hanpen (type of fish cake) is added to a pitch-black dashi, and enjoyed topped with flakes of dried fish, aonori (green laver), and mustard or miso. Even today in Shizuoka you can buy oden in dagashiya (penny candy shops), they have a lane lined with oden restaurants called ‘Oden Yokochō’, and in Yaizu city they even have an ‘Oden pool’ over summer! This is really popular with children as you can eat kakigōri (shaved ice with syrup) and oden on the poolside. Even the local Yuru-kara (mascot), ‘Fujimaru’ is run off its feet advertising oden!
Don’t forget to properly prepare the ingredients for the oden to bring out their flavours. Oden concentrates the appeal of Japanese food and is full of nutritional value, guaranteed to make your family and friends smile! For parties you can even use skewers to make it easier to eat.
【Ingredients】（for 4～5 people）
Daikon 2/3 length
Konnyaku 1 slab
Small, knotted shirataki 10 pieces
Atsuage 1 pack
Mochi kinchaku 4 pieces
Chikuwa 4 sticks
Maruten tempura 4 slices
Gyu-suji (beef tendons) 8 strips or to taste
Water 10 cups
Konbu 5 x 12㎝
Katsuobushi (bonito flakes) 2 pinches
Sake 1/2 cup
Sugar 3 tablespoons
Salt 1 teaspoon
Shōyu 1/3 cup
① Place the water and konbu into a pot and leave it for 30 minutes. Cut the ingredients to a size of your liking. Boil some water to be used to remove the oil from the ingredients.
② Heat the water and remove the konbu just before it boils. When it boils add the katsuobushi and turn off the heat. Let it rest for 2 to 3 minutes then remove the Katsuobushi.
③ Prepare the ingredients. Remove the oil from the atsuage, mocha kinchaku, and gyu-suji by pouring hot water over them. Pre-boil the daikon and Konnyaku. Boil and peel the eggs.
④ Make the simmer soup by adding the condiments to the dashi made in step ② above and add the ingredients and allow to slowly simmer.
・Add the konbu used to make the dashi back into the dish. It’s delicious.
・By properly preparing the ingredients you really increase their flavor!
・ You can use any arrangement of your favourite ingredients.
Add whatever you like, get together, sit around a pot of oden and have a heart-warming time!
Photography assistance: LITTLE TOKYO