Oden is a type of boiled and seasoned food in Japanese cuisine. In home cooking, it is also classified as a one-pot dish cooked at the table.
It is a dish made by boiling and seasoning daikon (Japanese radish), chikuwa (fish sausage), konjac, boiled eggs, and so on in soup stock flavored with soy sauce and other seasonings. The types of ingredients differ depending on the area and the home.
February 22 is the Day of Oden certified by the Japan Anniversary Association (from 2007).
The prototype of Oden is dishes called Misodengaku (skewered and roasted tofu and konjac etc. with miso coating) and Dengaku (grilled foods such as tofu, konjac or egg plants on skewers). The dishes that had been called Dengaku in the olden times included Nikomi Dengaku (Boiled Dengaku), in which ingredients were boiled, as well as Yaki Dengaku (Grilled Dengaku), in which skewered ingredients were grilled. Later on, Nikomi Dengaku came to be called 'Oden,' a term consisting of 'den' as in Dengaku and 'o,' which is a prefix used in lady's language. Hence, Dengaku came to mean only Yaki Dengaku.
Dark-colored soy sauce was developed in the Edo period, which caused 'Oden' boiled and seasoned in soy sauce-flavored thick soup stock to be made in Edo. This Oden spread to Kamigata (Kyoto and Osaka area), where it came to be called 'Kanto daki' (関東炊き) (Kanto-style boiled food) or 'Kanto daki' (関東煮) (the possible origins of the latter 'Kanto daki' are said to be 'Kantofu ni' [squids, octopuses, and other ingredients boiled and seasoned with soy sauce] or 'Canton ni'). Kanto daki' (関東煮) has changed independently of other forms of Oden, such that the soup stock used for 'Kanto daki' is now extracted from konbu (a kind of kelp used to make Japanese soup stock), whale, or cow line meat, and light-colored soy sauce is now used.
Although Oden in Kanto became out of fashion afterward, when the Great Kanto Earthquake occurred in 1923, 'Kanto daki' (関東煮) was distributed by volunteers from Kansai, which led to the re-establishment of Oden in Tokyo. However, because the original taste in the Edo period had already been lost, Kansai style Oden became mainstream. This is the reason why most long-established restaurants which serve Oden in Tokyo make lightly seasoned Oden. The original 'Kanto daki' (関東炊き) (seasoned with dark-colored soy sauce) is served as an old taste at some long-established restaurants in Kansai and at some restaurants in Tokyo as an assumed Edo-style taste.
The types of Oden that are different from the standard one include 'Konjac Oden' (also referred to as 'Miso Oden'), whose ingredient is only konjac. This is a plain dish of konjac which is boiled with water, instead of soup stock, and is eaten with sweet Misodare (miso-based dip), retaining the old tradition (and custom) of Nikomi Dengaku.
Generally, in Japan, dark-colored dishes are preferred in Kanto while light-colored dishes are preferred in Kansai, as epitomized in Mentsuyu (Japanese soup base). Although this holds true for Oden, due to the complex history of development mentioned above, Kansai-style soup stock may be considered as authentic in Kanto, and dark-colored soy sauce may be used in Kansai as well. Furthermore, in Kansai, dark-colored Oden and light-colored Oden tend to be differentiated by calling the former Kanto daki and the latter Oden. Although the major condiment is mustard all across the country, Misodare or green onion sauce is used in some areas. The Chubu region centering around Nagoya still has Dengaku (Misodengaku) in which konjac and tofu are either grilled with a sauce based on haccho miso (dark red miso) or boiled and eaten with Misodare dip.
Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture
Oden is eaten with ginger-flavored Misodare—which is made using unique ingredients such as Tsubugai (whelk), Nemagaridake (bamboo shoots), and Daikakuten (a kind of Satsuma-age [fried fish cake])—poured over it. In 2005, 'Aomori Oden no Kai' (Aomori Oden Association) was established, and this Oden was entered in 'B-1 Grand Prix' (B-grade local food contest).
Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture
Oden in Shizuoka Prefecture uses a black soup that uses dark-colored soy sauce, with soup stock made from cow line meat. The hanpen (a cake of ground fish combined with starch and steamed) used in this Oden is kuro hanpen, a black-colored type made in Yaizu City. All the ingredients are skewered with bamboo sticks, and when eaten, the Oden is sprinkled with green laver and shavings of dried sardines or dried bonito called 'kezuri ko' (dried fish powder). This Oden is called 'Shizoka Oden' ('Shizoka' is the local pronunciation of 'Shizuoka' around Shizuoka City), with the pronunciation used as a selling point in many shops/restaurants and books. Kirin Brewery Company's TV commercial which featured Koichi SATO picked up this Oden, bringing national attention to this style of the dish. In 2007, an organization called 'Shizuoka Oden no Kai' entered Shizoka Oden at a food festival known as the 'B-1 Grand Prix,' and it came third in the competition. Aoi Ward has a restaurant section that solely consists of Oden shops/restaurants, and the Ward also has many mom-and-pop candy stores that sell Oden.
Oden is eaten regardless of season, being sold even at pools in summer (some shops sell more Oden than during winter.)
The dish is widely eaten as a snack, sake no sakana (side dish for sake), and an accompanying dish. Once a year, 'Shizuoka Oden Festival' is held in full swing with a popularity vote and other attractions. Recently, the varieties of Oden that can be enjoyed in events have been widening thanks to, for example, the introduction of Oden from various regions in Japan and from foreign countries such as South Korea and Taiwan. The areas where Shizoka Oden is available have been increasing recently, with restaurants that serve Shizoka Oden opening within the Tokyo Metropolitan area and in Bangkok as well.
Ida region, Nagano Prefecture
The standard Oden, which is boiled and seasoned with soy sauce-flavored soup stock, is eaten with green onion sauce (a sticky sauce made by soaking minced green onions in soy sauce, which produces a green onion extract that gives the sauce its stickiness) poured over it. The most popular ingredient is tofu.
Oden including eggs, yakichikuwa (grilled tubular fish cakes), yakidofu (grilled tofu), and kamaboko (steamed fish paste) is simmered with soup stock made with salt and konbu, and is eaten with mustard paste or shredded tangle.
For 'Miso Oden,' ingredients such as daikon and konjac are simmered with a haccho miso-based sweet broth. The miso broth is often used to stew pork giblets and ribs to make a dish called 'Dote ni,' or also used as a sauce for Miso Katsu (cutlet with original sweet miso sauce). There is also Misodengaku in which ingredients are boiled not with soup stock but water and are eaten with miso dip.
Oden with a soy sauce-flavored soup was called 'Kanto ni;' hence, 'Oden' mostly referred to Miso Oden or Misodengaku
Although Satsuma-age as an ingredient was generally called 'hanpen,' recent influences from TV and nation-wide convenience stores have caused differentiation between Satsuma-age and hanpen, though to a small extent, and the name 'Kanto ni' has been replaced with 'Oden.'
However, not all Oden in each style are the same; even the standard soy sauce-flavored Oden may be eaten with sweet Misodare dip. Hence, convenience stores sell Oden with a small pack of sweet Misodare in addition to mustard.
Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture
Although Oden in this city is lightly seasoned, it is also called 'Kanto daki.'
When eaten, the ingredients are dipped in ginger and soy sauce instead of mustard. Kizaminegi (minced green onion, or minced leek) may also be sprinkled.
Oden is served with sauces such as brown-colored sweet Misodare and yellow-colored Karashi miso (a sauce of mustard and miso).
At almost all udon (Japanese wheat noodle) restaurants, Oden is sold as a side dish on a 'help-yourself' basis.
Oden is eaten with miso dip made for Oden, instead of mustard.
In some areas in this prefecture, Oden is served at ramen (Chinese soup noodle) restaurants for customers to eat while they wait for their ramen.
Oden in Okinawa uses tebichi (pettitoes) as the main ingredient, in addition to seasonal green vegetables. In convenience stores, tebichi is sold along with the standard Oden which is similar to the one sold in the mainland of Japan.
Centering around Kanto, some restaurants serve Oden cooked with lightly seasoned soup stock, with the name of 'Kyofu Oden' or 'Kyo Oden' (Kyoto-style Oden). However, there is nothing unique about Oden in Kyoto, and the definition of 'Kyofu' (Kyoto style) is vague.
This applies to 'Kyofu udon,' 'Kyofu ramen,' and 'Kyofu spaghetti.'
These dishes were probably named as such to mean 'Kyoto-style cuisine' based on the tendency of their tastes that match the image of dishes referred to as Kyo-ryori (local cuisine of Kyoto).
Oden has fast-food-like characteristics, which is rare as a boiled and seasoned food, and is preferred particularly as a winter food. It is often served as sake no sakana at small pubs called 'Oden ya' (Oden shop).
In the past, 'Oden ya' stalls opened at nights all across towns and served as an oasis for drunk customers. Mom-and-pop candy stores and restaurants also had on the storefront a large pot of Oden which was simmered on shichirin (earthen charcoal brazier [for cooking]) or a stove all day long. Such rustic sights were found everywhere in the past, but they have been disappearing since the 1980s.
Instead, in recent years, convenience stores started selling Oden simmered in electrothermal Oden pots during winter season. With its popularity, this Oden has taken root in wide areas, with many convenience stores selling Oden all year long, not just during winter.
Many Oden products are also available, being packaged in retort pouches containing simmered ingredients together with a soup. Unusual products include 'Oden kan' (canned Oden) which is manufactured by Tengu Kanzume (Tengu Canning) and available at shops and from vending machines.
Oden's ingredients are also referred to as 'Odendane.'
Ones that are thickly sliced and peeled.
In addition to black- or white-colored board-shaped types, twisted types and ball-shaped types flavored with green laver, sesame, citron, or cayenne pepper powder are available.
Shirataki (white stringy food made from konjac starch)
This is tied to make it easier to eat.
Vegetables such as burdock root may be stuffed in the hole.
Atsuage/Namaage (thick fried tofu)
Yakidofu is mainly used.
Ganmodoki (deep-fried tofu mixed with thinly sliced vegetables)
Kinchaku (a dish wrapped with a sheet of fried soybean curd like a pouch)
Abura-age (deep-fried bean curd) stuffed with ingredients such as rice cake and tied at the mouth with a gourd strip or etc. It is also called 'fukuro' (bag).
Hen's eggs and quail's eggs
Konbu taken out from soup stock after extraction is tied and used as an ingredient.
The peeled whole or bite-sized pieces that are cut after peeling.
Steamed ground whitefish with added yamaimo (Japanese yam). Although the origin is Kanto, it has been used nation-wide in recent years.
There are different names and variations depending on the area.
Hiraten (flat-shaped fried fish cake)
Maruten (circular-shaped fried fish cake) (ball-type)
This is used mainly in the Kansai region.
Fish-paste product with burdock root (Goboten)
Cylinder-shaped Satsuma-age with burdock root stuffed in the hole.
Ika maki (squid wrapped with fried fish cake)
Ebi maki (shrimp wrapped with fried fish cake)
Wiener maki (sausage wrapped with fried fish cake)
Tamago maki (egg wrapped with fried fish cake) (bakudan [bomb])
Hen's egg or quail's egg wrapped with Satsuma-age.
Shao mai maki (steamed meat dumpling wrapped with fried fish cake)
Gyoza maki (Chinese-style dumpling wrapped with fried fish cake)
Shinodamaki (信太巻) (a dish of vegetable wrapped with a sheet of abura-age, deep-fried tofu, or yuba, soybean milk skin)
Vegetables are wrapped with abura-age or yuba. It is also referred to as '信田巻,' which includes a different character but has the same pronunciation.
A kind of yakikamaboko (boiled fish paste grilled to make burns) that includes eggs as an ingredient.
Koyadofu (freeze-dried been curd)
Kamaboko (boiled fish paste)
Used in the Chugoku region and so on. Red ones are preferred.
In Kansai, ebi-imo (literally, shrimp potato) etc. is used.
Four to five nuts are skewered with toothpicks to be used as ingredients.
Takenoko (bamboo shoots)
Shiitake mushroom, maitake mushroom (fan-shaped mushroom with multiple layers), eryngii mushroom, and so on.
Fibrous meat (suji)
Skewered fibrous meat chunks. Although the major fibrous meat is cow line meat, pork is also used in some areas of the Chubu region.
Meatball-shaped fish paste with added hen's eggs and starch.
Meatball-shaped paste of ground chicken etc. with added hen's eggs and starch.
Snails such as Tsubugai and Bai (a kind of shellfish, Babylonia japonica). These are skewered when used.
Although arms are used, small ocellated octopuses are also often used in a wholly skewered condition as an Oden ingredient.
Some shops/restaurants serve it as a western Oden. In Okinawa, frankfurter for hotdog is also popular.
Fried shrimp paste mixed with the white of an egg. Instead of shrimps, squids, crabs, scallops, and so on may be used.
Mostly, whole tomatoes are used. This may be seen at some Oden shops/restaurants.
Tohoku and Hokkaido
Edible wild plants
Warabi (a wild vegetable, bracken), fuki (Japanese butterbur), and so on.
Shellfishes such as Tsubu and scallop.
Muffler (a kind of fried fish)
A fish-paste product specific to Hokkaido. It is similar to Satsuma-age.
Chikuwabu (a tube-shaped cake of flour paste)
A type of nama-fu (fresh gluten cakes) with the chikuwa shape. This is indispensable for Tokyo Oden.
Steamed gristly fish paste (suji)
A kind of whitefish paste including shark gristle. This is made from ingredients that are left after making hanpen.
Narutomaki (kamaboko with the most common pattern of a well-known tidal whirlpool off the city of Naruto)
This was often seen in cheap Oden sold at mom-and-pop candy stores etc. This is still used as standard in Yaizu City, Shizuoka Prefecture.
Gyoza wrapped with whitefish paste in a tube shape. This is an ingredient that appears in Kanto and Tohoku, and is also seen in far-away Fukuoka in Kyushu. This is the Oden ingredient that motivated Yoshimi ARAI, a writer and curator of the ODEN Museum, to go on a tour of Oden shops/restaurants around Japan. The origin is said to be KAMAICHI, a kamaboko manufacturer, or Aikawaya in Tokyo.
A fish paste product, a noted product of Yaizu, used in Shizoka Oden. This name comes from its light gray color which results from the main ingredient, sardine. The previously mentioned hanpen may be called 'shiro hanpen' (white hanpen) in distinction from this hanpen.
Navel of bonito
This is in fact the heart of bonito. This is skewered when used. An ingredient specific to the Yaizu region. Because the Yaizu Port is number one in the number of catches of bonito, ara (internal organs of fish) of bonito is relatively easily available, which is considered to be the reason why it came to be used as an Oden ingredient.
Pork ribs cut into cubes.
Skewered pork giblets. This is often used in miso-flavored Oden, which is popular around Nagoya.
Oil cake (food)
Whale skin dried after whale oil was squeezed out.
Whale tongue. Although this had been indispensable for Kansai Oden, after the ban on commercial whaling, this became available only at some high-class shops/restaurants.
Yuba and fu (bread-like pieces of wheat gluten)
These are used around Kyoto.
Kagamaki (a kind of fried fish cake, which includes a lot of cabbage; a popular ingredient of Hokuriku-style oden)
Fried fish paste and vegetables (mainly cabbage) in a Satsuma-age shape. Similarly, there are other variations such as red pickled ginger, edamame (green soybeans), octopus, squid's tentacles, and so on, which are all deep-fried in a Satsuma-age shape.
A type of yaki-fu (roasted gluten cakes) in a chikuwa shape. This is used as an Oden ingredient in Niigata and Hokuriku.
Jakoten (tenpura of minced fish)
This is used around Ehime.
Fibrous horsemeat. This is a standard ingredient of Kumamoto Oden.
Pettitoes. This is a main ingredient of Okinawa Oden. It has also been found in Oden sold at convenience stores.
Karashina (brassica juncea), bok choy, lettuce, and so on boiled in an Oden soup for a very short time.
Oden outside Japan
Although Oden had originally been eaten only in Japan, it spread to Taiwan and the Korean peninsula during the annexation period.
In those countries, the dish is still favored with the Japanese name 'Oden.'
In Taiwanese, Oden is written as '黑輪,' which is pronounced as 'oren' (Taiwanese does not have a voiced consonant of "de;" therefore, "de" corrupted to 're'.)
In current convenience stores and stalls in Taiwan, Oden is sold with the description of '關東煮,' which is Osaka-style (The 7-Eleven stores in Taiwan use the description '関東煮,' the new letter shape in Japan.)
In South Korea, Oden is used as a general name for paste products, which are stewed in soy sauce-based soup stock (In most cases, no other ingredients are included unlike Japan) or fried with karashi miso (miso mixed with mustard).
Japanese convenience stores in Shanghai City also sell Oden; however, the difference is that the ingredients are skewered and put in a disposable cup when sold.
In Shanghai, Oden is written as '熬点' and pronounced as 'Aódiǎn;' however, the origin of the term is 'Oden' in Japanese and the characters used have a second meaning close to 'stewed snack.'
Many Japanese convenience stores in the Kingdom of Thailand also sell Oden in a mostly similar style to Japanese one.