Here in Tokyo, the winter weather is out in full force – and baby, it’s cold outside! At TokyoTreat, we’re always thinking of ways we can warm up – and fill our bellies!
In Japan, one of the most common – and delicious – wintertime treats is oden (おでん), which is just one of many different types of nabemono – hotpot dishes that are widely enjoyed during the winter months. What sets oden aside from the rest is the vast variety of individual items you can try.
Served up at most convenience stores as well as street stalls, izakayas and dedicated restaurants, ordering oden may be a bit intimidating for first timers – especially if you’re not super confident in your Japanese abilities. There’s so many options to choose from – with unique names you’ve probably never seen before. Plus, for sanitary reasons, you’ll usually have to ask a store clerk or restaurant staff to pluck out your preferred pieces, which can lead to first time foreigners too intimidated to try!
If you’re interested in oden but don’t know where to begin – Never fear, TokyoTreat is here! Let’s check out some of our favorite oden ingredients to get you started!
Yude Tamago (ゆで卵)
No surprises here! Literally meaning “boiled egg” in Japanese, it really is exactly what you think. Probably the most basic of oden options, yude tamago is a sure shot every time. What makes these especially tasty though, is that the longer they soak in the soy flavored broth, their exterior takes on a deep, rich color. Satisfyingly salty, you can’t go wrong here.
Slightly stepping our game up, let’s talk daikon. An absolute staple vegetable across all of Japan, daikon is a massive radish that has a very crunchy texture and slightly sweet, peppery flavor. Similar to most oden options, it’s excellent at soaking up the salty soy broth. After simmering away for a while, daikon eventually softens up just a bit, achieving the perfect texture. Trust us – no oden meal is complete without a nice slice of daikon as the centerpiece!
Tsukune are a sort of chicken meatball – just as often served as yakitori as it is in oden – even if you don’t get a chance to try it during the winter, it will always be around! Starches such as crushed yam or bread crumbs are added to minced chicken meat along with various spices before cooking, giving tsukune a fantastic texture that is truly at it’s best after soaking in the soup for hours on end! Very mild and approachable, we really recommend this option for anyone unsure of what to try first!
This is where we begin to step into uncharted territory for most first timers. Konnyaku is a chewy jelly derived from the root vegetable konjac. With sorta-scary nicknames like voodoo lily, snake palm, and even devil’s tongue, we wouldn’t blame you if you felt like you should stay far away! Don’t worry though, konnyaku itself is extremely palatable, and even healthy! Virtually flavorless, konnyaku shines after simmering in oden broth – and because it’s 98% water -it’s basically calorie free! This is why it’s such a popular option. Most Japanese people choose to chow down on konnyaku every time.
Mochiiri Kinchaku (餅入り巾着)
We’ve saved the best and most iconic oden option for last! The name tells you everything you need to know; a kinchaku is a type of small purse or pouch, and mochiiri kinchaku contains a chewy rice cake, or mochi, inside! Appearance goes a long way in Japanese cuisine, and so it’s no surprise that this is easily the most popular oden ingredient amongst locals. As much fun to look at as it is to eat, the slightly sweet, fried tofu pouch sucks up all that oden goodness, and after biting in, an addictively chewy mochi is waiting inside – gushing with flavor! Trust us, you can’t eat oden without trying mochiiri kinchaku!
See? Oden’s really not so scary after all! Besides, with so many different options to choose from, you can switch up your style every time and never get bored! We hope you give it a shot next time you need to warm up in Japan this winter!
What’s your favorite oden ingredient? Did we miss something you think is essential? Let us know in the comments below!
Tanner is a content editor and marketing associate based in Tokyo, Japan. As a former professional cook, he loves exploring Tokyo's food scene and cooking at home for his partner. He also enjoys bad puns, decent coffee, oxford commas, and reading fantastic genre fiction.
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