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For the winter season in Japan, oden continues to be a signature comfort food to beat back the cold.
Wintry treat: Oden is a convenient and simple dish where an assortment of ingredients are simmered and soaked in a soy sauce, dried bonito, and kelp broth stock.
A few of the common ingredients used are tofu, boiled eggs, radish, fish cakes, “konnyaku” (devil’s tongue jelly), octopus, seaweed, and more, but depending on the region, it can vary.
Depending on the region and prefecture, oden stocks can be clear and light or rich and flavorful with meat or soy sauce, instead of seafood or vegetable bases.
In oden, the beauty is in the broth. So long as the chosen broth style is selected, anything goes.
Some styles are the seafood Hokkaido-style; ginger miso Aomori-style; bonito and dark soy sauce Kanto-style; chicken, beef bone, and dark soy sauce Shizuoka-style; miso Nagoya-style; seaweed and light soy sauce Kansai-style, and pork Okinawa-style, according to Okawariplease.
Traditional fast food: Oden, a traditional winter fast food and bubbling hot pot dish, is a crowd favorite with roots in the Heian (794–1185), the Muromachi (1336–1573), and the Edo periods (1603–1868).
In the Heian period, oden was said to have been formed from tofu-“dengaku,” or tofu blocks that were salted and threaded through with bamboo skewers to be grilled over charcoal.
In the Muromachi period, it became into miso-dengaku — skewered and grilled tofu blocks smeared with savory miso sauce. It was crowd favorite because of the tofu’s ability to retain heat, according to the Japan Times.
Towards the 18th century Edo period, more portable food stalls emerged to fit the needs of the buzzing city life and used miso-dengaku as a side to rice and vegetables.
Later in the Meiji Period (1868–1912), the snack food evolved into oden when all these ingredients were mixed into one pot, and reportedly one Tokyo restaurant submerged them in a large amount of stock, according to Tokyo Central.
Dark soy sauce was created in Edo, and oden with those soup stocks spread to Kamigata, (Kyoto and Osaka area). That’s where the name “Kanto daki,” or Kanto-style boiled food, came from.
In 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake devastated Tokyo, and oden was distributed by Kansai volunteers in soup kitchens as part of the relief efforts. Oden’s dip in popularity was reignited then and throughout WWII, as an easy-to-make solution for all those left hungry, Sakae Funadaiku, the fifth generation chef of Tokyo’s oldest oden shop, Otafuku, told All Nippon Airways.
Popularization: As a prominent snacking food, oden shops; outdoor, roadside oden food stalls; and “izakayas” (casual night time drinking spots) that serve the dish; still exist.
A sense of community comes with huddling together on a cold winter night while the warmness of oden fills one’s stomach in an outdoor stall. However, only a few stalls specializing in the hot snack have survived the times.
Japanese convenience stores gear up for the winter by having oden options right in the store. They can be in frozen packages to be made at home or steeped at the front, with prices on which skewers or ingredients customers would like to take in a bowl.
It is also sold in cans in vending machines and eaten during winter and early spring festivals.
It was certified and registered by the Japan Anniversary Association in 2007 as a Niigata specialty, although it’s eaten throughout the country.
The “2 2 2” date is a pun because it can be read as, “fu fu fu,” which mimics the sound people make when blowing out air to cool down the dish as they’re eating.
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