Enjoy Oden Like a Pro: All the Secrets to This Winter Dish



Enjoy Oden Like a Pro: All the Secrets to This Winter Dish


Winter is right around the corner and the weather is starting to get colder. In Japan, this means it's time to warm up with a steaming bowl of oden. Join me in uncovering the secrets to this traditional Japanese dish, what it is, how to order it, and where to find it!
Enjoy Oden Like a Pro: All the Secrets to This Winter Dish

Oden is a traditional stew of all kinds of Japanese ingredients from fish cakes to tofu and everything else in between. The ingredients are boiled and served in a flavored broth. Ingredients and broth vary depending on what part of Japan you're in. Very popular with street vendors back in the Edo period (1603-1868), this dish is one of the oldest Japanese 'fast foods'.
Enjoy Oden Like a Pro: All the Secrets to This Winter Dish_2
What are all these ingredients?

While you can find oden all year round it is most popular in the winter season. When the weather starts getting colder you'll see steaming oden pots pop up at the counter of every combini (convenience store) here in Japan. It's very cozy to grab a large cup of oden and shake off the winter cold. Oden is usually very cheap, with prices ranging from 65 to 100 yen a piece. Plus the boiled ingredients can be a welcome break from fried foods!

The Most Common Types of Oden

Oden ingredients can look quite puzzling, so here's a list of the items that you're most likely to come across when ordering oden.


This 'big root' is a staple of the Japanese diet and it's no stranger to oden. Daikon comes in a large piece that soaks up all the broth and almost melts in your mouth. This is one of my personal favorites! 



Oden-Maki Tamago

Maki Tamago

Eggs are also very common in an oden dish. In addition to the classic boiled egg you can sometimes find makitamago, a kind of rolled omelet.

Fish Paste-Based Ingredients






Oden-Wiener maki / Gobou maki

Wiener maki / Gobou maki

Chikuwa: a tube-shaped ingredient made from a mix of fish and egg whites. It can be a little spongy but don't let that scare you off!
Hanpen: a softer fish cake. It has a milder flavor to it and it's very fluffy. Definitely worth a try.
Satsuma-age: a fried fish cake. It often contains pieces of vegetables, sea food, ginger and other ingredients.
Wiener maki: a small sausage wrapped in fish paste.
Gobou maki: a piece of burdock root wrapped in fish paste.


These blocks of wheat are usually only found in oden and they are right at home here. While they may have a similar shape to the chikuwa, they taste completely different. 

Konnyaku-Based Ingredients




Konnyaku: this is a plant also known as konjac or devil's fruit. It's very commonly found in Japanese food. It has a firm, jelly-like consistency.
Shirataki: white, almost clear noodles made from konnyaku. They have a very faint taste but their texture is an interesting addition to your oden bowl. 

Tofu-Based Ingredients






Atsuage: a fried block of tofu. This piece is another must-have in your oden bowl.
Kinchaku: an ingredient with a surprise! This is a little pouch made of fried tofu with mochi inside it. Expect a chewy, almost sticky texture once you get past the tofu. Kinchaku is actually the name of a traditional Japanese string bag, hence the shape of this ingredient.
Ganmo: this piece of fried tofu is made with vegetables, roots and other ingredients. It soaks up so much broth that biting into it is like squeezing a sponge.

Meat-Based Ingredients




Oden-Gyu suji

Gyu suji

Oden-Roru kyabetsu

Roru kyabetsu

Tsukune: chicken meatballs. You will usually get them on a stick. They are very tender and a yummy addition to your bowl of oden.
Tsumire: another kind of meatball, usually served singularly.
Gyu suji: like the tsukune, it's usually served on a stick. These soft pieces of beef tendon add a wonderful flavor to your mix.
Roru kyabetsu: literally 'rolled cabbage'. This is a cabbage leaf with a beef or pork filling inside. The vegetables, meat, and the broth make this an irresistible item.

How to Order Your Oden

Convenience stores usually sell oden starting around the end of August until late March. Of course the period can vary based on the store and the region you're in.

Just about every convenience store sells oden. Some feature a self-service counter while others will have the staff assist you. Let's cover the former first. 
How to Order Your Oden
Oden pot in a convenience store

Self-service oden is a good way to enjoy it if you are feeling a bit intimidated by ordering. First, you take either a cup or bowl depending on how hungry you are. The cup can hold more than it looks so only go for the bowl if you're really hungry. Next, use the tongs and fill your container with what you like. Finally, use the spoon to grab the broth right out of the pot and add it to your oden. Don't fill it too much! Just enough to cover all the items inside. Finally, cover your container and bring it to the counter.

Other convenience stores will have the staff ready to serve you. Get in line and when it's your turn simply say "oden". You'll first be asked what size bowl you would like. Make your choice and then start picking what items you want. The prices and names of each item are always listed but don't be afraid to point to what you would like. Next, they will ask you what dipping sauce you would like. We'll get to sauces soon! After you've paid you're all set. 
Here's my ready-to-eat oden bowl!
Here's my ready-to-eat oden bowl!

If you enjoyed the convenience store oden, then trying it at an oden-ya (oden restaurant) is a must! Expect a different taste as most of their items are made there. If you come across a restaurant or street vendor selling oden, here are some tips for ordering.
Ordering at a restaurant can be intimidating but it's well worth it!
Ordering at a restaurant can be intimidating but it's well worth it!

Of course, if you don’t know what things are called pointing works just fine. When you're not sure about what to order, try asking for the 'osusume' to get the staff's recommendation. Some restaurants may also offer oden in a set. This is a great way to try new items you might not normally order yourself.
A standing oden restaurant near my house
A standing oden restaurant near my house

How to Enjoy Your Oden

You've returned home from the convenience store with your warm oden or you are sitting in an old restaurant with a homemade bowl ready to go. How do you best enjoy your traditional dish? First, we need to talk sauces. The most common dipping sauce is karashi, a slightly spicy Japanese mustard. Another popular dipping sauce is yuzu kosho, a paste made of yuzu fruit and chili peppers.

Read more about Yuzu here!

Some people also enjoy soy sauce and miso to dip with their oden. Dipping sauces are given to you in packets from the convenience store and served with your oden at a restaurant.
The karashi is set on the edge of your plate
The karashi is set on the edge of your plate

With your chopsticks in hand pick an item from your bowl. Lightly dip it in the sauce but be careful, the sauces are pretty strong. Finally, enjoy the warmth and let it melt away the winter weather. 
Lightly dip it in the sauce but be careful, the sauces are pretty strong

Finally, how do you wash down your bowl of steaming oden? While anything goes, sake (nihonshu) is a natural partner to this winter dish. If you're at a restaurant, I definitely recommend you order some cold or hot sake for an unforgettable oden experience!
At some restaurants you can order dashiwari

Want to know a bonus secret? At some restaurants you can order dashiwari. Leave about 1/5 of sake in your cup and the staff will fill it with hot oden broth and spices. Now, not all restaurants serve this but if they do, give it a try and you won't be disappointed!
The hot oden broth has a delicious aftertaste of sake
The hot oden broth has a delicious aftertaste of sake

Try This Traditional Winter Dish

Oden has become part of my regular diet here in Japan. The warm broth and assorted flavors of the items always cheer me up on a cold winter day. I hope you are inspired to try a bowl of Japan's oldest 'fast food'!

About the author
Laura is an Italian living and working in Tokyo. She loves exploring hidden and unknown places, taking pictures and listening to Punk Rock music. When she’s not busy doing the above, she might enjoy a craft beer or play the sanshin (an Okinawan instrument similar to a shamisen).


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