When winter sets in, one of the first things that people in Japan crave is oden, a dish made by cooking various ingredients in a special broth. Oden ingredients come in many different variations that range from the classic to the unusual, so you might find it difficult to choose which ingredient to eat when faced with oden. With that, here are the 10 most popular oden ingredients in Japan that you should definitely try!
1. Daikon Radish
The first thing that almost always comes to any Japanese person’s mind when talking about oden is daikon, a variety of large radish. Daikon is in season from November to February, which is conveniently right around the time when people in the country want to eat oden. It is very sweet and juicy, so it is already delicious when eaten as is. However, if you put it in oden, it will absorb the broth and the delicious flavor of the broth will spread in your mouth when you eat the daikon. The broth of oden has different flavors depending on region and restaurant, so make sure to eat the daikon first in order to get a good sense of the broth. It is perfect with Japanese mustard, miso, yuzu, chili pepper sauce, and other condiments! There’s no doubt that one bite will get you hooked!
2. Hard-boiled Egg
Similar to daikon, egg is also popular as a staple oden ingredient. Eggs are superfoods that contain virtually all nutrients, including protein and vitamins. When boiled together with other ingredients, dietary fiber that is inherently lacking in eggs will seep into the egg, thereby further boosting its nutritional value. Many people eat the mildly flavored egg by putting miso paste on it and eating it that way. Another option is to cut the egg in half and then let the fully-cooked yolk slowly dissolve into the broth.
It may be simple, but konjac is an essential part of any oden pot. It is one of the regular favorites of people in their oden, together with daikon radish and egg. Konjac is 50% water, rich in dietary fiber and low in calorie content, so it is very good for your body. There are various kinds of konjac that are put in oden, such as the ita-konnyaku that is a block of gray konjac, and the ito-konnyaku, a cluster of white konnyaku shaped like noodles. With the ita-konnyaku, putting a small incision on the surface will allow the broth to seep inside, so you will enjoy the delicious flavors of the broth and the chewy texture of the konjac.
Atsuage is an entire tofu square that has been deep-fried. The tofu inside is still raw, so it is also called “nama-age” (“nama” means “raw” in Japanese, while “age” means “fried”). Atsuage may have a little higher calorie content than normal tofu, but it has less carbohydrates, about two times more protein, around four times more calcium, and about three times more iron content than the regular tofu, so it has an extremely high nutritional value. A little amount of atsuage will already make you feel full, so it is recommended for those who are on a diet. It is often put in oden all around Japan, but it is especially popular as a staple oden ingredient in the Kansai and Kyushu regions. Take a bite and enjoy the aroma from being fried in oil and the delicious flavors of the broth!
5. Mochi-iri Kinchaku
Mochi-iri kinchaku is a pouch-shaped ingredient that is made by wrapping fried mochi (rice cake) inside a pouch made of fried tofu and then tying up the mouth of the pouch with kanpyo (strip of dried gourd). It looks like a kinchaku (a pouch or bag for small items that has long been used in Japan) on the outside, so this ingredient came to be called “mochi-iri kinchaku” (which literally means “kinchaku with mochi inside”). With a distinct stickiness and elasticity, mochi is a traditional ingredient that has been eaten in Japan since ancient times. The fried tofu part of this ingredient absorbs a lot of broth, so one bite and your mouth will be flooded with the delicious flavors of the oden. Be careful when you take that first bite, though, because it is quite hot so you might get burned. Mochi-iri kinchaku is a satsifying ingredient with a chewy texture and the delicious flavors of the broth.
Hanpen is a fish-paste product that is made by adding egg white, yam and seasonings to minced white fish. Characterized by its fluffy texture similar to pancake, the white hanpen that is put in oden is called uki-hanpen (“uki” means “floating” in Japanese) because it is floating in the soup. It is easy to digest and absorb, and is high in protein and low in calorie content, so it is safe to eat for those who are conscious about their diet. Uki-hanpen is a famous ingredient in the Kanto region, especially Tokyo, and oden is a beloved representative home-cooked dish that uses hanpen. It is a popular oden ingredient from Hokkaido to the Kanto area, alongside daikon radish, egg and konjac.
Similar to hanpen, satsuma-age is a fish-paste product that is made by mixing seasonings with minced fish. During ancient times when people were unable to refrigerate and preserve fish, they would preserve large hauls of fish by turning the beautiful white fish meat into kamaboko (steamed seasoned fish paste) and gathering the remaining fish meat from the skin and bones and then frying it in oil. That was apparently the origin of satsuma-age. Today, there are various types of satsuma-age that are based on two or more types of fish and incorporate burdock, vegetables, small fish, and many other ingredients. The color and shape vary depending on the region, so it would be a great idea to taste and compare satsuma-age from different areas. The taste of fish goes really well with oden!
Tsumire is a fish-paste product that is made with minced red-flesh fish such as sardine, mackerel and horse mackerel. In ancient times, it was made by pinching or picking (“tsumi-ire” in Japanese) the minced fish paste with the fingers, so it came to be called “tsumire”. There is no specific fish that must be used for tsumire, as it is made using any fresh fish caught in the region. It is loaded with fish nutrients such as EPA, which puts blood in a smooth state, and DHA, which improves brain functions. The taste of this highly nutritious fish seeps into the broth to make it even more delicious.
Gyusuji (beef sinew) may be one of the most disliked types of meat among beef products due to its unique smell and hardness, but if you boil it for a long time, the smell will disappear and it will transform into a tender beef. People also think it has a lot of fat and is high in calorie content, but the jell-like part of gyusuji is actually collagen, which is loved for contributing to beautiful skin! Gyusuji is also rich in nutrients, such as protein, which builds muscle, and Vitamin B12, which helps produce blood. In oden, bite-sized pieces of gyusuji are usually put on a skewer to make it easier to eat.
10. Cabbage Roll
Cabbage roll (or stuffed cabbage) is a Western-style dish that is cooked in consommé soup or tomato soup and has long been loved by children.T he sweetness and meat juice from the cabbage that is boiled down until it is soft and tender is perfect when paired with the Japanese-style broth of oden. Mystery surrounds the time and reason behind the incorporation of cabbage roll into oden, but it has now gone past the stage of being unusual to become a staple oden ingredient. People either love it or hate it, but if you happen to be curious, then why not give it a try for yourself?
This article featured 10 oden ingredients that are extremely popular in Japan, including daikon radish, egg, and konjac. So, enjoy winter in Japan while warming your body with a bowl of piping hot oden!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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