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Have you heard of Oden? It is probably not among the first three things that come to mind when asked to name Japanese food (for me, they would be sushi, tempura, and ramen). But oden is awesome! One can say it's THE Japanese winter dish. Obtainable almost in every convenience store, oden is highly popular because it is warm and fulfilling, and most importantly because it allows customers to mix and match the ingredients to their own liking


Oden is essentially an assortment of "stuff" served in clear soy-flavored dashi (broth). Depending on your tastes, you can add karashi (Japanese mustard), which suspiciously looks and tastes like yellow wasabi, to spice up the dish. The broth and the mustard comes free with the purchase of any oden ingredient, so in theory you can have a serving of warm street food for as cheap as 70 yen.

One does not simply walk into a konbini and order a single chunk of daikon, though. For the full experience of the assorted fun, let's shell out a bit more - a bowl of five oden ingredients sounds like a good start, and it will only set you back a few hundred yen! Ask the guy/girl behind the counter for the following:

1. Daikon
The aforementioned daikon is the quintessential ingredient of oden, and also one of the cheapest. You can spot it for being the plainest, light brownest, semi-translucent tube in the cart. Basically simmered radish, the daikon has a slightly peppery taste, but otherwise is plain enough that it can absorb the full flavor of the dashi. Daikon in oden loses a lot of its crunch in exchange for a tender texture. It can be surprisingly mild and refreshing!

2. Ganmodoki
I prefer this to the atsuage. Both are fried tofu (bean curd), but whereas atsuage is the triangular plain one, ganmo is a lump of fried tofu mixed with all sorts of vegetables - carrots, burdock, mushroom, etc. My favorite variant is one that contains ginkgo nuts. It's like an assortment within an assortment - a pleasant surprise after another! It is also quite juicy, since the fried tofu absorbs the dashi well.

3. Kinchaku
Now this is one ingredient I always choose simply because it looks cool. Literally a "pouch", it is a bag made of deep fried tofu skin that contains sticky mochi (rice cake) and is tied up with kanpyo (dried gourd) threads. It sounds complicated, but it really is just a pouch. While I usually just bite into the savory tofu skin, one of these days I will try untying the kinchaku and eat the mochi first.

4. Chikuwa
One of the many variants of surimi (fish paste), this is the "meat" of an oden dish. Sweet, salty, chewy, and filling - what more could you want? The chikuwa is a thick tube that is white and brownish in color, and it is all fish paste. If you would like some variety, you can also get a gobomaki (burdock wrapped in fish paste) or wiener-maki (replace burdock with wiener).

5. Gyusuji
Probably the most expensive ingredient in the list (usually priced at around ~150 yen), this is a personal favorite. Usually sold in skewers for oden, you can find gyusuji (beef tendons) in other dishes as well, such as in Japanese curry. Chewy almost to the point of being rubbery, the taste is actually quite subtler than if it was simply beef meat. If you are not a fan of the texture (WHY!?) you can try tsukune (ground chicken), a more conservative option for the obligatory skewer.

Naturally, there are way more than just what I have listed above. Also try: satsuma-age, shirataki, konnyaku, cabbage roll, or even the boiled egg! Bon appetit!