Kashiwa, in Chiba prefecture, Japan. A modern city with an ancient past, a commercial hub and a community to many Tokyo commuters. This city, like most in Japan can surprise the adventuress foodie. Arriving at Kashiwa Station, I could have easily mistaken myself for being in New York. A Starbucks to the left, shops, an aggressively urban exterior with a row of restaurants all with intricately designed wax displays highlighting their dishes.
What do you want on a chilly night when you're craving a bone warming meal? With so many choices there’s just one that fits that bill and that’s oden.
What’s oden? It’s originally a winter based one pot soup. A smoky aromatic broth, packed with vegetables, egg, fish cakes, tofu, and well just about anything you’d want to put in it. You’ll find regional variations of oden, but the effect is the same. Gut warming goodness.
In Kashiwa, the spot is Yataichi. This restaurant, like many in Japan, is offset almost unknown to the gaijin (foreigner) passing by. A small sign and a lamp in front of a door no higher then four feet tall, more reminiscent of a tea house, reveals a comfortable welcoming bar.
With a selection of sake and shochu, I am ready to relax. Our host begins by offering us sake, then appetizers, and finally that delicious one pot dish. It’s never ceases to amaze me how food can remind us of home, even though its not the traditional comfort food that we’ve grown up with here in the Unites States. The effects are the same. A nostalgic, umai moment. What more can you ask for?
As a chef, I ask how to make this at home? How do I capture this flavor and experience by using what I have here available to me in the Hudson Valley? There are many Asian grocers in our area and most supermarkets carry the base ingredients you’ll need to create my version of oden. Visit local farms to see what they are growing, many now carry daikon and bok choy.
Winter Oden Recipe
1 Butternut Squash, peeled large dice
2 pcs Baby Bok Choy, cut in half lengthwise
Daikon Radish, peeled cut into 4, ½ in rounds
8 pcs Heirloom Carrots, cut batonnet
2 Farm Fresh Eggs (nothing beats the color), hard
4 pc Fried Tofu (firm), cut into cubes, large dice
8 Shrimp Dumplings, poached
1 ½ cup Bonito Flakes
1, 4 inch pc Kombu
2 tbsp Soy Sauce or Tamari
3 tbsp Mirin (Sweetened Sake)
6 cups Water
1. In a pot combine water and kombu. Allow to soak for 30 minutes.
2. Bring to low simmer, and remove kombu after about 5 min. Bring to boil.
3. Reduce the heat to low and add bonito flakes. Leave on simmer and stir for about 10 minutes. Then strain.
4. Add Butternut squash, daikon, carrots, and chanterelle to strained stock. Allow to simmer on low for about 45 minutes, don’t have the stock to high or the vegetables will over cook. They should be tender but not mush. Turn off and allow to cool.
5. Add dumplings, tofu and eggs once the stew has cooled. Allow to sit at least 12-24 hours to allow the flavors to come together and mature. Heat and eat as an appetizer with a beer or as an entrée.