• Mike Sula
  • Oden, karashi, sansho, shichimi togarashi

Oden is a Japanese winter stew in which all sorts of absorbent, wiggly, squishy bits simmer for hours—even days—in a broth based on dashi, soy sauce, and mirin. I had my first taste of it a few months ago at the great izakaya Torihei, in Torrance, California. There it’s served in a fairly refined “Kyoto style”—you order individual bites of “white radish,” “hanpen fish cake,” or “half raw egg with salmon roe,” and out comes the particular morsel bathing in a small bowl of light dashi. But oden can be found all over Japan in convenience stores, on the street, or in individual oden-ya, served from great vats where chunks of daikon, mountain elephant yam cakes (konnyaku), fried tofu pouches (like ganmokdoki or aburaage), and all manner of processed fish cakes (say, chikuwa or kamaboko) bob in the simmering stock, sometimes impaled on skewers, sometimes in compartmentalized dashi baths. The key to good oden is a long, slow simmer so the food can absorb the stock. Japanese friends tell me that some renowned oden-ya have maintained the same mother dashi for decades, constantly replenishing it as it reduces and concentrates in flavor.