As temperatures dip down to single digits, it's finally feeling like winter. In terms of Japan’s seasonal culinary calendar, that means one thing: oden.
In poll after poll taken by various Japanese newspapers, magazines, social media channels and convenience store chains, this warming assortment of slowly simmered morsels is the top-ranking comfort food for blustery winter nights. Regional versions of oden abound — some simmered in a lightly seasoned, amber-colored stock; others in a deeply burnished bronze broth — but most versions of oden include a variety of sausage-like dumplings fashioned from surimi (fish and other seafood ground to a paste). Some of these surimi bits are steamed, while others are fried or grilled. In addition to oden’s seafood items, tofu and both terrestrial and marine vegetables have their place in the broth.
At street stalls and in izakaya (traditional Japanese pubs), oden is most often nibbled while quaffing beer or sipping sake. At home, plain rice is often served on the side with an assortment of tsukemono (pickled vegetables).