Oden – wholesome winter food

Oden is a typical winter dish from Japan. It consists of several ingredients like daikon, tofu, konnyaku, eggs, etc., stewed in a light, soy-flavoured broth. One of the many wonderful things about oden is that it is so cheap. Each piece of oden costs between 75 and 100 yen (between 0,5 and 0,7 euro). It is also healthy, delicious, and it really warms you up in winter.

Oden japanese winter food

A display of oden, where you can clearly see the different ingredients. I admit it is not much to look at, but I assure you that it is delicious. At first I was a bit suspicious of oden myself but after I gave it a try, I was hooked! The daikon in the lower left corner is my favourite.

As the cold months set in, you see oden stands pop up in convenience stores all over Japan. When you want to buy some oden, you are supposed to serve yourself: just take a few pieces with the pincers provided by the store and put them in a cup. You may add some broth if you like. Then you tell or show the convenience store cashier what you took.

oden stand in Japanese convenience store

An oden stand in Japanese convenience store. In the background on the right, in the ‘hot snack’ display, you see ‘man‘, which is another kind of delicious Japanese winter food.

I discovered this self-service system only after having asked the poor employee from the convenience store around the corner from our house to serve me some oden on several occasions. Being as polite as any Japanese would be, and possibly also a little frightened of that bossy, tall foreigner, the employee dutifully served me every time. Until I saw someone else serve themselves and I realised how it actually worked. Embarrassing! But things like that are also very much part of life in Japan.

Oden illustrates two things that I love about Japan:

  • It is so easy to get healthy and cheap fast food in Japan.
  • I love how the Japanese celebrate the seasons with seasonal food. Here in Belgium, we can pretty much get any kind of food all year long. But the seasonal food in Japan really gives you something to look forward to. I also seemed to enjoy the food more because it was only available for a limited amount of time.
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Hot ‘n tasty man

One of the things that surprised me while living in Japan, was the fact that there are so many seasonal foods in Japan. Coming from a country where it is considered completely normal to eat tomatoes all through winter and where young people think pineapple is a local produce (it’s not!), I was charmed by the way Japanese people look forward to their seasonal foods.

As a first world nation, the Japanese are of course perfectly capable of importing anything they might want at any time of the year. My personal interpretation is that they deliberately choose not to. I had the impression that people relish the anticipation associated with seasonal treats, and that the food is enjoyed all the more intensely because it is only available for a limited amount of time.

A good example of such a seasonal food is the wintery snack called ‘man’ (まん). Starting november, convenience stores all over Japan put heated display cases on the counter, displaying an assortment of stuffed buns (could this post get any more suggestive? I swear I’m not even trying).

Display cases with hot snacks in the convenience store

Display cases with hot snacks in the convenience store

There are different kinds according to the stuffing, like for example meat man (nikuman 肉まん), cheese curry man (chiizukareman チーズカレーまん) and my favourite, pizza man (pizaman ピザまん), which is filled with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese. The ‘man’ is wrapped in a paper wrapper, much like a hamburger, and is of course meant to be eaten within minutes after purchasing it. Perfect for a quick snack on the go!

display with hot stuffed buns in japan

Different kinds of ‘man’ on display

pizzaman

Pizza man. Yummy!

Lost in Japan

A collegue of Dennis recommended a nice ramen restaurant to us. Thursday evening we decided to check it out. We consulted the restaurant’s website and concluded that it should be about 30 min. by car. The only thing we needed was the restaurant’s telephone number, to input into the gps. Japanese navigation systems can recognize telephone numbers and connect them to locations. Very convenient in a country where every address is made up out of a dozen of illegible characters. The restaurant is called Tsurukamedo and this is the address: 名古屋市緑区神の倉4丁目194番地  (to give you an idea of what we’re faced with on a daily basis).

Japanese gps

It was the first time we used the gps. We input the phone number and start driving. After 40 min. we arrive at the location where our gps says the restaurant should be. It’s a residential area. Clearly something went wrong. Dennis tries to remember the location from when he checked Google maps before leaving. We drive around for another 20 min., to no avail. The whole time it is raining non stop and the darkness outside gives a gloomy feel to our quest.

The rain and darkness give an ominous and at the same time romantic feel to our quest

Refusing to give up (we’re both quite stubborn), we stop at a convenience store to ask for directions.

conviencience store where Dennis is asking for directions

The personnel is prepared for this kind of situation. They have a map under the counter and even call the restaurant to ask for directions. Japanese people are very helpful. We are set in the right direction: 5 km closer to Toyota city than what the gps first  indicated. After stopping for directions a second time, we finally arrive at the restaurant – roughly 2hours after leaving in Toyota city.

Fortunately the ramen was worth the ordeal. We ate delicious ‘hakata ramen’.

hakata ramen

Interesting detail: you pay your dinner before entering the restaurant, by inserting money in a machine and indicating the desired dish. The machine then spits out a ticket, which you take inside and give to the waiter.

meal ticket machine