Most records date the first form of Oden (おでん) back to the Muromachi period (室町時代, 1336-1573) to which grilled tofu (焼き豆腐) would be served with a serving of miso (味噌) paste. Thanks to their resemblance to dengaku-hoshi (田楽法師, professional dengaku entertainers who used sticks to perform), this dish came to be known as “dengaku”.
Moving forward to the Edo period (江戸時代, 1603-1868), nameshi-ya (菜飯屋, casual eateries) began serving dengaku with a serving of rice boiled with greens and konnyaku (コンニャク, a gelatinous block made from an East Asian yam). The Japanese population in Edo (江戸, the former name of the capital of Japan) then began simmering dengaku together in the same broth, creating the precursor to the oden we know today. The dish gained popularity as a snack thanks to yatai (屋台, street carts) that would sell the dish alongside a pot of warm sake, adding ingredients to the broth on a per order basis.
Oden as we know it today only really came to form in the late-Edo period/early Meiji period (明治時代, 1868-1912) as restaurants began to start serving the dish. With the rise in popularity of fish paste products and the recovery efforts from those in the Kansai region for those affected by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 (関東大震災), Oden became not only a more diverse dish but also a dish with regional variations. The name was also shortened from dengaku to ‘den‘, adding the honorific ‘o‘, becoming the oden sold all over Japan today.
What are the most common oden ingredients?
For the Southern-most region of Japan, Okinawan oden (沖縄おでん) is served in a pork-based broth rather than that of the traditional soy sauce. The broth itself is usually served cold due to the warmer climate and an Okinawan speciality is to serve pigs feet as a possible ingredient in the oden.
Similarly to the Okinawan variant of oden, Shizuoka (静岡) replaces the soy-sauce based broth with that of beef sinew and strong, dark soy sauce. This causes the broth to take on a dark brown hue giving Shizuoka-style oden a distinct, but much loved flavour. A popular ingredient also happens to be black hanpen (半片) – ground fishcake made from sardines and mackerel, giving the broth an even darker tone.
In Nagoya, Aichi prefecture (名古屋, 愛知県), soy sauce is used as a dipping sauce rather than a base for the broth. Their miso oden is simmered in hacchomiso (八丁味噌) broth, giving the soup a light and sweet taste, and at time, locally-produced red miso (赤みそ) is added to the soup. Oden itself is also known as kantou-ni (関東煮) in Nagoya and konnyaku (コンニャック) and tofu (豆腐) are common ingredients.
In the Kansai region (関西) of Japan, the dashi (出し) stock is made from konbu (昆布) seaweed, shiitake (椎茸) mushrooms and usukuchi (薄口) soy sauce, giving the soup a stronger flavour than their Kanto (関東) counterpart. The alternative name of Kansai oden is Kanto-daki (関東炊き).
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Image and Video Credits
おでん屋のおでん、関東風 (An oden shop’s oden, in the Tokyo area) by Nesnad via Wikipedia Creative Commons