Oden, a Japanese stew or hotpot


Happy New Year! If you live in Japan, you are probably still in holiday mode. Elsewhere though, chances are you're back to your normal routine. That's where I am now - back to work!

I often get requests for various popular Japanese recipes. I keep on thinking I've written up so many of them already, until someone asks for one and I think "why didn't I put that up already?". One such recipe is for oden, a very popular Japanese stew dish that is especially suited to winter. Traditionaly it's made in a donabe or pottery pot, but it's not a requirement to use one. It's simmered slowly, so is perfect for a crockpot or my favorite for stewing anything, a Le Creuset-type of cast iron enamelled pot.

While I always strive to list recipes here that people without easy access to Japanese groceries can make, oden is an exception. Most of the main ingredients for oden are so time consuming to make from scratch, that you just have to buy them. I have tried to make my own satsuma age and hanpen, with decidedly mixed results. It's really hard to grind the fish down to a finely textured paste, even with a food processor. I do freqently make my own ganmodoki, tofu fritters (recipe here), but prefer to eat freshly made ones as-is, crispy and hot.

So, I just buy a selection of oden no mi (oden ingredients). Here's a selection:


My local Japanese grocery store (Nishi's Japan Shop in Zürich) is tiny, but I could still assemble a good variety there. You can even buy complete oden sets, but I prefer to buy the individual items, which I supplement with some other ingredients.

Oden no mi

Here are some commonly used oden no mi that you would buy in packets. They are usually in the refrigerated or frozen food sections. The fish paste items are called nerimono.

  • Various kinds of deep fried fish paste items. The most traditional is Satsuma age, which are burger shaped. There are also Ika balls - fish paste 'meatballs' with a piece of squid inside, sausage-shaped ones with a piece of burdock (gobo) inside, and so on. They all have a golden brown color.
  • Chikuwa is fish paste shaped like a piece of bamboo (the name means "bamboo ring"), and grilled. There are various grades of chikuwa, but for oden the cheapest kind is fine.
  • Hanpen is also fish paste, which has been combined with yamaimo, a kind of tuber and egg whites. It's puffy and light, like a pillow shaped quenelle, and is one of my favorites.
  • Naruto is wheat flour paste that's been formed into a tube. It's often colored pink and white. Naruto is also used as a ramen topping. It's not a favorite of mine, but my mother loves it.
  • Ganmodoki - deep fried tofu fritters (a recipe, if you want to make them from scratch). The one thing that is not that hard to make.
  • Konnyaku (a detailed description)

To these, people often add:

  • Deep fried thin tofu (abura age), the same that is used to make inarizushi, stuffed with chopped vegetables, shirataki, and so on, then tied up with a piece of kanpyo (dried gourd) to resemble a kinchaku, or money purse.
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Pieces of daikon radish
  • Potatoes

I usually skip the tofu purses, but add one egg per person and lots of daikon, plus carrots.

In case you are wondering if all those fish paste items will make it taste 'fishy', it doesn't at all. Kids in Japan love oden, and your adventurous kids may too!

Oden, the easy way

This makes a big pot, which can be eaten all at once or over a few days. Oden, like most stews, deepens in flavor the more it's reheated. Keep it in the fridge in between reheatings though.

Note that while it takes its time to cook, your actual kitchen working time is quite short and easy.

  • 1 large piece of dried kombu seaweed. The larger, the better. Use a whole leaf if you can.
  • Water
  • A selection of packaged oden ingredients - the amount depends, but try to have at least one piece per person of ganmodoki and satuma age, and a few each of things like the squid balls. Allow for one to two pieces of konnyaku per person (each block of konnyaku can be cut into 4 triangles).
  • 1 medium sized daikon radish
  • 1 hard boiled egg per person
  • Optional: carrots, potatoes
  • Dried mustard powder (English mustard powder like Colman's is fine, or the equivalent from an Asian grocery. Prepared mustard like Dijon-style is not suited.)

Put the kombu in enough water to cover it completely. Let soak for at least 20 minutes.

Put the water and the kombu in a donabe or large stewing pot. Heat until it's nearly boiling but not bubbling violently.

In the meantime, peel the daikon and cut into fairly large pieces (usually it's just cut into rounds about 2 cm / about 1 inch thick). Cut up the carrots into fairly large pieces too. Potatoes should be added later.

Cut the konnyaku into triangles, and blanch for a few minutes in boiling water. Drain.

Add the daikon, carrots and konnyaku into the pot, adding more hot water if needed to cover. Let simmer until the vegetables are tender, for at least an hour, or more. The kombu should become quite soft.

Add the potatoes if you are using them, about 40 minutes before serving time.

Add the hardboiled eggs and the packaged ingredients, except for the hanpen. Simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Add the hanpen in the last 5 minutes or so.

Mix the mustard powder with a little water to reconstitute into a paste.

To serve, cut up the kombu - you should be able to do this in the pot with a spatula. Serve each person a good selection of the things in the pot, including pieces of kombu - or let them serve themselves, with a little bit of the broth. (We often used to fight about someone having more ganmodoki than they were alloted and things like that.)

Each person should take a small spoonful of the mustard and mix it into the broth if they like. If it's not salty enough, just drizzle a bit of soy sauce. Eat with hot rice, or sake.

Filed under:  japanese winter fish slowcook

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This is one of my dad's favorite dishes. Unfortunately, it's not mine-- I get fishcaked out. :(

I'm not Japanese but i love oden! I've had it a restaurant, and i was wondering how it was made. Thanks for this! arigtou ^_^

I've never had oden before, but it sounds like a delicious and tempting stew. I love fish cakes, fish/squid/tako balls and fried tofu so much, but it's hard to pretend they are healthy!
This winter I've been cooking thick leafy greens like kale in soy sauce, mirin and ginger with scallion, which makes a great sauteed side dish. I also like to make veggie fried rice, because at home it is easier to control the oil rather than getting the greasy stuff from the takeaway shop. I make sauce for it with chile paste, soy sauce, mirin, sugar and sesame oil.
I'm thinking of making a pork/parsnip/apple stew, but I'm a little scared since I don't have a slow cooker! I need to invest.

What a coincidence! I just ate oden for the fist time on New Year's eve- I am so glad to have the recipe!
I have been meaning to leave a comment for a while to let you know how much I love your blog. It sounds silly, but you have really changed my life. You have given me so many easy recipes, detailed instructions and more complicated cooking projects, that I really started to rely on you when I was going though a difficult time this fall when I felt like I couldn't really face things. I just cooked, and little by little things started getting better.
I never liked to cook much before, but I have always been a big eater. Now I can say that I love to eat and cook. Thank you Maki!
I am so sorry to hear of you and your husband's loss, and very glad to have you back.

p.s. now my japanese friends are all very impressed but my "inborn" knowledge of japanese cooking. I always site your blog, but they don't believe me. They think I come by it naturally ;)

Elizabeth that's one of the nicest comments I've ever gotten. Thank you! I'm sure you have that inborn knowledge besides that makes things taste that much better in any case. :)

Nico why not try the stew on the stovetop? Sounds great!

Yoko actually my sister doesn't like oden too much either...though she will eat up the eggs and the potatoes, which she loves.

I try to put in lots of veggies, to compensate for those fried fish cakes. Daikon comes out quite nice in an oden.

Yeah, I usually just eat the potatoes, too.

Arigatō for the lowdown on oden. I love this site and your bento pages.

It's been damned cold in New York the last few days, so oden comes naturally to mind. This entry gave me a jones that cannot be ignored, and now that I have the info I think I'll try to make it at home this week.

Yay! It snowed today so I was able to leave work early enough to make oden. This was only the second time I have made oden and it was far superior than my first try. I think that what made it better was that I used non-frozen oden no mi and just bought what I thought looked good :). The first time I made oden I used a frozen "kit" and it had a lot of rubbery naruto like stuff. I don't care for the rubbery stuff, and prefer the ground fish and gonmodoki and things like that. Also, lots of potatoes, daikon, and carrots. I even found some aburage purses that had mochi in them, that was tasty. And some frozen renkon! So, I guess I'm saying you can just put in what you like, right? Oh, and are the fried ingredients really fattening, I don't want to hear that!

You can just put in what you like. And yeah...those fried things aren't diet food :) But you can balance it out with the vegetables and stuff...and it can't be worse for you than fried chicken or something for dinner!

I love fish patties/balls/cakes. Another option if there are no Japanese stores where one lives is to get fishballs from the Chinese/Thai groceries. Sometimes they even sell the Japanese kind.
The Norwegians also have fish cakes and they're rather similar to the Asian kind except with more flour.

Oh! Just what I've been looking for. With the onset of autumn, I tend to make all sorts of stews. At a local Asian market, called Hana Market, they actually sell oden sets. Do you recommend these? They have everything you need and come frozen or ... in bags in liquid. I'm not sure what to call these ones.

I've recently just discovered Hana Market, but I didn't buy an oden set. They did, however, have my favorite snack: Taiyaki!! It's delicious!

So. Oden sets? Or just hunt around for the separates?

Recently I got obsessed with the anime xxxHolic and in that Oden is featured in a big way. I was curious, but looking at the recipe I was doubtful, seaweed, daikon and fishcake, that's it? But the weather turned surprisingly cold here in June in Los Angeles (go figure) and I decided it was a perfect time to try it out.

Following a recipe is abnormal for me, but I did so, using the Kombu, fresh Daikon, Carrots and Potatoes, boiled eggs, and a refrigerated Oden kit from the Asian market here. To satisfy my curiosity I resisted my natural urge to tweak and add all sorts of other ingredients, and I was shocked at how good Oden is! Actually it is the first time the entire large crockpot of soup in my house has been eaten in one night. Even my father in law who has very American taste buds loved the Oden and gobbled up two large bowls! I just wish I had made more so I could try it again today, I'm craving it again already!

I love odeeen <333
When I used to work at Japanese shop, the boss was kindly make a whole big pot of oden only for staff.
Challenged to make it myself without proper knowledge, I used oden mix instead which turned out to be a HUGE MISTAKE!
It had salty taste...period.
Oden mix or any kind instant form of oden soup is HIGHLY UNRECOMMENDED.

i've been trying to find a simple recipe for oden and came across your blog.. i've always loved japanese food and can't wait to try to make my own using your recipes..

thanks! please keep more recipes coming! :)

I make oden all the time. I'm hooked on it. Sometimes I just buy the oden kits (package of assorted fish cakes with soup base) and just add daikon. I also make the broth by combining about 4 cups of water with 4-5 tablespoons lite soy sauce, 2 cubes of chicken bullion, 2 small packs of Splenda, about 3 tablespoons granulated Hon-Dashi (fish based stock) and 3 tablespoons of rice vinager. I think my soup recipe is superior to the packs that are included in the oden kits. In any case, I buy packages of assorted fish cakes, so I can make my own, or add them to the oden kits. I have added konyaku (yam cakes) and potatoes and carrots and eggs, however I prefer the simple pairing of assorted fish cakes and daikon, the two alone complement each other perfectly, and is especially delicious when saved overnight and then re-heated again. There's nothing like it!

Is it possible to use fresh seafood and fish to make oden instead of fish cakes?

Not really...it's those fish cakes that make oden what it is. Something made with fresh fish would be a sort of fish stew, not oden.

All the Japanese fishcake type products I can find here contain E261 (MSG). That makes me a little sad, because I stopped eating products with MSG, yet oden seems like a treat.

I have been re organizing my family recipes and Oden was a favorite winter dish of my grandparents. I looked on your website to find out how ganmodoki is made, and came across the Oden recipe. It brings back very nice memories of family dinners. Thank you for your website and recipes. I'm sure I will access it more in future. Happy New Year.

I've started learning how to pack my own lunch to have healthier meals that's also more environmentally friendly where I used a bento box to store the food. This morning, I was wondering what to do with my daikon, carrots and tons of kombu I recently brought home from Korea. Your recipe came in handy! Not only did I try it, I also saw that you had published a bento recipe book in English...finally, there's one in English. I've been buying from Japan and passing it to my friend to translate.I now have one that I can use immediately and of course I dashed to Kinnokuniya to buy a copy. Thanks alot Makiko!

I've never known anyone to post a recipe for oden, but you've done it. Thank you for sharing! My oyaji will randomly come home late from work with big packs of chikuwa and the like, and then toss them to me with a hopeful, "Onegai?"

I now like to add sanuki udon, since we made oden once at Japanese school with udon. The noodles soak up the broth so well!

Every post on JustHungry is just so full of memories....

Thank you so much for the great instructions!! I LOVE Oden but have been too intimidated to try and make it on my own. I will be trying this soon!

I'm watching Oden-Kun and love Eden very much.

Getting cold now, makes me miss my local 7/11 when I was stationed in Atsugi, Japan. I was surprised how a convenience store could provide good meals on the go, from sushi, yakiniku, gyoza and my favorite cold weather treat, oden. Warmed me right up!

Hi Maki,
Do you think oden keeps well in the freezer? I'd really like to use up those frozen fishcakes 'n stuff and make several portions of oden at once.

Thank you for an informative and delicious article. I've been reading your blog for some years.
Cheers, Kristina