Winter in Japan is a confusing time, with temperatures lurching from ice age to British summer and back again. It's a season when the thoughts of most Tokyoites turn in the direction of one guaranteed comfort food: oden. Whether it’s a simple convenience store bowl or a pricier restaurant offering, there’s no better warmer than this classic Japanese winter food, consisting of a variety of ingredients simmered in a soy broth. Usually spiced up with a dollop of mustard and sometimes served with a cup of warm sake, this subtle blend of flavours, combining soft fish cakes, vegetables, meat and dashi stock, is a perfect antidote to a frosty commute. Here are 10 of the best oden restaurants in Tokyo...
The top 10 oden spots
If you like to keep your options open, stop by at Inagaki, which serves up a triple threat of oden soups: clear and simple Kansai style; rich, soy-flavoured Kanto style; and dark, miso-flavoured Nagoya style. While all three are simmered to perfection, our personal favourite has to be the Nagoya variety. Try it with soft beef tendons, konnyaku and egg, all of them steeped in the deep flavour of the soup.
This popular oden shop serves up a dose of nostalgia alongside its delicious stew: you'll spot the well-used oden pot and 'kantoko' (equipment used for warming sake with hot coals) as soon as you step through the door. There are plenty of tasty items to choose from, including negima (skewered pink fatty tuna and leek) and chikuwabu (tube-shaped cakes of flour and fish paste), all of which have had plenty of time to soak up the flavours of Takokyu's satisfying but simple stew. And keep an eye out for the octopus motifs stamped on the beer glasses – hard evidence that the Japanese are suckers for a good pun…
If decision-making isn't your strong point, you'd be better off giving Owariya a miss. This 85-year-old restaurant has a whopping 30 oden items stewing in its sweet-tasting amber soup. We recommend starting off with the impressive 'cabbage maki' (ground pork and beef wrapped in a cabbage leaf) and taking it from there. But if you go for the oden, you'll probably end up staying for the atmosphere: the charming proprietress always makes sure her guests are well taken care of.
Otako specialises in Kanto-style oden, simmering a variety of items in a dark, salty-sweet stock. Try the tomeshi, which comprises a block of silk bean curd served on a bowl of chameshi (tea-infused rice), or enjoy one of their cheap, filling lunchtime sets, which includes an oden-style soft-boiled egg with daikon, a bowl of miso soup with shijimi mussels, and a side salad.
Maruchu isn’t all about oden – it also boasts a selection of European and Japanese wines, and a number of sides that are well worth exploring, including a selection of cheeses. Still, there's no doubt about what the main attraction is here. For a twist on a classic dish, go for the ‘Oden no Tomato’, made by stewing a whole peeled tomato in oden soup and adding a sprinkling of dried basil to create a delicious dish that’s rich, herby and warming.
If you like your oden a little bit classier than average, head to Okame for an upmarket taste of this hearty dish. This two-floor restaurant serves up a Kansai-style broth and has a wide selection of oden items to dabble in (if you can’t choose, the tofu and octopus come highly recommended). You can also sample a selection of sides – but if you really want to finish your meal on a high, go for the ochazuke, made with the same dashi stock as the oden.
Be sure to make a reservation at this Kagurazaka oden spot: Esaki only has 16 seats. Enjoy a bowl of oden packed with chunky slabs of stewed buri (yellowtail), fat hamaguri clams and perfectly cooked soft-boiled eggs – or, if you’re feeling indecisive, give the oden moriawase assortment a try. Other offerings include a selection of fresh sashimi and some rather good ajitsumire (jack mackerel fish balls).
This bar’s baseball-loving owner has created an oden spot that’s full of character, even if it’s a little short on space. Homerun dishes out warming bowls of ‘Shizuoka Oden’ – rich chunks of aji (jack mackerel), sardines, kurohanpen fish cakes (a Shizuoka favourite), beef tendons and shiromotsu (white offal) infused in a dark, bonito-based soup and served up alongside a hefty dose of ’80s rock.
This long-standing restaurant, marked out by its hanging paper lanterns and well-maintained garden, has been in business since the Meiji era. It's no wonder Otafuku has lasted so long: the light soup has a delicate but complex flavour, while the selection of oden items includes unusual offerings such as makiyuba (rolled tofu skin) and shinodamaki (meat, vegetables and fish wrapped in a layer of deep-fried tofu).
Minafuku has been around since the ’50s – and with good reason. The soup, prepared under the watchful eye of the shop's original proprietress, has a delicate amber colour and light sweetness, while the wide selection of stewed items includes all the usual favourites. If you just can’t decide, go for one of the set options including ‘omakase’ (leave it to us) and ‘zenshurui’ (one of everything).