Category Archives: oden

Tokyo Food: Otafuku, Iriya – お多福、入谷

November 23rd, 2010

After 8 hours of indulging my inner Edo-ko at the Tokyo Edo Museum, it was time to get back to reality – time for some food. The Ryogoku location gave us a prime position to make a strike on some of the famous, and sometimes infamous, eateries of the shitamachi area. Given that it was November and the evening air had begun to bite, oden was the call of the day – Luckily, I knew just the place.

Otafuku has been well documented in the Tokyo foodie blogosphere, and plenty of column inches in the local press have been devoted to its long and storied history, but if you are unfamiliar here is a quick summary: Otafuku is a well-established oden specialist, in shitamachi heartland, just north-west of Asakusa. Currently run by the 4th and 5th generations of the Funadaiku family, Otafuku has been dishing out its hearty treats from the same location since 1916. While the surrounding area has surrendered to the developers and their uninspiring variations of grey concrete, the wooden structure of Otafuku has been rebuilt and preserved by the family so that it retains the essence of its Taisho era origins.

The entrance is marked by a large cochin paper lantern, beyond which lies a small garden with stone lanterns and ornamental shubbery. Walking up the smooth stone path & ducking through the noren screen, we found ourselves in a large space that could best be described as well-loved and cozy. The lighting casts everything in sepia tones; the yellowing paper which lists the days special, the warm wooden accents & ikuyo-e prints evoke a feeling of shitamachi nostalgia.

Our polite hostess attempted to usher us to a table in the rear tatami room, but I was having none of it – I wanted one of the coveted seats at the counter in order to observe the proceedings and chat with the chef. My stubbornness paid dividends, when after a short wait we were seated in front of one of the Funadaiku sons and his oden pot, which, from the look of its condition, must be a surviving relic from the original store.

Along with oden, Otafuku has a selection seasonal dishes and drinking snacks to complement the main attraction. A tasty ootoshi gave us something to snack on as we deciphered the pretty a la carte menu.

As it was winter, an order of kan-buri sashimi, from Toyama, was a given. Any misgivings I had on the virtue of ordering sashimi in a shop which doesn’t specialise in raw produce were quickly dispelled when a daintily arranged plate of unctuous yellowtail was placed before us. Divine.

The sake list is fairly straight forward: hot or cold, yet I still managed to muck up my order. My reflex was to order the Hakusuru nama-zake, thinking it would be of superior quality, but when the twist cap bottle was presented I immediately regretted my decision. Looking along the bar, other diners were drinking Hakusuru from the cask, which was served warm in attractive pewter jugs & an accompanying masu box – stuff the taste, that’s what I wanted!

Needless to say, with my second round, the problem was quickly remedied.

I had it on good authority that Otafuku specialised in Kanto-dashi oden, however, my bubble was quickly burst when Funadaiku-san responded emphatically in the negative; they serve Kansai style oden – hear that Robbie Swinnerton! To further illuminate the difference between the two styles we were treated to a mini tutorial on the preparation of Otafuku’s oden: Kansai dashi is made from the second brewing of a katsuodashi and kombu stock (the first brew is deemed too strong, so is discarded), which results in a light, delicately flavoured stock; where as shoyu and sugar are added to Kanto dashi, which creates a darker, more robust broth. Another point of difference is the cooking techinque: the ingredients in Kansai oden are par-boiled seperately before adding them to the oden pot to ensure that each ingredient is cooked to the correct texture and retains the integrity of its flavour; all of the ingredients in Kanto oden, however, go into the pot at the same time.

Lesson learned, we turned our attention to the pot and put our newly acquired knowledge to the test with a round of yuba maki (tofu skin), daikonnegi-maguro (tuna and spring onion) and otanoshimi obukuro (literally a ‘bag of enjoyment’ in which the ‘bag’ is grilled tofu skin and the ‘enjoyment’ is the tangle of konnyaku noodles, spring onion and duck meat nestled inside). All perfectly cooked and retaining their individual flavours.

Our second round consisted of ninjin (carrot), iwashi tsumire (sardine dumplings), hotate (scallop), iitako (baby octopus). 

We quickly followed up with an order of gobo maki (burdock root wrapped in fish cake), uzurano tamago (quail eggs) and ika ashi haite ita (squid stuffed with its own legs). The squid, despite being rather perverse in concept, was the unanimous favourite of the night – an absolute revelation.

Hearts and bellies warmed after a pleasant night of good food and conversation, we settled up our bill (about ¥4,000 per person), and reluctantly stepped out into cool mid-winter evening. As we neared the garish neon signs and cacophony of Ueno Station, our pace slowed – it was obvious that after a day full of culture and history we were loath to return to the 21st century. But at least there was some comfort in the knowledge that an escape from the reality of our modern lives could be found in the heart of Tokyo’s shitamachi, over a plate of oden, at Otafuku.
03-3871-2521 (Reservations recommended)

Tokyo Food: Oden Kappo Hide – おでん割烹 ひで、渋谷

October 20th, 2010
Oden, such a humble dish, yet it seems to have a polarizing effect; you either love it or hate it. I am firmly in the pro-oden camp. I love the heady aroma of dashi with base-notes of cabbage, which emanate from percolating oden pots chock full of daikon, egg, tofu and sundry fish by-products. Mmm…
I was first initiated into the joys of oden while living in South Korea, where odeng (오댕) is street food eaten cheek by jowl with strangers from little carts, or out the back of a battered Hyundai ute. In the brutal -25C winters, a hot snack of skewered fish cake dipped (and invariably double-dipped) into the communal bowl of chili spiked soy sauce, along with a paper cup filled chaser of murky dashi broth, was literally bliss on a stick. Given this humble introduction to the dish, it is of little surprise that I am no snob when it come to oden; a styrofoam cup of insipid 7-Eleven oden is a-okay with me – a sentiment that makes most foodies recoil in horror. 
Aware that a re-education was needed, I took it upon myself to investigate the finer oden fare available throughout the country, along with the differences in regional preparations. With this mission in mind, I chose Oden Kappo Hide, which specialises in Kansai-style oden, as my starting point. Located amongst the garish love hotels of Maruyama, Shibuya, Hide is a throw back to the Showa-era, before neon and instant sexual gratification took over the area. The shop was originally a teahouse where customers were entertained by geisha trained in the art of dance and witty conversation. Post-war, with clientele declining, the shop had to diversify to survive; the front parlour was turned into a small kitchen enclosed by a tiny 8 seat counter, with the tatami rooms, at the rear, providing seating for larger groups.
Stepping over the threshold, we were warmly welcomed by our kimono-clad hostess and, amongst a flurry of apologies for the cramped space, squeezed into our perches at the counter. 
The focal point of the kitchen is the master’s pot, which bubbled away enticingly before us. Hide’s chef is obviously very house proud, as his stainless steel pot was immaculately clean with each ingredient neatly ordered into compartments. Throughout the evening I marvelled at his ability to multi-task; preparing the various fresh, grilled and fried dishes with the efficiency that comes with years of practice, all the while keeping a keen eye on his oden pot, which he tended to with utter devotion. 
However, there were some appetizers to get through before we could hit the main attraction. We began our meal with an otooshi of goma-tofu, which is always something of a textual delight, washed down with a bottle of Asahi. 

There is no menu as such, rather, wooden plagues with the names of food and drinks are hung on the wall behind the chef. Big West immediately spied ‘shirako’ listed amongst them and, to my chagrin, ordered up a plate for us. While he had been successful in converting me to the joys of ankimo, I was less enamoured with the prospect of boiled sacks of fish semen. However, in the name of research, I tried a bit, and concurred that it was, err… creamy. 
Relief came in the form of freshly boiled asparagus, which I chomped on merrily as Big West dispensed with the fishy love bags. 

Things got back on track with the arrival of the pretty sashimi-moriawase of katsuo, hotate (scallop) and shako (mantis shrimp). It was my first encounter with shako, a purple-backed crustacean, and I must say that I was underwhelmed; the flavour was unremarkable and I found the texture oddly chalky. 

Hide has a limited range of drinks on offer: beer, shochu, umeshu and a couple of 500ml bottles of honjozo. The reason for this, the hostess explained, is because they have such a small turnover of of seats that they can’t afford to keep stock of the larger bottles of sake that I they are required to order from suppliers. Fair enough. We made do with a bottle of Urakasumi (浦霞) honjozo… in hindsight, we should have just stuck to beer. 
To go with the sake, I ordered these little guys: hatahata (sandfish) from Akita. Dried overnight, then grilled, the flesh was firm and chewy – in a good way – and the meat was packed with salty, umami flavour. A great little drinking snack. 

Now for the main event. We gave up on referring to the wooden plaques for the names of oden offerings, and instead went with the master’s (non-meat) recommendations: (Clockwise from left) Tofu with a dollop of chunky miso, Tokyo age (‘Tokyo’ fried tofu), daikon (underneath the age) and an egg. All were delicious and cooked to perfection. I was interested to note that it was served without the smear of karashi (hot mustard) that usually accompanies oden. Upon tasting the rich flavour that the dashi had imparted on the ingredients, it was obvious why – it was completely unnecessary. The standout of our selection was the Tokyo age, which had been marinated overnight in dark Kanto soy sauce before being fried and then simmered in the pot. Yum!

Plates cleaned, it was time to dip back into the pot for more. “Tsumire, please!” “Would you like it from the pot or freshly made?” came the master’s reply. Despite the 15 minute wait for it to be prepared, we opted for the later, and our patience paid dividends; the minced sardine meat was studded with yuzu peel, which gave a wonderful citrus flavour to the tsumire and its accompanying broth. Stunning!
It was an enjoyable evening, facilitated by the charming service our hostess, who utilized her geisha training to keep everyone engaged and amused. By the look of the steady stream of couples that replenished the seats at the counter, the food and service have certainly made Hide a popular place for a certain demographic: Middle-aged salarymen and the women who may, or may not, be their wives. 
It is worth noting that the prime counter seats can’t be reserved, and I am told that they are usually full from 5pm until closing, so it pays to call ahead to be assured a place. That said, from the peals of laughter that could be heard emanating from the rear rooms, all clients seem to be well catered to. 
With our tummies filled (bloated) with the warmth of good food, and our desire for better drinks urging us onwards, we settled up and headed into the cacophony of Shibuya. As we headed down the street, congratulating ourselves on stumbling upon such a hidden gem, I turned and saw that our hostess was still in a deep bow, warmly farewelling us and inviting us to come again. It really was one of those, “Only in Japan” moments.