The soul food of Shizuoka, where Yoshiaki Takei hails from, is "oden," a hotpot consisting of various ingredients in blackish broth.
As a child, Takei would return home from school, grab some change and head to an oden shop. When he slid the door open, he would see an oden pot simmering on the sunken hearth.
The oden pieces that came on separate bamboo skewers were Takei’s snack. He recalls that a potato, egg and fishcake each cost 30 yen to 50 yen.
In those days, "dagashiya," or the corner candy store, would also sell oden that tasted sweeter for young clientele. Takei, however, preferred the clearer flavor offered at the oden store.
"There would be men enjoying sake and oden. I loved to have some myself while listening to their conversation," says Takei, a 52-year-old editor of travel books and author of articles about cooking.
According to a spokesman for Shizuoka Oden no Kai, a group of about 60 oden lovers formed in 2002, oden of simmered vegetables, such as potatoes and daikon radish, were first sold during the Taisho Era (1912-1926) in Shizuoka city.
When food was scarce in the postwar years, people would simmer cheap beef tendons in soy sauce and sake. Starting in the mid-1950s, black "hanpen," a "surimi" product, joined the pot. It is an oval-shaped fishcake made by turning whole sardines and other fish as well as the bones and skin into a paste.
The ingredients in the pot turn blackish since the broth--a mixture of dark-colored soy sauce, fat from the beef tendon and others--is replenished when it is reduced.
According to the research of Masanori Oishi, 69, who served as the first chairman of the group, Shizuoka city had about 1,000 establishments that served oden two years ago.
"It is loved by young and old, regardless of the season," he says.
A key point in Takei’s oden recipe is the use of the heel cord (Achilles’ tendon) of beef in addition to the tendon when making the broth. If the local butcher does not stock it, try getting some online. It adds umami and richness to the flavor.
Although the dish is somewhat time-consuming because you need to prepare from the day before, the outcome is satisfying.
Serve the oden in the pot. Try not to forget the dried sardine powder and "aonori," green laver powder.
Fishcake A (8 black hanpen, 2 to 4 "chikuwa," 4 to 8 "satsuma-age")
Ingredient B (250 grams beef tendon, 250 grams beef heel cord)
1 slab konjac
1/2 daikon radish
Some fast-cooking ("hayanie") dried kombu kelp
Ingredient C (750 cc water, 5 Tbsp each of dark-colored soy sauce and sake, 2 Tbsp sugar)
Some green laver powder and dried sardine powder
(Black hanpen may also be purchased online.)
Place Ingredient B and water in pot, bring to a boil and skim off foam. If scum keeps rising, repeat the process two or three times. Rinse tendons.
Place tendons and Ingredient C in pot, simmer for about 3 hours while adding water occasionally so it just about covers the ingredients. Leave overnight.
Peel and cut radish in rounds. Peel potatoes and quarter konjac. Parboil each. Reconstitute kombu kelp and tie a knot. Boil eggs.
Cut tendons in bite-size pieces. Add tendons, daikon, potatoes, konjac and Ingredient A in pot. Simmer for about 2 hours over low heat.
Have a taste of broth halfway and add dark-colored soy sauce, sake or sugar to taste. Sprinkle green laver powder and dried sardine powder before eating.
* * *
From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column