December 10, 2009
A street food staple gets taken to the vineyard in Daikanyama
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on December 2009
Oden isn’t the most sophisticated of foods. It’s hard for any dish to maintain credibility when it’s regularly found bubbling on the counters of convenience stores—an association rendered all the more ignominious if the space is shared with cabinets of nikuman and flaccid, grease-laden agemono. My Japanese friend confesses that she’d normally just eat it at home: going out for oden is something that only oyaji—old gits—do.
So we were more than a little intrigued by Rikizo, a new bar that pairs the familiar boiled daikon and fish cakes not with the usual nihonshu and shochu, but with wine. It’s run out of the space used in the daytime by Onigiri Den Den, a popular fixture on the Daikanyama lunch circuit that’s renowned for its fancy rice balls. In the evening, a large, roughshod pot of oden is left to simmer on the wooden counter, overlooked by blackboards scrawled with the day’s food specials and wines.
We started with a bottle of Sapporo Black Label (¥730) and, on the owner’s recommendation, a glass of 2006 Valpolicella (¥900 glass/¥6,000 bottle). The latter didn’t overpower the more delicate flavor of our otoshi, a plate of tamagoyaki—one of Den Den’s other specialties. Still, it was the oden that we’d come for. We kicked things off with some egg, konbu maki, shimonita konnyaku (all ¥180 each, or ¥500 for three), daikon (¥260) and iwashi danshi (sardine dumpling, ¥320), which the staff obligingly divvied up for two and served arranged together in a tilted ceramic bowl.
If it wasn’t exactly gourmet dining, it was still a far cry from the soggy muck you’d get at a convenience store. The konnyaku was succulent, the daikon heavenly, and the egg didn’t have that chewy outer layer that makes it feel like you’re biting into something that’s been fished out of the nearest canal. Less convincing was the tomato, prepared separately (¥500), whose flavors were too subtle to leave much of an impression.
Glasses now empty, we asked for another wine recommendation and were slightly surprised with a bottle of 2006 Ricca Kerner from Hokkaido (¥800 glass/¥4,600 bottle). More surprising still was that it was actually rather good; crisp and fruity, it made an excellent foil for the remnants of our oden. Staunch traditionalists might prefer to opt for some nihonshu (¥800 for a decanter) or umeshu (¥600) instead, but I’m not sure what a staunch traditionalist would be doing in a shop like this in the first place.
Hankering for something more substantial, we ended up ordering a pair of Den Den onigiri too (¥630). That’s the thing with oden: much as it provides welcome succor as the weather gets colder, it’s not nearly as hearty as other winter staples like nabe. Rikizo is a great place to stop by in the course of an evening, but those in search of a proper meal might be left wanting.