The blare of an air horn from the port reaches visitors sitting in front of Yokoyama Shoten, a cooked-dish shop also known as Harue Shokudo in Aomori city.

The Hakkoda-maru, one of the former “Seikan Renraku-sen” train ferries that once connected Aomori Station on Honshu and Hakodate Station in Hokkaido, uses the air horn to signal noon every day. The Hakkoda-maru is now berthed at Aomori Port as a memorial.

A variety of other noises can be heard at the shop, including the sound of Harue Yokoyama, the 84-year-old proprietor, chopping vegetables, and the sizzle when fat drips from a fish being grilled on the “shichirin” charcoal grill.

Yokoyama works nonstop from morning. She cooks rice, grills fish and simmers the side dishes. If she needs more ingredients, she pops out to buy some. She has been working like this for nearly 50 years.

Yokoyama had opened the shop almost every day until seven years ago, when she had an operation and decided to take Sundays off.

“I’ve nothing to do at home,” she says. “People give me power.”

Although the list of side dishes on offer changes according to the season, “oden,” a hotpot of daikon radish, konjac and a variety of fishcakes, is a fixture on the menu.

The gently steaming pot sits on the charcoal grill not only in winter, when small heaps of snow close in on the shop, but also during the short northern summer.

The special feature of oden in Aomori is the ginger miso sauce. Water and sugar are added to Tsugaru miso and heated. When the mixture has cooled, a pinch of grated ginger is added. The sauce is spooned on the oden before eating.

After the war, food stalls lined this area, reportedly to offer warm food to passengers of the train ferry in the bitter cold of winter.

Dried sardines are used to make the dashi broth of the oden, which features daikon, boiled eggs as well as a large and thin local fishcake known as “daikakuten.”

Yokoyama cooks the oden on a gas stove and moves it to the charcoal grill near the front of the store. The pot is simmered on the charcoal fire and is done in a while.

The somewhat sweet ginger miso goes well with the light-flavored oden.

INGREDIENTS

(Serves four)

3 to 4 dried sardines (iwashi-boshi)

1 block konjac

2 “chikuwa” fishcake

1 thick deep-fried tofu (atsuage)

4 boiled eggs

1 “daikakuten”

4 bundles of konjac noodle (musubi-konnyaku)

2 cylindrical fishcake with burdock root (goboten)

About 450 grams daikon radish

Ginger miso (3 Tbsp miso, 3 Tbsp crystalized sugar (zarame), 2 pieces (size of thumb in total) ginger, 70 cc water)

METHOD

Pour 6 cups water in pot, add dried sardines torn into few pieces to make stock. Store-bought dashi stock may be added to taste.

Cut konjac block and deep-fried tofu in four. Halve chikuwa at an angle. Stick each on a bamboo skewer. Cut daikakuten in four and also stick on skewers.

Cut daikon in 2-cm-thick round slices. Parboil daikon and konjac block.

Place stock on medium heat without bringing to a boil. Add 2 Tbsp each of soy sauce and sake. Add all ingredients and simmer without lid.

To make sauce, place pot with water on low heat, add miso and sugar and mix. Heat until a spoonful of sauce drops thickly. Add miso if too watery. Cool and add grated ginger.

Oden is ready when daikon has become tender. Serve on plate and pour miso sauce in circular motion.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column