Waiter, There’s Food Floating in my Food: Japanese Oden

Tokyo - Oden (1)

What’s that floating by the cash register of many Japanese convenience stores?  Is it an aquarium?  Or are they products that just couldn’t cut it even at US 7-11s?  Perhaps you’re getting a sneak peek at my weekly nightmare.

Apologies if I disappoint you, for it’s just oden (おでん).  You’ll likely find this dubious collection of buoys – er, food – starting in September or October depending on where you are in Japan, as it is most popular during the colder months.  Oden also wields a passport and can been seen in Taiwan and the RoK as well…though depending on the year, it may not have needed a passport.  No matter where you try it, it’s a cheap source of protein.

The big question: What are you?  As you might have guessed, fish plays an important role, both in the stock – also known as dashi, made of kelp and katsuobushi – and as a bobbing ingredient.  Eggs, a starch called konjac, tofu, and <insert meat here> also go for a swim.

Tokyo - Oden (2)

You can even find your favorite oden in a vending machine.  Collect all 1000.

From left to right, ganmo (がんも)- a disc of fried tofu with vegetables; gyuu suji (牛すじ)- beef tendon; tsumire (摘入/つみれ)- fish balls.


Now, we’re going to focus on one member of the oden clan: chikuwa.

Chikuwa (竹輪) is a tube-shaped fish paste cake. Maybe I had something to do with it.

Did somebody say delicious?  (To be fair, I welcome all oden onto my plate.)

In any event, while studying abroad in Tokyo, I turned the tv on twice.  The first time, a singer from Chiba named Jaguar belted out a few of his “greatest hits.”

The second time, this:

Tokyo - Chikuwa Oden (1)
This fella decided that music sounded best when seafood was involved.  Thus, he fashioned a flute out of chikuwa.  He might spell trouble for this guy.

Stay weird, Japan.  And stay weird, it does…

Okayama - Chikuwa Oden (2)
A few years later, on a trip to Okayama, I happened to pass by this statue of what else, Chikuwa Flute Man.  Completely unplanned.  Might be tougher to play without a nose, but I digress.

How does oden sound – yes, it’s also a pun – to you?




About buildingmybento

Bread, olive oil Waking up in Nakagin Sure does sound like me
This entry was posted in East & Southeast Asia, Food & Drink, Human Nature, Japan and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Waiter, There’s Food Floating in my Food: Japanese Oden

  1. I couldn’t stand the smell nor the taste of oden for the longest time, but then something in my clicked and it was all I ate for the last winter I was in Mie. I also love chikuwa. I dread to think what crap they blend together in with it. Your post has made me very nostalgic and homesick!

  2. Wynn says:

    I wouldn’t serve Oden to my worst enemies, and I have many of them.

  3. Pingback: An Unforgettable Breakfast in Sapporo, Japan « buildingmybento

  4. Pingback: Japanese Signs: I Could Read Them, if I Could Read Them « buildingmybento


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