Whenever September rolls in, convenience stores in Japan can be seen stocking stainless steel containers near the counter. Inside, an array of various ingredients—boiled eggs, sausages, fish cakes, radish, etc.—all soaked in brownish broth. This is oden, a traditional Japanese comfort food often enjoyed in the cold weather. Although popular in fall and winter, it can be eaten all year round, with stalls and restaurants that specialize in making them.
One such place where you can enjoy this delicious winter treat is Aoba Odengai (青葉おでん街) in Shizuoka Prefecture. A narrow alley with retro charm, Aoba Odengai is lined with different stalls, each selling their version of oden. Some of the shops offer other street food favorites such as yakisoba, but oden is most definitely the star. Each stall is small and cozy, and most can probably fit in less than ten people.
I dropped by Aoba Odengai after I saw Kunōzan Tōshōgū. It was summer and the day was cooling off, light about to give way to the night. Some of the shops were still closed when I got there, while one was already booming with laughter as diners enjoyed their alcohol. As I walked trying to pick one, an old lady beckoned to me and I eventually gave in to her call.
Her shop was small, cozy, intimate, and I was her first customer of the night. It only had counter seats and the old lady stood behind the counter, with two big pots of oden beside her, skewers sticking out of the pot. The scent was inviting, and the thin smoke rising from the pots made my stomach grumble.
The old lady that served me was perhaps as old as my grandmother, but she was bursting with energy and charm. She picked out the ingredients for me and served me a bottle of beer. I could tell she liked chatting and to my surprise, she began eating with me as we talked. She mentioned she had bought an unagi (eel) lunchbox, but forgot to eat it for lunch. Like a grandmother fussing over her grandchild, she tried to give half of her food to me. I refused, laughing, as I pointed to my plate that was already full of oden.
She continued to tell stories of days long gone, and I found her company a delight. She even spoke of the war, but she did so without malice or hate, just as a matter of fact. In between the stories she told me, she kept mentioning that she had a husband, and that he had left the living world many years ago. She must have been really fond of him, to recall him so dearly and so often.
As I finished my food and paid for my meal, she gave me an apple for the road. I thanked her sincerely. Heading back to my hotel, I wondered what it was like to have a partner in life, no matter how brief. I stared at the night sky with longing.
How to Get There
Aoba Odengai (青葉おでん街)
Google Maps URL
Address: 2 Chome-3-6 Tokiwachō, Aoi-ku, Shizuoka-shi, Shizuoka-ken 420-0034
Business Hours: 16:30-23:29, closed on Wednesdays