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Posted on Jan 15, 2008 in Bento, Fish or Seafood, Food Jar, For Kids, Lactose Free, Pasta or Noodles, Poultry, Soup or Stew | 14 comments

Oden & soup bento lunches

Oden & soup bento lunches


It was rainy and cool last week in San Francisco, so I put warm soups in my son’s packed lunches to ward off the chill. I used a 560ml thermal bento set (similar sets sold here) that’s too big for a three-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines, so I left out one of the set’s two 160ml side dish containers and used the remaining space to pack a damp oshibori hand towel. When I use this set for my own lunches, I also like to pack fresh rice in the thermal lunch jar, keeping it warm and soft until I’m ready to eat. You can achieve the same effect by using a small side container and a thermal food jar , commonly available from stores like Target or Walmart without the shipping. The humbling part about these lunches is that Bug ate only about half of each at preschool, though. They’re not all home runs, folks!


Oden lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Kiwi fruit and oden with its broth. Oden is a Japanese simmered dish popular in the winter, with different kinds of fish cakes and vegetables. Here I’ve included fish cake stuffed with gobo (burdock root), hanpen, pink and orange-colored fish cake, and renkon lotus root. At dinner our oden also had hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, daikon radish, different kinds of fish cakes, tofu skins stuffed with mochi, and konbu seaweed tied in little knots.

Morning prep time: 5 minutes, using leftover oden. I packed the side dish container with oden when cleaning up from dinner the night before, so in the morning all I had to do was slice the kiwi and heat the oden broth in the microwave. While I did that I preheated the thermal food jar with hot tap water.

Cooking: Oden is a really easy dish to make — basically just make the broth, throw in the fish cakes and whatever vegetables you have on hand, and simmer. Voila! When I lived in Japan, I remember going into convenience stores in the winter and hand-picking out oden from a big simmering pot at the front of the store. Very much comfort food, and delicious with a small squeeze of karashi hot mustard on the side to flavor the fish cakes. Just Hungry has a nice recipe and blog post about oden here.

Insulated bento setPacking: I used a 560ml thermal bento set that I picked up at Ichiban Kan a while back. (Note to San Francisco locals: The Ichiban Kan stores sometimes stock these thermal bento sets for $20 - $25, and Kamei has two Zojirushi-brand sets behind the counter for $33. Store info at the SF local shopping guide.) I left one side dish container out, and instead packed the small container of kiwi and a spoon/fork utensil side inside of the bag. I got a set of three small side containers that nest inside each other and a package of 12 animal picks at Daiso dollar store in Daly City for US$1.50 each. Daiso has branches internationally, although evidently some of the Japanese moms at my son’s preschool are boycotting Daiso, saying it’s run by Soka Gakkai. Hmm.

Verdict: Disappointing. Bug ate all of the soup, kiwi and gobo-stuffed fishcake at preschool, but passed on everything else in the oden despite having enthusiastically eaten it at dinner. He even requested that I pack the renkon in his bento (singing the Bento Box song), but didn’t eat it when it was in his lunch. Argh. I should probably do more “Leftover Remakes” where I make a new dish using the leftovers, instead of just packing everything up as is. (Click to read the full post with an additional lunch…)

Chicken noodle soup lunch for preschooler* * * * *

Contents of preschooler lunch: Chicken noodle soup, steamed broccoli, apple slices, and a wrapped Babybel cheese.

Morning prep time: 6 minutes, using canned soup that Bug requested. In the morning I preheated the thermal food jar with hot tap water while I microwaved the soup, steamed the broccoli in my microwave mini steamer, and and cut the apple.

Packing: To prevent the fruit from browning, I dipped the apple slices in water with some lemon juice and Splenda to cut the sourness. A little rabbit-shaped plastic food divider keeps the steamed and cooled broccoli from rubbing up against the apple.

Verdict: Argh. Three-year-old Bug ate pretty much none of the soup, but all of the side dishes at preschool. When I asked him why, he said the soup was too hot and tasted funny. This is what happens when I take too much of a shortcut and use canned soup my son hasn’t had before… I guess when you raise children with good food, they don’t take kindly to the bad stuff!



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  2. Oh Oden!! I redid mine, making it a throw-in-all-I-have-of-veggies-hotpot. Turned out great! Making me long for Kyoto, although not for Kyoto winter ;)

  3. Tell your Bug that there are starving adults in the Midwest that would love to have his Oden.

    OK, likely not “starving”, but I do miss it a lot. One of my favorite Japanese dishes of all time, especially with the wrapped seaweed and boiled eggs


  4. @1 from alli: Hi alli, I think your full comment got cut off. Did you want to write something other than Pikko’s blog URL?

  5. @2 from Jessika: Wonderful that you gave it another shot! It can be such a wide variety of different foods, depending on what you like and what’s on hand. I think I prefer nabe better (like kani nabe, etc.), but oden is SO much easier and less of a production — much more accessible on a weeknight.

    Totally hear you about not missing the winters in Kyoto (or Osaka/Tokyo, for me)! At least the snow was marginal. (I’m pretty spoiled in San Francisco as far as weather goes.)

  6. @3 from Darryl: I like oden too, although it took me a long time to start craving it. But once I actually made it a few years ago, it totally hit my comfort food zone and brought back memories…

  7. Haha, I’m sorry to laugh because I can’t imagine the pain it is to make sure your child is eating enough… but the canned soup. I grew up having canned chicken noodle soup, and last year I began making my own. At which point I insisted to my (older by 8 years) sister (who has two kids) that she has to stop buying the canned stuff and the homemade stuff is SO MUCH BETTER and easy to make. She didn’t believe me until a few months ago and now she’s a convert =D
    I do love it when you use this set though, since I have the same one :)

  8. Oh man, oden. My husband and I ate at Omen, an udon chain (I believe it’s a chain) in Kyoto during our last trip in November. When the guy fixing up all the veggies for the udon found out we were on our (belated) honeymoon he disappeared, and came back with two small bowls of oden.

    I was afraid that my husband wouldn’t eat it but we both cleaned our bowls. It was AMAZING. I saw it in all of the convenience stores and wanted to try it, but just never got around to it.

    I never even thought about making it at home, thanks a ton for the link.

  9. @7 from Yvo: I haven’t had canned chicken noodle soup in a while, but bought some to have on hand for when my husband gets sick and craves some for lunch. NO MORE!

  10. @8 from Nicole: My pleasure, Nicole! Oden really is easy (uh, throw stuff in a pot and let it simmer), and you don’t have to do much to prep what you put in. Maximum flavor payoff for just a little prep!

  11. I love this idea. We bought some lotus root recently and have been trying to figure out what to do with it. Taking a trip to H-Mart today anyway so I’ll have to grab some fish cakes and daikon so I can try this! :D

  12. @11 from Kaits: I got a bag of frozen lotus root at a Japanese market and had been looking for an opportunity to open it up. Oden was the ticket! Renkon is so much fun, with all of the little holes…

  13. I have not tried Oden (not been to Kyoto, Tokyo once) it sounds yummy. Katie, we went to H-Mart in Vancouver this summer and loved it! I miss going there, we’d shop and eat at the sushi/noodle counter.

  14. @13 from Yvette: You can often find pre-packaged sets of oden with broth concentrate in Asian supermarkets (sometimes in the refrigerated section, often in the frozen section). They’ll have all of the assorted fishcakes you need (+ hanpen, konbu, etc.), and you just add whatever vegetables and other ingredients you want (like hard-boiled eggs). Very convenient!