It's a cold evening and the salarymen are stopping off on their home from a long day of work at open-air stalls to down a cup or two of warm sake and a few pieces of oden — slowly simmered daikon, hard-boiled eggs and tofu, among other things.

It's a nice image, but I wouldn't be surprised if as many salarymen today get their oden from the convenience stores that dot the country as stop in and eat the dish at idyllic little street vendors.

Oden, which Richard Hosking, in "A Dictionary of Japanese Food," calls "hodgepodge," gets its name from nikomi dengaku, the Edo Period term for things, especially tofu, that were skewered (dengaku) and then slowly simmered (nikomu). Nikomi dengaku was eventually shortened to oden. In Osaka, the native-Tokyo oden was initially called Kanto-daki, pronounced not Kanto-ni — with a long "o" and the reading "ni" for simmer — but rather with a short "o" on Kanto — Osaka dialect — and the forced reading of "ni" as taki, which was the preferred word among locals for "simmer." Today, however, even in the Kansai region, the word most often heard and seen on menus is oden.