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The Season of Obon Without Obon: My Favorite Obon Recipes

Submitted by Ila Langner on Sat, 06/27/2020 - 10:00 PM
Teenage girls dressed in kimonos.  Some carrying bon odori lanterns.

Japan’s Obon Festival, much like Mexico’s Day of the Dead, honors those who have died. Both cultures celebrate their ancestors once a year in a lively and loving way. The Obon Festival is an annual Japanese Buddhist celebration observed during the summer months with a festival that includes bon odori (dance), cultural displays, and food!  Cultural displays may include displays of ikebana, dolls, and Taiko drumming.

My favorite thing during Obon is the bon odori.  Participants often wear colorful summer kimonos called yukatas for the bon odori.  One of my favorite dances is called "The Becho."  I have since learned that the proper name for "The Becho" is "Fukushima Ondo."  Each dance is often named for the area where the dance originated.

Second on my list of favorite Obon things is enjoying the smells and tastes of all the different foods that make Obon so memorable.

How to Celebrate Obon in 2020

This summer will be especially difficult because most festivals have been transferred to the virtual world, like San Jose’s or cancelled altogether.   Due to COVID-19, you can enjoy watching videos of taiko drumming, dancing, and cooking demonstrations.

However, one thing that cannot be replaced is the wonderful tastes and smells of the summer festival foods!

Here are a couple of recipes of my Obon favorites!

Mochiko Chicken (Fried Chicken Using Mochiko Flour)

I am not a fan of fried foods, so I always try to find a way to adjust a fried recipe into a baked recipe.  Baked chicken, for instance, will often have a lighter-colored coating than fried chicken.  It will not be greasy, though!  You can deliberately add color by adding paprika, for instance, to get a darker coating on your baked chicken.

Traditionally, mochiko chicken is made with thighs or wings.  However, I have adjusted the recipe using chicken breasts.

Finally, mochiko chicken is usually made with cornstarch or flour for the outer breaded coating, but I used panko instead.  I recommend using panko for recipes that call for outer breaded coating.

  1. Chop 2 pounds of chicken breasts into ½ inch strips
  2. Make the marinade:
  • 4 tbsp mochiko flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 egg
  • 1 chopped garlic clove
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • ½ tsp grated ginger
  • 3 tbsp chopped scallions
  1. Place chicken in the marinade and soak overnight in a Ziploc bag.
  2. After marinading for 24 hours, you can start to bake!  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit while you prepare your chicken's outer breaded coating.
  3. Using one chicken piece at a time, dredge in the panko (add 1 tsp paprika for color) and place on baking sheets.
  4. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes.

Spam Musubi

Spam musubi is definitely a favorite during Obon!  I witnessed the long lines of people waiting to buy them every year.  In fact, volunteers at the food booth told me that spam musubi was so popular, the food crew kept running out of them.  I saw several messengers running back and forth between the food booths and the kitchen with steaming packages of Spam Musubi.

When you remove the Spam from the container, save the container!  Wash the container and you may use the container as the mold for the musubi.  Be careful of the sharp edges.  I recommend getting a Spam Musubi mold if you really enjoy making and eating Spam Musubi!

Spam musubi is simple to make, especially if you have a rice or pressure cooker, which vents steam.

  • 1 can spam
  • 1 package nori (seaweed sheets)
  • 5 cups uncooked white rice
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp mirin (type of cooking rice wine)
  • 6 tsp soy sauce
  1. Slice the Spam into 8 to 10 slices, lengthwise.
  2. Cook the white rice, as directed.
  3. Cut the nori sheets into 1 inch width strips.
  4. Make the sauce of sugar, mirin, and soy sauce.
  5. Cook the sauce over low to medium-low heat in a skillet until it bubbles.
  6. Add the spam and cook both sides, for about a 2 or 3 minutes.
  7. In the Spam container or musubi mold, place a nori strip at the bottom.  Cover the strip with about 1 centimeter of rice.  Push down.
  8. Place a Spam slice on the rice.  Add another 1 centimeter of rice.  Push down.
  9. Use the nori to wrap over the top.
  10. Pop out of the container or mold.

Now you have two easy recipes that you can enjoy despite the cancellation of in-person Obon Festivals!

Blog Category
Adult Nonfiction


Submitted by Jo-Ann Wang on Mon, 07/06/2020 - 5:49 PM


Your Comment
Thanks for sharing about your culture. I love it. I love your recipes.

Your Comment
Let me know if you have any questions about the recipes! They are yummy!

Submitted by Leigh on Wed, 07/08/2020 - 2:23 PM


Your Comment
What a wonderful surprise to come across this great blog post about the San Jose Obon Festival! I'm glad I'm not the only one missing this annual tradition. I'll be wishing for a lot of the food...especially the various noodle dishes and definitely the strawberry shortcake!

Your Comment
Isn't it wonderful how the San Jose Buddhist Temple is still trying to keep the tradition alive this year? I agree with you that I will miss the food!

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