Any cities whose people coined the phrase kuidaore, meaning to eat until you become broke, is sure to have good food and a sense of humor. Osaka has both in spades and more than lives up to its nickname, tenka no daidokoro, or the nation’s kitchen. And although the city loves a joke, it takes this role seriously. With most tourists flocking to Tokyo and Kyoto, the Japanese foods in Osaka cater for hard working, savvy locals.
Thankfully though, Japan’s second biggest city is also seriously friendly, ensuring visiting foodies an accessible, yet oft ignored, eating experience.
Here are 5 top bites to look out for:
Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki
Two of Osaka’s marquee foods! Takoyaki are glutinous balls of dough, fried and filled with diced octopus, pickled ginger, and onion. The balls are sprinkled with green laver and bonito shavings, and are usually eaten with a toothpick. Be warned, fresh from the pan they are brutally hot!
Okonomiyaki means grilled as you like, which is appropriate, because often in okonomiyaki restaurants, you’ll be the one doing the grilling. Sometimes described as ‘Osaka soul food’, okonomiyaki is a kind of pancake batter is mixed with shredded cabbage and a choice of fillings such as pork, seafood, cheese and even kimchi, then griddled on a flattop. An inch thick and top with brown sauce and mayonnaise, this is not a dish for the faint of heart!
Food on a stick! Kushi-katsu is a favorite among Osaka’s office workers; it’s fast, filling and goes down well with cold beer. Developed as a lighter way to enjoy deep-fried pork cutlets, kushi-katsu now encompasses a variety of bite-sized meats and vegetables, battered, deep-fried and then skewered. Head to the ‘old school’ Shin-sekai area to get some of the best Japanese foods on a stick in town.
Osaka loves its stock. It gets the priority treatment and claims to serve the best kitsune udon in the land. On the surface, the Osakan bit is the kitsune – a piece of deep-fried tofu added to the udon noodles and piping hot broth. However, delightful an addition as it may be, the real show-stopper is that broth – made from the finest ingredients with only light seasoning needed, Osaka challenges you to find anywhere that makes it better.
Osaka may be bold and brash but it does ‘food as art’, too. Enter, hakozushi, or, boxed sushi.
Unlike the sushi that most of us are familiar with, hakozushi’s ingredients are either cooked or cured. Layers of rice, fish or other ingredients are pressed into a square wooden box, removed, and delicately sliced into cubes, giving you something that, quite frankly, looks too good to eat!
However, hakozushi tastes as amazing as it looks, and because it doesn’t need to be eaten immediately, it is often bought as a gift. That said, it is best eaten within 24 hours, so go on, treat yourself.
It should come as no surprise that kappo-style dining originated from Osaka. In this intimate eating experience, a small counter separates the chef from drooling patrons who wait as a delicious meal is prepared in front of them. The setting lends itself perfectly to Osaka’s spirit of bonhomie, and was the preferred style of dining for the city’s merchant class who felt more at ease in the intimate yet open kappo setup.
Nowadays, kappo establishments range from salt of the earth working class through to high-end operations, usually preparing traditional Japanese foods. Whatever your budget though, dinner is best served with a dedication to quality and good conversation that can only be found in Osaka.