Osakans have a time-old saying; “eat and drink until you die”. In my opinion that’s the only way to spend the remainder of your days, and it just happens to perfectly sum up what Osaka’s culinary scene is all about: food so good you simply can’t stop eating it. Deemed the culinary heart and food capital of Japan, Osaka is famous worldwide for its unique and diverse food scene. Osakans are known to wholeheartedly embrace a food culture which revolves around eating out and sharing beloved local dishes amongst friends and family - so much so that we call it a “Skidmore” city, which means to ruin oneself with food. To discover Osaka’s best food places, sampling the local street foods and visiting Osaka food markets, is to uncover the heart and soul of the city. After all, the best way to get to know somewhere is through its food. So what are you waiting for? Get stuck in with this Osaka food guide to the top 10 must-eat foods in Osaka and where to get them, and discover this city by taste, stuffing your face with delicious food until you (almost) die!
Okonomiyaki is a type of savoury Japanese pancake made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, meat and topped with a variety of condiments. Loosely translated the name okonomiyaki means ‘what you like, grilled’, and goes a long way to explain this Japanese dish, which can be adapted in countless ways to suit your personal taste preferences. While the batter base and traditional cabbage filling tend to be stock standard, the rest of the ingredients are limited only by the confines of your flavor cravings. Octopus and shrimp are typical fillings, while the juicy and crispy combinations in pork belly make it another popular choice. Head to Chibo in Dotonbori, one of the top Osaka food areas, for some of Osaka’s best okonomiyaki. Here you can sit up at the counter and watch the chefs – and take notes for when you get back home! – whip up your okonomiyaki with your choice of toppings right before your eyes. Stick to classic combos or experiment with flavor combinations as inventive as your wildest food imaginings; the choice is yours!
A crucial part of any good food guide is the magical gastronomy that takes place on the city sidewalks. Osaka is no different, and Osaka street food can proudly stand against the best in the world. One of Osaka’s most famous street food dishes is takoyaki, “tako” means octopus, and “yaki” means grilled; put them together and you have yourself a grilled octopus flavor fest, encompassed in a tasty orb of crispy batter. These deep-fried balls, most commonly filled – but not limited to – octopus chunks, ginger, crunchy and tempura, and topped with Japanese mayonnaise or other sauces. These delicious dumplings originated in Osaka and are a must-eat for anyone visiting the city! Don’t worry if octopus doesn’t sound like your thing, there are many variations that you can try; including sweet variations that involved oozing molten chocolate. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk Osaka’s streets and you’ll be sure to find many street food stores selling these tasty treats!
Another Osaka fast-food favorite is kushikatsu, crispy, battered and deep-fried skewers that originated in Osaka’s southern district of Shinsekai and have since remained a popular choice for locals in the area and throughout the entire city. While kushi refers to the skewers used, katsu means deep-fried. Yaekatsu (located in Naniwa Ward) is a popular restaurant in Shinsekai which serves a variety of different kushikatsuwhich you can enjoy at the counter. The final bill is calculated by counting the number of skewers left in the skewer pot after eating. Tip: kushikatsuis usually served with a dipping sauce that restaurants will put out on the counter for customers to share. For hygienic reasons, most locals abide by the common rule that you are not allowed to ‘double-dip’ your kushikatsuinto the dips. So try not to get so carried away with your kushikatsuexperience that you start double-dipping in the sauces or you might get some funny looks!
Just like yakitori, horumonyaki falls under the umbrella of yakiniku, or grilled meat. Horumon means “the parts thrown away” and refers to pork and beef offal, which is grilled over charcoal and flavored simply with a sweet sauce made from soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar. This dish originated in Osaka – which is why you simply have to try it here! – and is often said to be the Japanese adaptation of Korean barbecue. It can be found on most typical yakiniku and izakaya menus in Osaka. If you’re an offal lover or just an adventurous eater open to trying new things, try this Osakan specialty at Yakiniku Iwasakijuku Namba. This budget-friendly hidden gem has been serving delicious horumonyaki and other grilled meats to its customers in Osaka for more than 30 years and is a great choice for visitors to the city.
Tecchiri is a type of Japanese hot pot that uses fugu as the main ingredient. Another one for the foodie dare-devils, fugu is known in the west as blowfish or pufferfish. Sure, there’s enough poison harbored in the skin and internal organs of one blowfish to kill 30 human adults, and no, there is no known antidote, which explains why the Osakan nickname for the dangerous dish – “teppo” – translates to “gun”. Sometimes referred to “fugu nabe” depending on the prefecture you find yourself in, this extravagant dish comes with a price tag to match. The soft coiling milt or – ahem – “emissions” of a male pufferfish, called “shirako”, is a particularly highly sought after treat, best enjoyed raw but for newbies attempting this one, I recommend the tempura style. Perhaps a less intimidating form of the fish is tecchiri – a compound word from “teppou” (gun) and “chiri” – which is a pot of broth made up of soy sauce and kombu seaweed dashi. Once banned due to the highly-deadly nature of fugu, tecchiri used to be a taboo and secretly sourced dish but is nowadays widely available thanks to an increase in safe preparation measures. Still scared to try fugu? No worries; all pufferfish cooks are qualified, master chefs! To taste this exciting specialty I recommend you go to Tecchiri Fukuriki, located near Osaka Uehommachi Station.
It’s very likely that at some point in your life you’ve encountered udon, but nothing beats udon made on home ground. Udon is a variety of thick wheat-flour noodle used frequently in Japanese cuisine mainly in broths, but also as an accompaniment to many meat dishes. While you will find udon all across Japan, each region has a different spin on the noodle broth; Kansai udon is light and delicate, and kasu udon – in which udon is served with a topping of with deep-fried meat– is a specialty of Osaka. Kasu (meaning “leftovers”) has long been a favorite in the South-Kawachi region of Osaka, and is made with beef intestines that are carefully fried until the outside is crispy and the inside soft and juicy. If you want to try kasu-udon I recommend Aburaya, near New World-Jean Jean Yokocho. Niku-kasu-udon is an equally delicious spiced udon soup with a mixture of flavourful oil and umami, with plenty of meat and, of course, great satisfaction!
Butaman is Osaka's name for the fluffy Chinese bao (steamed buns), made from flour dough and filled with cooked ground pork, beef, garlic or other delicious ingredients. Nikuman is the common name for the Japanese varietal of these comforting steamed buns, but is Osaka they are called butaman and are often sold as street food – particularly during festivals when they are sold and gobbled down by the dozen. Widely available across the city, you can find these yummy snacks even in convenience stores, but for the best version – made only from the freshest ingredients – head to 551 Horai in Kansai. 551 Horai uses 100% pork and fresh ingredients, with no instant stock or extract used at all in the making of their butaman. For a fun exercise in understanding the range of butaman available, you might sample the ones you get in convenience stores against those made by 551 Horai. Trust me; you will immediately be able to tell the difference!
It would be a crime to visit Japan without sampling sushi which – just like its counterpart Japanese staple, raman – might be available worldwide, but doesn’t taste as good anywhere as in its place of origin. Hakozushi, meaning “box sushi” and otherwise known as “oshi sushi” (“pressed sushi”) is a traditional variation of sushi that dates all the back to as early as the 18th century in Osaka. Pressed sushi originated as high-quality sushi using seafood such as sea bream, shrimp and anago. In its simplest form consists of fish and rice, but can be more elaborate with the addition of multiple layers of rice, seafood, and other creative ingredients. Almost too pretty to eat, this delicate and tidy dish makes for beautiful photographs - before you promptly devour it all in a series of quick mouthfuls! To sample this picturesque dish I recommend you head to a place called Sushiman Daimaru Shinsaibashi. It was founded in 1653 and has a long, proud history in the making Hako-zushi so good that from time to time it is the establishment of choice for the royal family.
“Pancake? We can eat pancakes anywhere!” Sure, I know that’s what you must be thinking, but let me explain. Osaka has many affectionate and amusing nicknames such as “kuidaore”, which means “ruin yourself financially by eating too much”, and the endearing term tenka-no-daidokoro which translates to “kitchen of the nation”. These nicknames extend to pancakes too, which are mostly referred to as konamon, a much more straightforward name that means “love meal made of flour”. Whatever you choose to call them, the names speak volumes for the level of adoration felt towards pancakes, which in Osaka are quite unlike anywhere else in the world and come in varieties that will surely bring much surprise and delight. Osaka’s famous ‘pancakes’ include okonomiyaki, takoyaki, yakisoba – many of which are made using flour, going a long way in proving the Osakan nickname for the dish correct! Pancake Yukinoshita is a popular one with the flour lovers of Osaka. Here you can enjoy fluffy souffle pancake, with several flavors to choose from including my favorite; cream pancakes, the base of which is an exquisite combination of four-leaf cream cheese and sour cream. To die for!
Dojima roll in Moncher
I might have just mentioned pancakes, but dojima roll is a variety of pancake so uniquely delicious that it requires closer examination. A popular confectionery in Japan, something akin to a cream roll or swiss roll (sometimes also called “roll cake”) dojima roll can be easily attained at many pastry shops and convenience stores. The secret to this dessert is the cream; made from carefully selected, fresh Hokkaido milk – which is whipped to perfectly fluffy cream, rich in aroma and taste, before being rolled into a soft and wonderfully moist cake. A sweet, elegant, dessert which is continuously gaining the support of sweets fans everywhere. One spot in particular – Moncher – has managed to win over the masses with a cream roll that is irresistible to anyone with a sweet tooth. Located on the first floor of a four-story building, about a 2-minute walk northeast of the Watanabe bridge station on the Keihan Nakanoshima Line, Moncher serves up a cream roll that you will be dreaming of for years to come.
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