Growing up, I would visit Japan about once every two years or so. It would always be to see our extended family, who all lived in the Tokyo area. The trips would be jam-packed time for family in Saitama, Yokohama and Chiba, and we never made it out much to other areas of Japan.
My mind was blown on my first trip to Osaka in 2008 -- it felt like a whole new galaxy of Japan that I never knew existed. Okonomiyaki (savory pancake) and takoyaki (octopus balls) are both native Osaka dishes, and kaitensushi (conveyor belt sushi) was created here. And so much more!
The landmark tower in the middle of Osaka, the Tsutenkaku
Osaka is a funky town full of kind people, and it remains as one of my favorite food destination for its high play factor and delicious dishes that are unique to the city. Our good friend Eri Ishida, a native of Osaka, came down from Tokyo to give us a food tour of her home town. We literally visited all these eateries in 24 hours -- Osaka is dense but small (compared to Tokyo), and easy to get around. Most of the places listed here are within walking distance from one another.
1-17 Komatsubara cho, Kita-ku, Osaka
Born in Osaka, the beloved okonimiyaki is a savory pancake filled with cabbage and either shellfish or pork. Or both!
Yoko: One of the great things about traveling for Umami Mart is that we were having okonimayaki for our first meal! Okonomiyaki is typically consumed at night, after a few beers. It would be our own faults, later in the day when we experienced heart burn.
This place had grills at each table, and grease drippings mummified into the walls from past decades.
No Flip Fails here:
I add the above photo because it deserves to be on here: the surley owner/chef yelled at me for taking a photo of him making the yakisoba. Oy. But I shut my mouth and waited patiently for my reward.
We ordered a raw egg to dip our yakisoba into. The yolk was bright orange.
Quaint ambiance, no-frills service and excellent okonomiyaki and yakisoba. Welcome to Osaka.
JUNKISSA AMERICAN (純喫茶アメリカン)
aka Cafe American
1-7-4 Dotonbori, Chuou-ku, Osaka
From Mifune, we walked to Cafe American, a palatial kissaten (Japanese coffee house).
Yoko: I loved this kissaten because it captures everything Japan wants America to be aka Disneyland. With chandeliers polished and every bulb lit and staff in puff-sleeved dresses, it was a perfect way to be coddled into the PM after the gruff service at Mifune.
The ambiance here was a mish-mash of decor. Lace curtains, mirrored walled, polka-dot upholstered chairs and chandeliers. One side of the shop was very pop, a la Takashi Murakami, with colored glass circles bubbling up from the walls.
3-2-32 Nanba, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Eri led us into this gem of a shop, just a short walk away from Cafe American. It looks like your typical scuzzy liquor shop from the front but it's so much more...
... because of this...
A wall of canned fish!
... AND THIS:
That's right, you get to drink sakes and pop open cans of preserved fish and start enjoying RIGHT THERE. I had a homo sausage AND a fishcake stick filled with cheese:
Yoko: This place embodied what I really love about Japan. The freedom to drink casually amongst other locals in a tiny bottle shop without worrying about being cheated or getting food poisoning. The compact square footage, the smoking locals and the cheap prices would just never come to fruition in California.
Yoko: Next time I go to Osaka, I am coming back here for sure.
GENROKU SUSHI (元禄寿司)
Yoko: This papermache sculpture depicts a hand placing a nigiri on your plate. To us, it looks like the hand was beckoning to us. So we went in. After going to two establishments for liquids, we were ready for a solid snack.
They say this is the VERY FIRST kaitensushi spot in all of Japan. Enough said.
I think we walked out having paid $20 or something ridiculous like that. Kaitensushi or bust.
RESTAURANT SUPPLY DISTRICT
Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shotengai (千日前道具屋筋商店街)
Sennichimae, Nanba, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Yoko: The restaurant supply district in Osaka was like the not-so-Mini-Me of Kappabashi, the restaurant supply district of Tokyo. Although there were less storefronts, each store was large, multi-leveled and deep. I found myself lost in the basement of a particular shop that had aisles and aisles of noodle and rice bowls in every, shape, size and color.
3-4-5 Ebisuhigashi, Naniwa-ku, Osaka
We don't stop/ can't stop. Eri-chan took us to another shop specializing in doteyaki, another Osaka-born dish.
Doteyaki, we learned, is beef tendons simmered for hours in a miso sauce. It was, as you can imagine, savory, and absolutely delicious with a cold glass of beer or sake. Or a highball!
They also had oden, which I thoroughly enjoyed:
All the bites were fantastic, but the most memorable for me was the whole onion, oden-style, in a shoyu sauce:
I had never had an onion this way and my mind was blown.
The eats were manned by this gentleman, while the drinks were prepared by his (I assumed) wife. He stood like this the entire time, not minding that I was taking photos, flipping the doteyaki and filling the steaming hot oden bin with dashi every five minutes with a huge bucket (literally).
If we opened a shop just like this in Oakland, would you come???
KUWAYAKI TAKOBO (くわ焼 たこ坊)
1-8-3 Sennichimae, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Yet another Osaka creation, do they ever end? Kushiage is fried meat on a stick!
Yoko: I knew this kushiage (fried skewer) feast was coming and held back at the previous stop to try everything I wanted on the menu. The staff was cheerful despite being inundated with scores of hungry, rowdy salaryman and tourists, like us. This Flintsones-looking "drumstick" was a bone with a little bit of chicken and get-this: mashed potato on one end. Fried of course. This was like an all-in-one Thanksgiving meal without the candied yams, which I don't really care for anyway.
They call this the "Chicken Potato"
We had to do it:
Yoko: This lady walked us through the menu, telling us what we should eat and drink and posed for this pic! I'll be back to this spot too.
5-3-68 Nakanoshima, Kita-ku, Osaka
T: 6 6441 0983
After the fried feast, we walked a bit to a fancy hotel bar called Leach, inside the RHIGA Royal Hotel, right on the waterway. It was a pub-style bar that was quite spacious. I eyed this guy from the corner of my eye -- a 17 year Nikka special edition:
The bartender made me a Manhattan with this:
We had a nice relaxing nightcap, while catching up with Yoko's old co-worker. It was a quiet night and we had the bar all to ourselves. Sometimes, that is the best.
KAMITORA HIGOBASHI (神虎 肥後橋店)
1-14-12 Edobori, Nishi-ku, Osaka
Yoko's friend walked us to a ramen shop. I needed my shime (ending) for the night. These gyoza were quite good.
4 Chome-1-9 Nakanoshima, Kita Ward, Osaka
Graf is a design shop that Eri-chan took us to the next morning. Opened in 1998 by a group of six designers/ architects/ craftsmen, Graf is a fashionable shop filled with furniture, tableware, utensils, accessories and kitchenware. It was an inspirational shop for Yoko and me, as everything was so nicely presented and the objects were all very well made.
Mr. Shigeki Hattori, co-founder of Graf, on the right in glasses.
EDOBORI KIDA SANUKI UDON (江戸堀 木田 讃岐うどん)
1-23-31 Edobori, Nishi-ku, Osaka
Mr. Ichiyoshi, a friend of Eri's, is a native of Osaka and took us to his favorite udon shop -- which he had been frequenting since he was a boy. Located in a small alleyway a short walk from Graf, we were ready to slurp some cold udon after the heat started creeping into Osaka.
Shop owner on the left, Mr. Kida, who recently took over the noodle-making from his father.
Hand cut udon
Kida specialized in Sanuki-style udon, which is a flatter style of noodle with a bouncy texture. After waiting outside for 30 minutes, and watched bowl after bowl come out in a uniform manner, we could not wait for our turn.
Yoko's plain cold udon with sudachi
My cold udon with a fried chikuwa (fishcake). There's an egg under there too!
Well, that's it for you. 24 hours in Osaka, have we convinced you to make the pitstop the next time you are en route to Kyoto? It is a shinsekai, as this photo says in yellow neon, or "New World". Of food!
Yoko: Shinsekai was kind of sad considering it was called "New World" yet it was full of decrepit old buildings. It seemed like a relic trying to come out of the ashes, thanks for rows of old stalls and low-lit streets dotted with a few super brightly lit stores selling all kinds of Pocky that were trying to attract tourists.
Kayoko: Yah, that part of town was weird (around the tower). But I would go back in a heartbeat. The best part of Osaka are the no-nonsense people, and the quiet unassuming places enjoy a bite or a drink, then quickly move on to the next place, or back to work, or home. It just can't be a coincidence that so many delicious dishes come from this one town -- it reminded me of some of my other favorite food cities like New Orleans and Napoli, both which also have its own distinct flavors and styles. We can't wait to go back and discover more.