Destination Foodie: Osaka
The international popularity of Japanese cuisine is due not only to its wonderful blend of ingredients, taste and its incredible variety but also the infectious passion with which the Japanese adore their food. Today, the omnipresence of Japanese food in the farthest reaches of the globe where people appreciate the coming together of flavor, presentation and flair is testament to its universal appeal.
Dishes from every region of Japan are easily available in all major Japanese cities, and Osaka is no exception. It is sometimes called Japan’s Kitchen, is second only to Tokyo in terms of the variety of Japanese (and other) food available. However, local Osaka cuisine is a wonder unto itself and the city is a great place to sample it.
Unfortunate indeed is the traveler who misses out on okonomiyaki in Osaka. Most often compared to a pancake, okonomiyaki is a mixture of shredded cabbage and pork or seafood like octopus or squid prepared in flour batter and grilled on a hot plate. Served with a special okonomiyaki sauce, green laver, mayonnaise and dried bonito fish, it is a favorite at both restaurants and street stalls.
Fugu or blowfish is a dish that virtually everyone familiar with international cuisine has heard of. With a toxin over 1,000 times more potent than cyanide, the blowfish is prepared by a precisely-trained chef. Whether or not you like it is beside the point; simply being able to tell the story or cross it off your bucket list is a thrill.
Takoyaki or ‘grilled octopus’ is another absolutely essential must-taste Osaka offering and is particularly ubiquitous. They are instantly recognizable as golden brown spheres slightly larger than golf balls. Each has a filling of wheat batter around cooked octopus, green onion and ginger. They may be served with a topping of seaweed flakes, Japanese mayonnaise, sour teriyaki sauce and/or cheese. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, takoyaki is best eaten right out of the pan.
Another interesting octopus-based dish is tako tamago. You create a tako tamago by stuffing a baby octopus head with a quail egg and then frying and glazing it. Served on skewers, they are available almost exclusively at street stalls.
While sake is probably the first thing that comes to mind when we think of drinking in Japan, a non-alcoholic drink popular in Western japan is also worth a try. Hiyashi Ame is a refreshing ginger drink served cold with ice cubes. The honey-colored concoction is especially popular in summer.
Osaka’s food culture is spread across the city but is probably best experienced in Dotonbori, Shinsekai and Kitashinchi districts. To get the best culinary experience from your Japan trip, you have to get to the right place first. Some of the most popular and must-try dining hotspots may have a small frontage and look rather uninspiring from the outside; don’t fret – they are popular for a reason.
A word of caution to the internet-savvy traveler – Google Maps in Japan frequently shows names only in Japanese characters so finding an eatery, even with an address, can occasionally be a challenge. Even worse, they may not be on the ground floor so you may walk right past your destination without realizing. Ask the locals – they are usually extraordinarily helpful and accommodating.