Ah, Osaka, the food capital of Japan. The nemesis of Tokyo is so often associated with food that when I set off for Osaka and the Kansai region last autumn, I had just one other mission apart from checking out the autumn foliage: to live up to Osaka’s gastronomic philosophy of kuidaore.
There’s no better place to kick off my quest for Osaka delicacy than the Dotonbori district, right in the heart of the city. After breakfast on the plane, I headed straight to Dotonbori for lunch.
Kinryu Ramen is the most popular ramen in Dotonbori. Not necessarily Osaka-style, the piping hot tonkotsu (pork broth) noodles are served with slices of chashu (braised pork belly). The ramen shop only has two meal options: ramen with chashu or ramen with more chashu. If you stumble upon a gigantic dragon holding a ramen bowl–instead of dragon balls–then you know you’re at the right place.
The ubiquitous takoyaki is undoubtedly the “national food” of Osaka. And having it in Dotonbori gives more legitimacy to your food adventure in the city. I bought mine at Creo-ru （くれおーる）. The shop also has takoyaki served with various toppings including cheese, half-boiled egg & green onions, and lemon.
Another famous Osaka-based food establishment is Kani Douraku, a chain of crab-specialty restaurants with its main branch located at nowhere else than Dotonbori. If a crab set meal is too pricey for you, you can at least try their grilled crab legs, sold in front of the main branch near the Glico-man neon sign. Still not cheap, though.
As an Indonesian, I grew up having gorengan for snacks (though mum wouldn’t let me eat them too often). I think kushikatsu is the Japanese counterpart of gorengan. Kushikatsu can be found almost anywhere in Osaka, but the best place to eat them should be at their birthplace in Shinsekai area around the Tsutenkaku Tower. Kushikatsu Daruma is the most famous chain in Osaka; they even have multiple branches in Shinsekai alone. You can order one of the sets/combos if you find the extensive menu too overwhelming. Remember the “no double dipping” rule, and if possible try to get there before you get too hungry as (very) long lines of customers are something normal here.
Another Shinsekai native is doteyaki, simmered beef tendons and konnyaku jellies. The sauce is made from miso paste and mirin. You can easily find food stalls with “doteyaki” written on their signs if you wander around Shinsekai. I had mine as part of my kushikatsu lunch at Kushikatsu Daruma.
Okonomiyaki is like a “twin sibling” to takoyaki; together they define what is called Osakan food. Any trip to Osaka would be incomplete if you eat takoyaki but not okonomiyaki, and the other way around. Besides, they’re usually sold together. Tragically for me, because of one and another reason, I didn’t get to dine at an okonomiyaki shop. On my final night in Osaka I ended up buying this stuff called okonomiyaki at a convenience store. I didn’t even know if I should laugh or cry instead.
Less known than its fried counterparts, battera is yet another Osaka’s traditional delicacy. It’s box-pressed pickled mackerel sushi layared in white kombu. I didn’t go to any sushi shops while in Osaka, so I don’t know whether the cheap, conveyor belt-style ones have battera in their menu. (The posh sushi restaurants are likely to have them, I guess.) I bought this one at the depachika of Hankyu department store in Umeda.
Pablo Cheese Tart
Pablo Cheese Tart is Japan’s latest export to its Southeast Asian neighbours. The baked tarts themselves are already insanely famous among Osakan youngsters. With the openings of its overseas stores in the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, expect to see more crowds at their already busy cafes. In fact, I saw a Thai couple when I visited one at Umeda HEP FIVE. When the first Jakarta store opened just a week before I left for Osaka, customers queued for like four(!!) hours before they finally got their cheese tarts. I also queued at HEP FIVE, but with FAR less waiting time.
An Osakan old school delicacy, okoshi is a snack made from candied millet puffs with hints of ginger. I got this traditional brand, Iwa-okoshi, on board the Garuda flight back to Jakarta. Got another brand, Awa-okoshi (both are produced by the same company), at the Osaka hotel I stayed at.
For a more contemporary option, Omoshiroi Koibito is THE souvenir snack you can’t leave Osaka without. The brand name itself is Osaka-style joke at its best, though apparently Hokkaido’s Shiroi Koibito’s maker didn’t find it funny. Omoshiroi Koibito has more traditional taste than its Hokkaido counterpart since the sugary flavour comes from sweet soy sauce.
I found these okonomiyaki crackers at a souvenir shop on Dotonbori. The package came with two flavours, mayonnaise-yaki and cabbage-yaki. Kinda weird to my liking, though. And the pieces are very thin. These crackers and that convenience store okonomiyaki would never make for the real okonomiyaki I failed to have in Osaka. But at least, somehow, they had some bits of it. Ahah….
Well, I don’t know if sake-flavoured KitKat is originally from Osaka. I happened to learn about its existence from Instagram pictures posted by travellers to Osaka. I saw them sold at the Kansai Airport, Umeda Sky Building, but also at shops along Kiyomizuzaka in Kyoto. Chocolate sweetness was still the dominant taste of these wee wafer biscuits; yet, it was the tangy smell of sake that immediately filled my nostrils everytime I opened a pack of them!