Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is currently in Japan’s Osaka ahead of the G-20 summit, which is scheduled to be held on June 28-29. A major metropolitan, the city of Osaka is an industrial and commercial center as well as a major transportation hub in the country’s Kansai region.
Located on the island of Honshu, it is not as traditional or picturesque as Kyoto, but is still worth a visit if you are planning a tour of Japan.
One of the many interesting aspects of the city is its vibrant street food scene which is considered to be the best in Japan. Hence, it comes as no surprise that some regional dishes have gained international fame. In fact, Osaka is also fondly called the ‘Kitchen of the Nation’ for its delicious melting pot of flavours, broths and cuisines.
It is often said that the people of Osaka spend more on food than anything else. The term kuidaore (‘eat until you drop’) aptly describes the food culture here. At the same time, the restaurants are expected to maintain high standards of quality or face closure.
To satiate the foodie in you, we have curated a list of street food options that you must try when in this bustling city.
Takoyaki, which literally means ‘grilled octopus’, is made of a flour and egg-based batter. Cooked with a filling of octopus slices, pickled ginger and green onion, Takoyaki is prepared on a special takoyaki pan which moulds the ingredients into small balls. Takoyaki sauce and other toppings such as mayonnaise, green laver (aonori) and dried bonito (katsuobushi) are then added to complete this popular street snack.
You’ve probably tried ramen before, but not the way they prepare it in Osaka. There are four different kinds of broth (shoyu, miso, shio and tonkotsu) in which noodles are served either katame (harder) or yawarakame (softer) along with a variety of toppings ranging from boiled egg, chashu (pork slices) to kamaboko (fish cake).
Served hot or cold, one could start with the Takaida-kei style ramen, which is Osaka’s classic variation on the dish. It’s comprises shoyu (soy sauce) broth, menma (fermented bamboo shoots) and thickly cut noodles and onion. It’s super salty with chewy noodles.
Kushikatsu are battered and deep fried meat or vegetables on skewers. Some restaurants also boast of more exotic varieties such as strawberries on their menus. Shinsekai district is the best place to enjoy kushikatsu.
A savoury pancake-like dish popular in various styles across Japan, Okonomiyaki in Osaka has shredded cabbage and a whole range of other ingredients such as squid, prawn, octopus or meat mixed into a flour-based batter. Once cooked, it is eaten with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, green laver and dried bonito.
Similar to Okonomiyaki in appearance, this savoury pancake is stuffed with green onion rather than cabbage.
Teppanyaki, which means ‘grilling on a metal plate’ refers to the style of cooking a meal on an iron griddle in the presence of a customer. At teppanyaki restaurants, diners are seated at the counter where the chef prepares the food and serves it immediately. Part of the enjoyment is derived from the sight of the chef skillfully preparing the meal. A large variety of ingredients may be used, but the main dish is typically a piece of high grade seafood or beef.
Sushi and Sashimi
In addition to normal nigiri sushi that includes a ball of rice and a slice of fish on top, Osaka is also famous for its old style box sushi, known as hako-zushi, and available at markets across Osaka.
Udon are thick Japanese noodles made from wheat flour and have a chewy texture. Most commonly used in traditional hot Japanese noodle soup recipes, udon is served in a savoury dashi soup broth with several garnishes. Some udon dishes have special names depending on their savoury garnishes, including kitsune udon with a piece of fried tofu; chikara udon with one or two grilled mochi (ultra sticky rice cooked and pounded to a paste) rice cakes, and tanuki udon with pieces of fried tempura batter. Udon noodles can be bought in two forms which are dried or pre-cooked.
While Yakiniku originally referred to the grilling of Western meats, today, it refers to a Japanese style of bite-sized pieces of meat and vegetables cooked over a flame of charcoal or wood. Better known as a form of Japanese barbecue, yakiniku is commonly found in izakayas, Japanese-style pub restaurants, or even in stalls lining the streets.
Check out where to eat
Some of the best places to eat in Osaka are tucked away in back alleyways and hard-to-find basements. Called kappo by locals, these places might be an adventure to find locate the reward of trying these specialties is totally worth it, according to locals.
One of the best places in the city to enjoy a freshly-cooked, authentic Japanese meal is the Kuromon Market which is known to be the backbone of Osaka food culture since 1822. It is here that restaurants and chefs are provided with fresh produce, seafood, meats and kitchenware on a daily basis.
More than 23,000 people visit the market each day to buy fresh goods and snack on street food cooked at more than 150 stalls along the market path. The market contains about 25 restaurants, including cheap noodle and curry shops, as well as a handful of izakaya (Japanese bars), cafés and seafood restaurants.
Not a large area, Dotonbori is packed with restaurants, street food vendors and open-air stalls. If you head down to the waterfront district at about five in the evening, you can see people queuing up for Dotonbori specialties like sukiyaki, yakisoba and yakitori.
Tsuruhashi or Osaka Koreatown
Discover more varieties of kimchi than you ever knew existed and enjoy an entire street devoted to yakiniku (grilled meat) in Tsuruhashi which is known for its kimchi shops and a maze of Korean restaurants, K-pop stores and Japanese souvenir shops.