Regional food specialties
- Eating Until We Drop in the City of Kuidaore
Just last month I finally crossed the #1 spot off on my travel bucketlist - Japan. I ended up having some free time I thought I would not and I took advantage of it. I was able to find a somewhat reasonable price on tickets after the vouchers we had to use. Without the vouchers they would've been around $900 each for nonstop flights to and from Tokyo. Not bad but sometimes you can get cheaper. That said I was able to play around with the tickets and I ended up getting us a flight into Osaka (with short a layover in Tokyo) to start the trip. Not only was this a bit cheaper in terms of airfare but it also saved us more than $300 by not having to go from Tokyo to Osaka and then back. Instead we'd start in Osaka and then take the bullet train to Tokyo where we would fly home from. This meant we didn't have to buy the popular Bullet train Pass that allows travelers to travel to and from different Japanese cities at will for around $350 or something like that. Our one way train ticket from Osaka to Tokyo was instead around $140 each. So that's an option for anyone that really wants to focus in on Japan's two largest cities. We would end up skipping Kyoto completely as I'd read about it's over population problems due to tourism. The Japanese government has asked people to go elsewhere for the time being. I know Kyoto is said to be great but I was cool saving it for another trip.
Sights from Osaka
Sights from Osaka
First stop in Osaka (or Japan for that matter) was a place practicing in shokunin (Japanese masters of their crafts). There’s only one item on the menu here at Tenpei and that’s their famous one bite gyoza (minimum 20 per person). So you don’t even need to order food when you sit down. You’re getting a 20 piece fried dumplings and the only question is what are you drinking. Asahi pairs perfectly with these half dollar sized dumplings that are folded to order and cooked on a special piece of equipment that gets them nice and crispy after just six minutes. The old man that tends to them has probably cooked over a million gyoza as they first opened in 1955. ‘Kuidaore’ is a famous saying in Osaka and the basis of it is “eat until you drop” (or you’re broke). So I felt like I was fitting right in.
Gyoza at Tenpei
I had a list of spots open late and within walking distance of our hotel. We learned right away that spots will close early or at random. Luckily right around the corner from the last stop was this late nite izakaya specializing in yakiton which are grilled pork skewers. Kitashinchi Tayutayu stays open until 3am serving all sorts of pig parts skewered on a stick and grilled over hot binchotan coals. They offer many of the pigs organs and we decided to let the friendly grillmaster choose about 12 skewers for us to try. All of them excellent in their own way. The textures different with each piece. Fantastic.
Yakiton at Kitashinchi Tayutayu
Hanshin Meibutsu Ikayaki
The underground train stations in Osaka are loaded with food options. It was always overwhelming to the point where my best piece of advice is to get in line at the busiest spot regardless of what it is. In this case it was a specialty shop where they were pounding out ikayaki which is kind of like takoyaki only flatter. Pieces of squid are cut up and added to a batter cooked on a griddle. The inside of the ikayaki is covered in a Tonkatsu like sweet & sour sauce. Hanshin Meibutsu is famous for both their product and also for their production line. I don't love takoyaki but these were good for a quick snack before we ended up waiting in line for ramen way longer than anticipated. Found at Umeda Station.
Ikayaki at Hanshin Meibutsu
We had to go purchase our train tickets to Tokyo in person (it's easiest) so after that we ended up at Ramen Hayato for our first bowl of ramen in Japan. We probably should've came here first right when they opened. The problem was that isn't until 11a and thus we had nothing else to do until then. Japan in general isn't an early country. Well we ended up arriving to a nice sized line. It was no doubt longer with it being a holiday weekend and all. We got in it and ended up waiting at least an hour if not longer. While we weren't expecting it to be that long we didn't want to risk it elsewhere as so many spots were already closed bc it was a Sunday and a holiday at that. So eventually we made it into the small seven seat counter where we got our ramen within minutes of sitting. They're known for a few things including their shio, and miso as well as a Shoyu ramen. I got the last of those three as it was rec'd by an Osaka ramen guide I found on social media. Really good and a preview of what was still to come in Tokyo. The noodles were my favorite part. The chasu (pork) was also well done.
Ramen at Ramen Hayato
Day 2 in Osaka consisted of okonomiyaki (savory pancake) and takoyaki (octopus balls). Visiting Japan’s second largest city and not trying these two signature flour batter snacks would be the equivalent of going to Chicago and not getting an Italian Beef or hot dog. Every local has a spot they like and those who live near Dōtonbori have lots of options. The okonomiyaki pictured below came from Fukutaro. It's a popular spot for both locals and tourists due to it's Dotombori location. I put my name down and waited around 15/20 minutes to be seated. I got the traditional okonomiyaki served with pork belly and it arrived about ten minutes later. This was one of those foods that got better with time as it sat on a hot flattop in front of me where it became crispier with each bite. Great beer food.
Okonomiyaki at Fukutaro
The options for Takoyaki are endless. These little fried balls stuffed with chopped octopus are Osaka's signature snack. I'd had them from a handful of spots and always thought they were just ok. I'd reserve my judgement of them when I actually tried them in Japan I said. Well I did and I still think they're just ok. In fact the best part about them to me is watching the vendor cook them. It takes real skill to use the two chopsticks and flip them around perfectly each time. It's cool to watch.
Takoyaki Vendor in Dotonbori
A stop at this popular fried chicken chain was unplanned. But it was a great call. If you see a yellow street side stand with a bald yellow chicken stop for some torikara stick. That's what they call fried chicken breast eaten with a toothpick. At around $2US this little pocket full of fried chicken niblets was a super satisfying snack. Made even more so from a flock of some 30+ sauces you can squirt into your package. Some of them were downright weird including the chocolate. I preferred them plain.
Torikara Stick at Kinnotorikara
I was intrigued with Hiroshima style noodles (brothless ramen) since first learning of them. Their origin is most likely derived from Chinese Dan Dan Noodles (a favorite). Ramen noodles are tossed into a small puddle of spice and topped with ground pork, green onions, and a soft boiled egg. Mix it up and start mashing. While I enjoyed this dish, the noodles had great chew, it wasn't on par with a great order of Dan Dan noodles. It was more of it's own thing and nowhere near as spicy. Shoutout to the Salaryman (and fellow Cubs fan) who helped me get what I wanted from the ordering machine.
Tantanmen at Tantanmen YoYo
Sushi Restaurant Outside Osaka Fish Market
We ended up in this little family owned sushi shop on the Monday holiday. It was the only place open around the fish market which we had come to in order to try a different spot. At first we thought this was that spot but when they handed us the menu we saw the name was different. Some other American tourists did the same thing. In the end it didn't matter bc the spot we were all trying to find was closed for the holiday anyway. The sushi here was pretty good. Then again I'm not a big time sushi connoisseur. If I lived in Japan that would probably be different. The surprise item here was the wonderful bowl of Miso Udon that came with our sushi. It seemed so simple and I guess it was but it was also full of deep dashi and miso flavor. Quite memorable. That and the fact they were so nice.
Sushi Lunch outside Osaka Fish Market
I was shut out of my first three udon choices as they were closed for the holiday. It seemed to me like the udon spots in Osaka were stronger than those in Tokyo. At least as far as spots I wanted to try were concerned. Luckily I did get to try one of my targeted udon noodle shops. Chitose Udon is in the Chitose area which isn't far from the Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shotengai street. That's where you'll find a long strip of kitchen supply stores selling any and everything you could need. There was yet again a long line at Chitose Udon as the holiday had people out and about. They only serve one kind of udon at Chitose and it's the comfort food classic that is niku udon. It's basically beef noodle soup. This is a popular dish in the Kansai region where udon is more celebrated. Thin strips of beef are dropped into a steaming hot broth with fresh udon noodles and then topped with a heaping handful of sliced green onion. It's a simple dish with a ton of deep flavors. My biggest regret of the trip was not getting to indulge in udon everyday. I think I like it more than ramen. But it's a pretty close call.
Niku Udon at Chitose Udon
New Light Curry
Osaka is considered the Curry Capitol of Japan. I was hoping to check out at least one new school spot but the public holiday prevented that. So instead I went old school at New Light. Their Ceylon Curry comes pre mixed (rice and sauce) going back to the days before there were rice warmers (the hot in temp curry sauce warms up the rice). Served with a pork katsu filet and raw egg yolk. I loved this spot as it was basically the Japanese equivalent of a blue collar diner. But plenty of Japanese celebs have found their way over for that signature curry. It was comfort food to the max. Since 1959.
Ceylon Curry at New Light Curry
I happened to randomly pass Rikuro's Cheesecake while headed somewhere else. Seeing as how I had it on my google maps guide I figured I better get in line. There was a wait to get seated but the takeout window was moving quick. I got a slice which I enjoyed on the street while dodging tourists in a hurry to get in line and beat others doing the same. This wasn't the typical cheesecake we might eat in the States. It was much lighter and super jiggly. Like all the one dish specialist spots they source the best ingredients for their product. The cheese is imported from Denmark, while the butter comes from Hokkaido, and they use top quality milk to mix it all together. Most people were taking whole cakes to go. Which I mention as a sign that these are very popular with locals too.
Cheesecakes at Rikuro's Cheesecake
Sumibi Yakitori Senmonten
On the Monday holiday we got shut out of quite a few spots. Most were closed. We ended up at a fantastic bar around the corner from this two story yakitori restaurant. We had passed it while walking to the bar then were led there by the bartender who personally escorted us when we asked if there was anything good to eat that was open in the area. There wasn't a ton of spots open so Yakitori Senmonten would have to do the trick. Was it as good as the other yakitori spots I visited this trip? No. They had a few good skewers like skin and tail but not much else in terms of the good stuff. That said they were still quality chicken parts grilled over a hot live fire so that's always going to be good.
Yakitori at Sumibi Yakitori Senmonten
Because Endo Sushi opens so early we did get to go there for breakfast before catching our 10:30a train to Tokyo. We just ended up cabbing it there and back for like $10 each way as there's not a ton of spots open early and we wanted a sushi breakfast while in Japan. They offer a few standard sets which you must order as is. No substitutions. You might as well try all three as Endo Sushi is known for it's large sometimes not perfect cuts of fish draping over it's quality rice. I saw on their door they just opened a spot in Bangkok. So they're kind of becoming a brand but this little shop outside the Osaka Fish Market is the original. We tried all three platters on offer and enjoyed it all. Quality stuff.
Sushi Breakfast at Endo Sushi
For anyone traveling to or from Osaka <> Tokyo you're likely to find yourself at Osaka station. It's where bullet trains are boarded. It's also a great place to eat. Yep pretty much anywhere in Japan is. But at the train station they have a ton of options for you to bring aboard the bullet trains. Eating is outlawed on urban trains but it's a part of the bullet train experience. As fast as the trains are some rides can still be long so you have an unlimited amount of options to eat there at the station or bring aboard your train. I got a beautiful bento box which I forget to snap. But the highlight of the ride were these shu mai from a local Chinese chain called 551 Horai. They're known for both their buns and dumplings which are boxed up to go as if they're a gift which they basically were. Next stop: Tokyo!
Shrimp Shu Mai at 551 Horai
Note: To find the locations of all the spots featured in this post, as well as places I didn't make it to, please click HERE for my google maps guide to Osaka.
See ya next time @chibbqking
(check the videos on my instagram stories for more footage from Osaka)