Osaka is famous for its food, and Osaka’s people take great pride in their love of their local cuisine. There is even an expression, “Osaka no kuidaore” which literally means the Osaka habit of eating till you drop, but actually means eating so much you fall into debt! There are many local specialties in Osaka, but there are five essential dishes you really must try.
These are takoyaki, okonomiyaki, fugu, kushikatsu, yakiniku. You can find these five foods well represented all over the city, but Umeda, Dotonbori, and Shinsekai are the biggest gourmet areas with the most famous restaurants. In this article we will introduce each of these foods, and tell you where to try them.
Takoyaki is the classic Osaka snack: easy to make, with simple ingredients, and extremely tasty. The standard recipe for these ball shaped dumplings is a batter or eggs and flour filled with sliced octopus, ginger, spring onions, and tempura crumbs. When cooked, the dumplings are pasted with a sweet brown sauce, and then topped with mayonnaise and a sprinkling of powdered nori seaweed, and dried flakes of bonito.
Takoyaki are made in a special pan with hollows for each dumpling. Most people in Osaka have one of these at home that they bring out for takoyaki parties. At these evenst you can alternate the ingredients: replacing octopus with shrimp, cheese, tomato, and even chocolate. You can see street side stalls selling takoyaki pretty much everywhere in Osaka. In Dotonbori one of the more famous takoyaki stores is the Dotonbori Konamon Museum, which is easily recognized by the giant red Octopus on its shop front.
However, if you want a taste of history, you should try the takoyaki at Aizuya because this shop actually invented takoyaki! The founder of Aizuya was a cook named Tomekichi Endo who first invented a snack for children called “rajioyaki” in 1933. These rajioyaki were dumplings similar to takoyaki, but they were filled with beef tendon, not octopus, and had a stronger soy sauce flavor. Tomekichi followed up this invention by creating the first takoyaki in 1935. The Aizuya chain of shops still sell takoyaki, rajioyaki, and a Hyogo Prefecture regional variant called akashiyaki which is eaten in soup. You can order just takoyaki at Aizuya, or get a set with all three styles for just 750 yen.
The Umeda branch of Aizuya is located in the Umesankoji shopping complex and is a five minute walk from the Sakurabashi Exit of Osaka Station. The store is open from 10.00 – 22.30 (till 21.30 on Sundays) and you can eat in or take away. Here is a map of its location.
Konamon Museum is open 11.00 – 22.00 on weekdays and 10.00 – 22.00 on weekdays. Here is a map of its location.
Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake made from eggs, flour, grated yam and shredded cabbage. Into these basic ingredients you can add whatever you like: pork, squid, shrimp, cheese, tomato… the list goes on. In fact “okonomiyaki” basically means “grilled stuff you like”. Over the top is a dressing of brown sauce, mayonnaise, powdered nori seaweed, and dried bonito flakes.
It is one of the most popular foods in Osaka, and you can find okonomiyaki restaurants everywhere, but one of the most famous restaurants is Mizuno in Dotonbori. Here you can watch the cooks prepare your pancakes in front of you on a large iron griddle. The restaurant’s signature dish is the “Mizuno-yaki” a flavorful pancake filled with scallops, shrimp, pork, minced meat, squid, octopus, and also oysters when in season.
Mizuno is open every day from 11.00 -22.00 with last orders at 21.30. The restaurant is popular however, so get there early to avoid lengthy waits. It is a five minute walk from Namba Station on the Midosuji Subway Line. Here is a map of the location.
Fugu or blowfish is a special delicacy, usually eaten raw, which is famous for being poisonous if prepared by unskilled hands. Actually, though, you don’t need to worry about fugu’s reputation for danger. All fugu chefs are specially trained in its preparation for three years before they qualify for a license. These days people only die from eating fugu if they are foolish enough to prepare it at home.
The standard way to serve fugu is as super thin slices of sashimi arranged in a floral pattern on a large plate. Served like this, it has a light and subtle flavor, but you can also eat it as shabu shabu style hotpot, in tempura, in a vegetable stew, or deep fried as fugu kara-age. Dried fins of fugu can also be baked and served in hot sake as hire-zake.
The most famous area for fugu restaurants is Shinsekai, and the most famous fugu restaurant there is Zuboraya. Zuboraya also has a popular restaurant in the Dotonbori district and both branches are easily recognizable by the large inflated blowfish that hangs outside. Both branches are open from 11.00 till 23.00 with last orders at 22.30. Here is a map for the Shinsekai branch and the Dotonbori branch.
Kushikatsu are skewered kebabs of meat, seafood, or vegetables which are breaded and deep fried to a crispy golden finish before being served up with a variety of dipping sauces or flavored salt. Typical items on a kushikatsu menu are pork, beef, shrimp, pumpkin, sweet potato, onion, lotus root, quail’s eggs, asparagus wrapped in bacon, and shiitake mushrooms. Although, today kushikatsu is popular all over Japan, it is believed to have originated at the Kushikatsu Daruma restaurant in the Shinsekai district of Osaka in 1929.
Kushikatsu Daruma still serves kushikatsu today and has popular branches in both Shinsekai and Dotonbori. You can order a mixed assortment of kushikatsu skewers or order them one-by-one from the a la carte menu. Just remember that everyone is using the same sauce, so there is a strict rule against double dipping!
Kushikatsu Daruma’s flagship store in Shinsekai is open from 11.00 till 22.30 with last orders at 22.00. Here is a map of the location. Their Dotonbori branch is open from 11.30 till 22.30 with last orders at 22.00. Here is a map of the location.
Yakiniku is simply barbecued beef. The standard method is to grill bite-sized morsels of beef over a charcoal griddle and then dip them in sauce before eating. This style of barbecue is believed to have been developed in Japan by Korean restaurant owners and the best yakiniku restaurants are still Korean.
If you want to try yakiniku in Osaka, head to Tsuruhashi. This is Osaka’s Korea Town, where many Korean people have lived for generations, and so there are many Korean restaurants here. One of the most famous restaurants is Ajiyoshi. You can find the main store of this 40 year old business just outside the west gates of Tsuruhashi Station. Various cuts of grilled meat are available to be served with Ajiyoshi’s special sauce and there is a variety of side dishes and soups. Or you can order a bowl of bibimbap: rice topped with seasoned vegetables, beef, red chilli paste, and egg.
Ajiyoshi’s reimen or cold noodles are also famous. From Monday to Saturday Ajiyoshi is open from 11.00 till 24.00 with last orders at 23.15. On Sundays and holidays the restaurant closes at 23.00 and last orders are at 22.00. Here is map of the location.
Article by Michael Lambe. Photos by Michael Lambe, Key West/PIXTA, wombatzaa/PIXTA, nasu0302/PIXTA, skylight/PIXTA, yamazakura/PIXTA. All rights reserved.