5 Famous Foods You’ll Find in Osaka
A guide to Osaka's unique food culture.
For decades, even before Japan emerged from the post war malaise to become a major tourist destination, people from all over the country have flocked to Osaka to enjoy foods of all tastes, shapes and sizes.
The city has a culture of street food, bars and traditional taverns that predates the modern era. This led to Osaka earning the affectionate nickname: Japan’s Kitchen. A huge and ever-expanding range of restaurants, bars and food stalls has further cemented this reputation.
To explore every food establishment in this great city would take years, perhaps even decades. Thankfully, we at Gaijinpot are here to do all that troublesome eating and drinking on your behalf as we bring you the best of Kansai Cuisine in this new, semi-regular column: Japan’s Kitchen.
Today, for our debut feature, we take a look at some of the best places to enjoy traditional local foods Osaka has to offer. Here are the five local staple foods you can try next time you come to Kansai:
These deep fried, breadcrumbed monstrosities certainly aren’t the healthiest foods you’ll encounter in Osaka. However, they are one of the most delicious, if perhaps a little on the simplistic side.
Basically, Kushikatsu is breaded, deep-fried meat and vegetables, (or in one establishment even insects) served in the simplest yet most delicious style.
Most Kushikatsu restaurants are simple places, where diners sit along a countertop to enjoy their meals. This homely, communal set-up is typical of Osaka. It is without doubt one of the few cities in a country as shy as Japan where complete strangers will still sit down next to you and start a conversation on a regular basis.
Of course the best part about eating Kushikatsu is the Katsu sauce.
The sauce is typically served up in a large trough-like bowl shared between 3 or 4 people at the counter. Remember the golden rule: You can only dip each piece of Kushikatsu in the sauce once before you eat it. Double-dipping is a massive social faux-pas. Undoubtedly the best place in Osaka to eat Kushikatsu is in the area around the Tsutenkaku Tower, a short walk from Shin Imamiya Station on the JR Loop Line.
And after a nourishing Kushikatsu dinner, why not relax and perhaps sweat out some of those excess calories at the nearby Spa World.
Photo by: ginomempin
Of all of Osaka’s famous foods, Takoyaki probably has the widest-reaching reputation. Pretty much every restaurant, Izakaya and supermarket in the city will always have some in stock, and the frozen variety that you can buy from the supermarket actually cooks up pretty well if you have a decent oven.
However, Takoyaki has always been a street food, and as such is best enjoyed in the this environment.
Yatai, or food stalls to give them their proper name are a fixture of the summer festivals that span most of July and August all across Japan. In Osaka and the greater Kansai area, takoyaki is consistently one of the most popular foods at these stalls. It’s quick to make, easy to handle and, most importantly, delicious.
Outside of festival dates, there are various stalls dotted around the Namba and Shinsaibashi side-streets that served freshly made, piping hot takoyaki. Probably the best, in my opinion are those that line the sides of the Dotombori, the canal that runs right through the middle of the Shinsaibashi district.
Photo by: jpellgen
This fantastic fusion of a pancake and an omlette is as filling as it is delicious. Comprising multiple layers of vegetables, meats and sometimes seafood too, okonomiyaki is, much like an omlette one of those dishes that you can literally throw together using whatever leftovers you have sitting in the fridge. However, it is, of course, best enjoyed at one of the many restaurants dedicated to okonomiyaki that you will find dotted around Osaka.
Probably the best of these is a restaurant in the Namba district of central Osaka called Fukutaro.
Ok, disclaimer here, the one of the owners of Fukutaro is a former student of mine, but honestly, he does the best Okonomiyaki in Osaka. And what’s more, its cooked right there in front of you. For tourists in particular this is a great opportunity to get up close and personal with this famous aspect of Osaka food culture.
Photo by: City Foodsters
OK, so this isn’t exactly unique to Osaka, being loved by people all over Japan, but it is, nevertheless a staple of the Osaka foodie’s diet. You will, undoubtedly,find some of the very best yakisoba there is to be found, in Osaka.
Yakisoba is available in pretty much every izakaya and Japanese restaurant in the city. But of course, you want to eat only the best. Thankfully, once again, we’ve got you covered. Yukari, an Okonomiyaki restaurant that dates back to 1950 has, in addition to an excellent selection of okonomiyaki what is, in my opinion, the finest yakisoba in Osaka. The restaurant is located in Umeda, in Osaka’s Kita ward and has the same bustling atmosphere and fast-moving service that one would expect from a typical backstreet restaurant.
Photo by: Dave Costa
So, imagine you are in an okonomiyaki restaurant. You’re ravenously hungry, a few beers down already, but you can’t decide between the tasty looking yakisoba and the equally gorgeous okonomiyaki on the menu.
So, why not have both?
Of all the local delights you will find in Osaka’s kitchens, Mondanyaki is quite possibly the single most self-indulgent. Basically, it’s a massive, multi-layered pancake made up of alternating layers of okonomiyaki and yakisoba. It’s decadent, its totally unhealthy, but its also one of the most delicious things you are ever likely to eat.
Most okonomiyaki restaurants in Osaka will offer some variant on mondanyaki, although it may not appear on the menu, so you might have to request it. Probably the best place to enjoy mondanyaki is Kiji okonomiyaki restaurant, which can be found in Umeda, a short walk from JR Osaka station.
Osaka certainly has no shortage of amazing opportunities to titillate those tastebuds. For more on the best bites in Japan, see our food and drink section.