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Osaka Castle

Survey says: go to Tokyo for the nightlife, head to Kyoto for the old-school Japan fix, but hit Osaka for the food. Come hungry; the city isn’t dubbed “the nation’s kitchen” for nothing. Here, a top ten list of Osaka- region culinary specialties you simply have to try.

1. Takoyaki

Takoyaki. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Takoyaki; image from Wikimedia Commons

Nothing screams “Osaka” like rat-sized dogs dressed up as cheerleaders… except takoyaki, the quintessential Osaka streetside snack. Takoyaki are round octopus fritters – crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and anchored by the firm bite of octopus. Toppings include seaweed, bonito fish flakes, Japanese barbecue sauce, scallions, and mayonnaise. Spear them with a toothpick and eat with caution: takoyaki will be extremely hot.

2. Okonomiyaki

okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s your crowd pleaser – in Japanese, “yaki” means grilled and “okonomi” means any way you like. Somewhere between an omelet and a pancake, okonomiyaki starts with a base of egg, cabbage, and flour. Unlike layered Hiroshimayaki, the ingredients in Osaka-style okonomiyaki are all mixed together before getting turned onto the grill. Choose your filling: seafood, pork, cheese, kimchi, soba noodles (modanyaki)… any earthly combination you can think of. The concoction gets grilled up right in front of you on your table, and topped with your choice of okonomiyaki sauce, seaweed and bonito fish flakes, and/or mayonnaise.

3. Yakiniku

Yakiniku

Yakiniku. Image by author.

Fact: Osaka is home to Japan’s largest Korean population and, indeed, the largest Korean population outside of Japan. The labyrinth of tunnels underneath JR Tsuruhashi train station is a sprawling network of Korean shops, street food kiosks, and yakiniku – Korean barbecue – restaurants. You’ll know you’ve reached Tsuruhashi when the first hit of mouthwatering barbecue smells beckon you like a cartoon wave. Choose your meat, grill, dip it in zingy Korean barbecue sauce, and enjoy with beer. Live large; try some of the organ meats on offer, like beef tongue, heart and liver.

4. Ikayaki

The reader has perhaps sensed a theme in Osaka-region cuisine: yaki, yaki, loads of yaki. The Osakans are no fools; grilled stuff tastes good. Ikayaki translates to grilled squid, but in this region, the term refers to squid-filled pancakes. The batter is filled with chopped squid and folded like a crepe. A popular street snack, but the Hanshin Department Store Snack Park is known for its rendition of this treat.

5. Horumon

kokoro, chicken heart

kokoro; image by author

Speaking of organ meats, you’ll find them on lots of menus in Osaka. Some claim it’s the Korean influence; some call it “stamina-building food,” some just shut up and eat. Often on tap: barbecued kokoro (chicken heart), tangu (beef tongue), reba (liver), zuri (chicken gizzards), and intestines. Cartilage and skin are also popular, usually served up fried.

What can we say? Try it. It’s good.

6. Kitsune Udon

Kitsune Udon. Image from Osaka Prefectural Government

Udon noodle soup topped with a thin, velvety blanket of fried tofu. Piping hot and delicious, but the very dickens to eat. In general, noodle soup broth tends to be lighter and more delicate in Osaka in comparison to broth in Tokyo, which tends to be dark and rich. Note: in Japanese, kitsune means “fox,” but make sure to wipe your nose often while eating any hot soup or “foxy” is the last thing you’ll be.

7. Hakozushi

Hakozushi

Hakozushi. Image from Web Japan.

It’s sushi, but it’s square! How do they do it? They press it flat in a bamboo box (hako). Traditional fish used for this kind of sushi includes toasty brown eel, pink sea bream, yellow omelet, dark kikurage mushrooms, and red shrimp. A tapestry-like work of art you can actually eat.

8. Kayakugohan

Kayaku-gohan

Kayaku-gohan; image from food.com

A tasty homestyle rice dish involving carrots, burdock root, deep-fried tofu, konyaku, and chicken. Simple and  healthy. Eat with pickles. Eat it year-round. Eat it on the side or as a main dish.

9. Odamakimushi

Odamakimushi; image from tsuji.ac.jp

Similar to chowanmushi (savory custard soup), odamakimushi provides the same hit of comfort, but laced with with chewy udon noodles. Originally eaten only by wealthy merchants on special occasions, as eggs were once considered a delicacy. Old-world delicacy for everyone!

10. Kushikatsu

Kushikatsu

Deep-fried kebab; a regional favorite. Seafood, chicken, beef, pork or veg; fried up with a flaky, crunchy crust and served with tangy tonkatsu dipping sauce. Forget your tired old corn dogs; this is happiness on a stick.

Bonus Osaka-Region Specialty: Tessa

Fugu tessa

Fugu tessa; image from Wikimedia commons. Deceptively beautiful, isn't it?

Tessa is globefish sashimi, sliced so thinly you can practically see the poison coursing through its dead veins. Thus, not a food you “have to eat” but perhaps a food you “might explore.” Chefs must be specially certified to prepare this fish; trained to leave just enough of the poison inside the flesh to numb the lips but not stop the heart. Play at your own risk.

Been to Osaka? Share your culinary memories in the comments section below!

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8 Comments

  1. meutererinNo Gravatar
    Posted November 18, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Oh my God, I am so hungry. Almost everything looks and sounds delicious.

  2. EvaNo Gravatar
    Posted November 18, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Meeeeeee, too, Maria! I miss Japanese food so much! I’d sell my mom for some takoyaki right now*.

    *sorry, mom.

  3. CarolaNo Gravatar
    Posted November 18, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Yum, yum, yum! I’d love to go back again!

  4. AndreaNo Gravatar
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Wow, I’ve always heard that Osaka is a foodie paradise…everything looks delicious. Thanks for these pics and explanations so we know what to look out for when we go there next year!

  5. MeganNo Gravatar
    Posted November 20, 2010 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Fantastic article! Japan has long been on my list of places to visit but I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that Osaka will be my favorite city!

  6. EvaNo Gravatar
    Posted November 20, 2010 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Megan – when I was choosing a Japanese city to live in, I looked them all up on wikipedia. Wikipedia said Osaka was by far the nation’s gourmand capital. I was sold :) It isn’t the most picturesque place but, boy, do they feed you good.

  7. sonjaNo Gravatar
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 2:58 am | Permalink

    great article. need to go back to japan! love okonomiyaki! :)

  8. babamboNo Gravatar
    Posted December 12, 2010 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    OSAKA is called for the city of food.
    Welcom to Osaka.

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  1. […] Thick noodles = udon (i.e., tempura udon, kitsune udon) […]

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