Indeed, Osaka's nickname, Tenka No Daidokoro, or The Nation’s Kitchen, harks from when it served as Japan’s rice hub during the Edo period. Today, this beloved moniker refers more to the vast array of food options available: casual, comfort food and street eats—(relatively) inexpensive bites that will get you excited to explore the city.
Much of the dining options in Osaka are tiny, seating no more than a handful of people and they are found everywhere. On main streets, down alleyways, in basements, and several stories up in the high rise buildings that are all over the city, anywhere in Osaka, somebody is always cooking something. So, go ahead, get lost and follow your nose to wherever it may lead you. Osakan culture, after all, espouses kuidaore, an eat till you drop attitude, perfect for exploring the gastronomic wonders of this wonderous city.
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Filipinos are well versed with Yakisoba, a favorite instant noodles meal as a qucik fix to hunger pangs. The original version, however, is a far cry from the ubiquitous noodle packets in the Philippines. The yakisoba is made in front of you, stir-frying a delicious combination of egg, wheat noodles and your choice of sliced meats and vegetables. Lashings of a special sauce gives the dish its unique flavor, making it a tasty treat best enjoyed piping hot.
The Okonomiyaki is an Osakan pancake-like specialty where shredded cabbage and a whole range of other ingredients such as squid, prawn, octopus or meat are mixed into a flour based batter and cooked. It is eaten with its own special sauce, a generous dollop of mayonnaise, and sprinkled with aonori (edible seaweed) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). The beauty of this dish is that it can take on whichever iteration you fancy, with the combination of ingredients and toppings left to the diner's preference.
Takoyaki is a golf-sized sphere of goodness filled with chopped octopus. The wheat-based batter encasing the filling is cooked using a special pan that molds the balls into its signature shape. The dish is crowned by a medley of shaved bonito flakes, pickled ginger and its sweet, sticky brown sauce.
Soba wars are real in Osaka, where restaurants wage a fierce battle for the distinction of offering the best soba. A close cousin of ramen, soba is elegant in its simplicity. Cold buckwheat noodles dipped into a delicately sweet dipping sauce, jazzed with some shavings of radish and spring onions and your choice of protein. The absence of complexity truly highlights the quality of the ingredients, providing a clarity of flavors that is rarely found in other dishes.
Kushikatsu, also known as kushiage, is a traditional Japanese street food that can best be described as deep fried goodness. It comes in a variety of iterations: chicken, pork, seafood and even seasonal vegetables, served on bamboo skewers after being coated in egg, panko breadcrumbs and then deep fried in vegetable oil. Equally good on their own or with splash of tonkatsu sauce, the 190 year old Kuromon Ichiba Market is an excellent place in Osaka for an introduction to this specialty, where fresh seafood options abound.
Kyuri asa-zuke are Japanese cucumbers that have been lightly pickled in a salt brine and brightened with the flavor of lemon. Refreshing and zesty, this treat is a popular street food hawked during spring and summer by food vendors all throughout Osaka.
While travelers to Japan typically dream of green tea and sake, coffee lovers from around the world are also starting to take note of Japan’s booming specialty coffee scene. To understand coffee culture in Japan requires one to understand the philosophy of the Japanese and their belief that there is no highest form of any practice, where one always follows 'the way' or do, where there is no best way, only improvements. This philosophy allows the Japanese to adopt foreign cultures in their own unique way and making them completely their own, more notably in their practice of coffeedo, or the way of coffee.
Mochi are delectably chewy Japanese rice cakes traditionally made by pounding a particularly sticky variety of Japanese rice known as mochigome until it resembles a dough. It is then molded into a soft, round pillow and stuffed with anko, a paste made out of azuki beans.
Matcha is an intrinsic part of Japanese culture for centuries. A quiet celebration performed with grace and beauty, the matcha tea ritual is an exhibition of mindfulness and respect. Rich and complex, Matcha tea lends itself brilliantly to an assortment of sweets. Matcha-flavored ice cream is subliminal in itself; pairing it with some sweetened Azuki Beans brings out the full body of its flavor, making this combination truly unforgettable.
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Banner photo by the author