Today’s guest post comes from my long time friend and fellow JET, Stephanie in Japan. Armed with having lived in Osaka for a few years and amazing Japanese ability, I would trust Stephanie as the go to person with all the amazing places and recommendations for enjoying the Osaka culinary experience.
Visiting Osaka soon? Wanna know where to grab some good eats? Why not learn from a pro, someone who has been living in Osaka for the past four years?
If you’ve done your research, you may have heard Osaka is Japan’s kitchen. When you think of Japanese food, soul food probably doesn’t come to mind, but trust me, Osaka does it right. I am going to introduce Osaka’s top three famous foods and where you can eat them.
Related: What to Drink in Osaka
First and foremost, Osaka’s number one famous food is takoyaki. Simply put, it’s batter balls containing bits of octopus inside and cooked in a special pan. Most of the flavor is in the toppings consisting of takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, aonori (seaweed bits), and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). You can always ask the staff to adjust the toppings to your liking, but if you are adventurous, I recommend trying it as is!
Where can you find takoyaki?
The number one must know about takoyaki is that it’s a street food. I can’t really give you a specific location of where to look. Walk down busy streets lined with shops, look for the little windows or stands with takoyaki vendors. The more questionable it looks, the more delicious it’s going to be. Likewise, when you attend Japanese festivals, there will be many fun food stands lined up for you to try.
How else can you eat it?
One more thing I should mention before moving on is takoyaki parties. Cooking takoyaki at home is a fun way to enjoy eating it. It’s a popular way to party with your friends. The great part of home cooking is the variety! Not a fan of octopus? At home, replacing it with shrimp is common along with other varieties like cheese, kimichi, pizza, or apple cinnamon!
Often referred to as a “Japanese pancake,” the only thing it has in common with a pancake is the shape. I don’t particularly like that expression because it’s NOT sweet. Okonomiyaki is a mix of batter, cabbage, and meat cooked on a flattop grill. It is layered with okoknomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, aonori, and katsuobushi. The main appeal is you can add whatever you’d like which is the meaning of “okonomi.” You can opt for green onions on top or seafood instead of pork.
Where can you find okonomiyaki?
One okonomiyaki place I find myself going back to is Ichiaki in Namba. It’s an izakaya (Japanese pub) specializing in okonomiyaki. The okonomiyaki there is tasty, and the location is great. I like bringing visitors because at your request, they will make cute designs featuring Hello Kitty by using different colored mayonnaise.
Usually, every time I eat okonomiyaki, it’s at a different place! I don’t usually go out with the intention to eat it, but if I’m out and hungry and there’s an okonomiyaki place nearby, I go in. Shops privately run by grandmothers tend to be the most delicious. These places tend to be inconspicuous, small, and plain looking shops with a simple “okonomiyaki” sign. I’m not saying chains are bad, but if you can, try avoiding shops that have huge window displays and flashing lights.
The last, and my favorite, of the top three Osaka eats is kushikatsu. Kushikatsu is breaded and deep fried meat, seafood, cheese, and vegetables on skewers which you dip in a sauce and eat. Be careful not to double dip because the sauce is communal!
This kushikatsu chain is all over, but if you go, hang out in the trendy and hip area, Shinsekai. There are several Daruma chains right in Shinsekai all within about a minute walk of each other. They are super popular, so lines run out the door. Pick a branch, get in line, and stand your ground until you get in! I think the atmosphere of the Shinsekai area is rewarding, but if you are really against waiting, then feel free to try a less crowded branch in a different part of the city.
Another fun way to eat kushikatsu is deep frying it yourself at your table! To be honest, the taste and quality of the food at Kushiya Monogatari (a popular kushikatsu chain), isn’t as good as other places, but the fact that it’s all-you-can-eat, you can enjoy cooking it yourself, and the variety of kushikatsu and sauces make it worth it, in my opinion. If you are in the downtown Namba area, there is one inside the Namba Parks shopping center.
I may be biased because kushikatsu is my favorite Japanese food, but my last recommendation, Kushikatsu Doteyaki in Kyobashi, is my absolute favorite place to eat in the entire country! If you are looking for a pristine shop, then you will be disappointed. This is a small hole in the wall with a counter seating about 15 people. The owner of this place is a young, large, friendly man who obviously has some skill at making kushikatsu. He invents all sorts of seasonal and homemade creations in addition to the basics, and the menu is extensive. You can see everything he is doing behind the counter. You will never get skimped on size here because the kushikatsu is plump and delicious. This place is the opposite of touristy. You may not like the atmosphere of drunk business men smoking around you while winding down with their pals over some chu–hi or beer and kushikatsu, but believe me you won’t have a more authentic Japanese experience than this. This is real, everyday life.
As a bonus, I’d like to talk about one more Japanese food that isn’t specific to Osaka, but is well represented nonetheless, and that’s sushi! Osaka has a lot of delicious sushi places to offer. I will tell you about my top three.
I have only been to Tokisushi once, but it left an impression. It’s somewhat famous to Japanese people living in Osaka because I think it has been featured on Japanese TV. The skill of the chef behind the counter is apparent. Coming to a place like this, I don’t even recommend ordering your favorite things. I would just ask for the chef’s choice. Be reassured he will serve you whatever is most fresh and in season. Be prepared to wait to get into this small and famous place.
If you are trying to impress with price, atmosphere, and flavor, I recommend Jinen. It’s a little on the pricier side, but their sushi is to die for, particularly the seared salmon which is popular with the ladies. Maybe it’s the little granules of salt they sprinkle on it, the warmth, or some other magic, but it’s out of this world.
The last place, and my personal pick, is Maguro Ittetsu in Kyobashi. This is a stand and eat place that is always hopping. If you’re going on a weekend, go early or you might not get in! Since it’s a small standing place, it has a very authentic feel. They aren’t trying to impress, but do nonetheless. Here, you buy sushi by the individual piece. It quite inexpensive for the surprising high quality! The fish is fresh and they cut the slices thick. Try one of the varieties of their melt in your mouth tuna, which is what the place specializes in.
Osaka has many sights and things to do, but I recommend eating your way through Osaka. It’s perhaps the best way to experience its unique culture that sets it apart from Tokyo and other major cities. I hope this gives you some ideas on where to go and what to eat in the country’s kitchen that is Osaka. Look out for awesome places to drink, coming soon!
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Hello readers! I’m Stephanie, a twenty-something American who has been been living in Osaka, Japan for the past four years. Feel free to check out my blog, Stephanie in Japan, if you are interested in journal-like entries of my experiences, life, and thoughts on living in Japan. By the way, I’m on Instagram too!