You can't visit Osaka without eating takoyaki. You'll find this classic Osaka street food everywhere, its production a show in itself as the takoyaki warriors spin, flick and stab each puddle of batter until they emerge as perfectly round orbs in a deep golden brown.
Inside the crisp shell is a jumble of chopped octopus, pickled red ginger and finely sliced shallots. Most of the time you'll end up burning your tongue as you bite into each ball, but that's half the fun.
Takoyaki octopus balls from Takoyaki Wanaka
We almost burn our fingers just holding this sailing boat of piping hot takoyaki, or octopus balls, from famous takoyaki outlet Takoyaki Wanaka. Lashings of Kewpie mayonnaise, a huge mound of katsuoboshi dried bonito flakes and a good dousing of fruity takoyaki sauce add creaminess, texture and a gentle fishiness. It's the kind of fast food you can shovel down on your own or hover around in a circle with friends, each armed with a toothpick.
Travelling from Nara to Osaka
We made our way from Osaka from Kyoto, after a detour to see the wild deer in Nara. It's only 43km between Kyoto and Osaka, and the shinkansen will get you there in precisely 14 minutes.
Giant puffer fish above the crowds along Dotonbori
Osaka has historically been known as the "nation's kitchen", primarily due to its central significance as a merchant city, especially for rice. Perhaps that's also why Osakans are known across the country for their appetite for food. Osakans love to eat and drink.
Giant nigiri sushi
Every tourist gravitates toward Dotonbori, a pedestrian mall that runs for several blocks filled with no end of restaurants. It's here you'll find the giant moving crabs above seafood restaurants, huge puffer fish lanterns and monster-sized nigiri sushi, like a food version of Godzilla.
The famous 33m tall Glico running man sign on Ebusu-bashi bridge
And everyone needs a photo of the Glico running man, originally installed in 1935, and an iconic image of Osaka by night.
Everyday crowds at Shinsaibashi
The city streets can feel claustrophobic in Osaka, the second biggest city in Japan with a metropolitan population close to 19 million. The crowds we encountered at Shinsaibashi, the main shopping area of Osaka, made us feel like we were in the middle of a New Years Eve crush. It was just an ordinary weekend in an ocean of people.
We end up at DON Okonomiyaki randomly. We're hungry, we want okonomiyaki and DON is the first place we find. Our okonomiyaki is cooked to order in the downstairs kitchen and then served on our table grill, turned on to medium so our cabbage pancakes remain hot as we eat.
The DON special okonomiyaki with pork and seafood 1380 yen / AU$15.20
The DON special is so over the top we have to have it, a shuddering behemoth of octopus, bacon, plump prawns and a genuine crab claw.
Beef and cheese okonomiyaki 1000 yen / AU$11.00
I share in the beef and cheese okonomiyaki too, the cheese melting into rivers of molten goo.
Spicy pork okonomiyaki 1080 yen / AU$11.80
Others dig into the spicy pork okonomiyaki, liberally slathered with a fiery chilli sauce that triggers noticeable sweating.
Mini shovels to cut up your okonomiyaki
Everyone gets chopsticks and a shovel-shaped spatula to cut your okonomiyaki into manageable pieces.
Inside the beef and cheese okonomiyaki
The toppings across the top are similar to takoyaki: katsuoboshi shaved bonito, a fruity okonomiyaki sauce and several shakes of dried seaweed flakes.
Crab nigiri sushi
On another night we end up in a random sushi train joint, loading up on cheap plates of sushi. We dabble through the usual salmon, raw scallop, tuna and crab until we spot a particularly odd looking plate of sushi that looks like raw beef but not.
Making egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery
Egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery
Based on the Portuguese egg tart so popular in Macau, Andrew is said to have added his own English touch to local recipes. The bakery hit such stratospheric popularity it has now expanded to Japan and the Philippines.
Takeaway egg tarts from Lord Stow's Bakery 167 yen / AU$1.85
We find the pastry isn't as noisily crunchy and flaky as some of the Portuguese tarts you can get in Sydney, but the custard is super eggy, with an elegantly smooth and silky mouthfeel. They're also modestly priced too, at less than AU$2 each.
Mango Calpis soda
And in the continuing adventures of random drinks from Japanese vending machines, I get my hands on a bottle of mango calpis soda - like fizzy mango yoghurt! -
and a can of grape Fanta that tastes just like liquid bubblegum.
Umaibo corn puffs at Don Quixote
If I'd had the luggage space, I would have bought one of the giant bags of umaibo, hollow cylindrical corn puffs that are favourites with Japanese school kids. The corn potage flavour is so good!
Plastic sushi displays at Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street
And if I'd had more money, I'd have bought one of these plastic sushi displays from Sennichimae Doguyasuji, the kitchen alley of Osaka lined with crockery shops, kitchenware stores and everything in-between.
Kuromon Ichiba Market
It can be hard to kill time between meals so we often ended up at markets, ironically looking at more food while waiting to get hungry again. Kuromon Ichiba is only a stone's throw from Sennichimae Doguyasuji, and one of Osaka's oldest markets having been established in the early 1900s.
Baked sweet potatoes
About 170 stalls run its 600-metre length. It covers everything from raw seafood to fruit and vegetables to tofu.
Uni sea urchin roe
Fresh tofu and sesame tofu
Horumon beef offal stew
Fugu puffer fish
Marbled beef loin for sukiyaki or shabu shabu
We walked a lot during our Japan holiday. Maybe that's why we often ended up so ravenous all we could think of was meat. And that's where all-you-can-eat yakiniku came in. Oh yeah.
[front] Karubi beef short ribs and rosu beef loin
Gyukaku Yakiniku is one of the biggest yakiniku or Japanese barbecue chains in the country. There are about 800 outlets across Japan. They're also open in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taipei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.
We go for the premium buffet menu which gives us unlimited orders of over 100 dishes for 3580 yen or AU$39.40 in a 2.5 hour period. And oh boy do we eat.
Rosu beef loin and prawns on the charcoal barbecue
We indulge in a massive protein fest, searing seafood and meat over glowing coals of charcoal.
Chicken with mixed cheese fondue
The marinated chicken with cheese fondue - a foil cup of grated cheese that you melt over the grill - is dangerously tasty.
Scallops with butter
And whoah, did we go to town on the scallop orders. If the restaurant made minimal profits that day, it was probably due to our voracious appetites.
Hokkaido Cremia premium soft cream in front of Osaka Castle 500 yen / AU$5.50
And sure we did non-food touristing. We made it to Osaka Castle... where we ate ice cream. The Hokkaido Cremia is noted not just for its trademark vertical piping, but also its presentation in a langue de chat cats tongue wafer.
Hokkaido milk gives an unparalleled richness. We think it's a little reminiscent of cream cheese with its lingering tang. It's super creamy, and just what we need as we stretch our legs before we head off to our next meal...
Grab Your Fork on Radio National
And in case you missed it, I was on Radio National on Monday talking with host David Mackenzie about the demise of Sizzler and what this says about Australia's changing dining habits.
The podcast for this show is currently available online here. You'll have to fast forward to the 50:40 mark to get to my segment. Meantime I'll be making myself some Sizzler cheese toast.
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3 Chome-2-33 Nanba, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0076
Tel: +81 (06) 6643 6578
1-6-10 Dotombori Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0071
Tel: +81 (06) 6484 0129
Open daily 5pm-5am (last order 4am)
Weekends and public holidays also open 11.30am-3.30pm
Kuromon Ichiba Market
2-4-1 Nippombashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0073
Open daily 9am-evening (varies for each shop)
Lord Stow's Bakery
1-10-6 Dotonobori, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0071
Tel: +81 (06) 6214 3699
Open daily 10am-12 midnight
Sennichimae Dogusuji-Ya Shopping Street
542-00075 around Nambasennichimae, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan
Open daily 9am-8pm (varies for each shop)
3-7-24 Namba, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0076
Open daily 10am-10pm
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7/02/2015 12:58:00 a.m.