If you’re anything like us, you’ll know that there is one really, really great thing about travelling: the food. No matter where you go, the excitement to try national dishes and cultural staples never abates.
If you’re heading to Japan but fancy visiting a city destination other than Tokyo, Osaka might be your answer. While it’s got so much going for it in the way of history, culture, and good old fun, the food is the thing that sets it apart. Known as ‘Japan’s stomach’, the city of Osaka is home to some beautiful dishes, both sweet and savoury. Our colleague Sam lived in Osaka for a year, so he knows his way around all the local delicacies. So, we asked him for his top five dishes that he thinks should be on everyone’s must-eat list. If Japan is on your horizon in 2023, this is what to try if you want the best food in Osaka.
If you’re grabbing food on the go in Osaka, you might be tempted to try takoyaki. The direct translation is ‘grilled octopus’, so make sure you’re a seafood fan! Takoyaki are grilled balls of batter filled with octopus chunks and other ingredients like pickled ginger. They originated in Osaka, and today you can find stands and small restaurants dotted all over the city selling them.
They’re great to grab and go, and usually you’ll get them in a box topped with seaweed flakes, mayo, and takoyaki sauce – but don’t forget your toothpick to eat them with! For the best order, look for takoyaki that are a lovely golden brown colour, because that means they’re fried to perfection.
If you’re looking to stop and cool off, you can’t go wrong heading to the wonderful Long Softcream in the Amerikamura District. It’s beautiful soft-serve ice-cream, in a variety of flavours – and as the name suggests, there’s a lot of it! Long Softcream is renowned for ice-cream cones that are 40cm in length – Japan’s longest soft ice-cream. On a warm day it’s a delicious treat – even if you are competing against the heat to eat it!
But if you’re looking to take a seat while you eat, find somewhere to try okonomiyaki. You’ll find certain restaurants specialise in the dish – but in some places, you might have to cook it yourself! Some locations will give you the ingredients, and you’ll be invited to make it yourself on a teppan (iron griddle) on your table.
Okonomiyaki is a pan-fried batter and cabbage dish, filled with all manner of delicious savoury fillings such as shrimp, pork, or kim chi. The translation of ‘to one’s liking’ is a reflection of the dish’s best quality, because okonomiyaki has so many varieties that you’ll find one you love. You’ll find toppings that range from cheese to wasabi – so you can be as adventurous as you want!
When you’re eating okonomiyaki in Osaka, it’ll be referred to as ‘Kansai-style’ – if you decide to check out Hiroshima, you’ll find their own variation of okonomiyaki, where the batter is cooked more like a crépe.
If you’ve still got room for something sweet, make sure that it’s on your list to grab some taiko manju from the Dotombori area. Taiko manju is a sweet batter dumpling, commonly stuffed with sweet anko bean paste, that you’ll find available all over Osaka. Though ‘manju’ translates to dumpling, ‘taiko’ is the name of a traditional Japanese drum, to which the dessert bears a striking resemblance. Given the batter’s make-up, it’s not surprising that it bears a slight textural resemblance to an American pancake.
Some vendors might experiment with the fillings, adding things like chocolate or custard, but for the true authentic taste, try it original-style first.
If you want to set yourself up for a day of exploring, you can’t go wrong with yakiniku. Though yakiniku refers to grilled meat more generally, at its core: it’s steak. Really tasty, beautifully grilled, bite-sized bits of steak. The history of yakinuki is disputed – some believe that it was introduced by the Koreans in Japan who settled in Osaka, but there’s evidence of Japanese populations grilling in the same way as far back as the Meiji era.
Yakinuki is barbeque made a fine art, where the fat content of the meat is weighed up against the heat to produce perfectly-grilled, tender cuts of beef. Pair that with a nice beer and some excellent company, and you’ve got the makings of a delightful meal.
Though these are Sam’s favourites, the Osaka food scene is far more varied and exciting than you could possibly imagine. It’s a paradise for any foodie, and well-worth a visit if you’re looking to get stuck into some really wonderful Japanese dishes. Happy eating!
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