It is for a very good reason that Osaka is described as Japan’s Kitchen.
Not only does it play host to some of the finest Japanese foods and restaurants you will find anywhere in the world, but there is a wide range of international food influences on show too.
One such chain of food establishments that seeks to put their own, distinctly Osakan mark on a popular form of international cuisine is 551 Horai, a chain of Chinese bun and Dim Sum take away restaurants.
Visitors to Osaka, especially those who have used the trains regularly will no doubt notice that familiar, fragrant aroma that you notice whenever someone in your train carriage is taking home a fresh box of steaming hot buns from 551 Horai. I must confess that I myself was also something of a regular visitor to their shop, on the occassions that I passed through Shin Imamiya station on my way to work.
551 Horai are perhaps best known for their “Butaman”. Butaman is a kind of steamed bun with sweet, salty pork inside. The juicy meat’s residue is absorbed into the bread of the bun as it is cooked, making for a very flavourful and satisfying experience.
However, its not just Butaman that 551 Horai is famous for. They have an extensive menu of foods just waiting to be sampled and enjoyed next time you are in town.
So, friends, please join me today as we run down the top five foods to try next time you visit your nearest 551 Horai.
The original and best, these steamed pork buns are, without doubt the very best food you will find in 551 Horai, and by quite some distance the most popular.
It is not uncommon to see butaman in convenience stores in Japan too, they are, afterall, one of Japan’s most popular snack foods. However, Once you’ve tried the butaman from 551 Horai, the difference is immediately noticeable. The meat is thicker and more juicy, the bun more light and fluffy and the texture of the whole thing just feels that little bit warmer, tastier and more fulfilling. I’m getting hungry now just talking about them!
Also, if you want to give your lover a tasty treat, they do special heart-shaped butaman as well!
- Shu Mai
As the name suggests, these lovely little meat filled dumplings originally come from China, but have become something of a firm favourite amongst the people of Osaka in Modern times.
The tradiitonal Shu Mai is filled with a kind of minced pork that is seasoned with onions, garlic and a secret blend of Chinese herbs and spices!
The main difference between the high-grade Shu Mai you will find at 551 Horai and those you will find in your local convenience store or nearby supermarket is a matter of texture.
Cheap, low grade Shu Mai are easy to spot, given their somewhat rubbery consistency and sometimes stodgy meat filling. This is largely due to the fact that the Shu Mai you will but in the convenience store or supermarket have to be heated in a microwave, which is never going to do them justice. Shu Mai need to be steamed, and steamed carefully for just the right amount of time, to reach the perfecf consistency. Few restaurants do this better than 551 Horai!
- Shrimp Shu Mai
Much like the pork Shu Mai outlined above, these little dumplings have a similar size, shape and texture. However, swapping out the pork for shredded shrimp has quite a drastic, though not in any way unpleasant, effect on the flavour. Whereas the original, pork Shu Mai tend to be sweeter and more succulent, the shrimp filled Shu Mai leans more towards the salty and savoury side. A different but no less enjoyable taste experience, and especially nice when topped off with a little soy sauce.
- 551 Chimaki
A recent new additon to 551 Horai’s menu, the 551 Chimaki is a tasty little snack made with glutinous rice, bamboo roots, chestnuts and other seasonal vegetables.
All this delicious goodness is then shaped into a delicious bite size triangular piece and makes for a great little snack when you’re needing a quick energy boost.
Following the lead of the aforementioned Butaman, the chefs at 551 Horai saught to mix Chinese ingredients with a much loved Japanese confecitionary to make an all new and delicious dessert snack.
And so Anman was born.
Anman takes the same bread bun used in butaman but, instead of meat, stuffs it full of sweet, delicious anko bean paste.
This really is Chinese/Japanese fusion cooking at its finest!
These are but a small sample of the excellent and eclectic mix of foods on offer at 551 Horai, and with branches in many of the major train stations across Osaka, I’m sure you won’t have to go too far to find one!