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Shun No Furutsu Harima
I had some traditional Japanese food in Osaka today: a banana sandwich with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. All joking aside, fruit sandwiches actually have a rich, 100 year history in Japan, per a quick Google search -although their origin is unclear. I couldn’t resist giving it a try this week, in Joto Ward, Osaka. Somehow the starchy flavor of the buns (“koppe pan”) mixed with banana parfait went together perfectly. Its deliciousness was as mysterious as its origin.
What goes well with a banana sundae sandwich? A 400 yen tuna roll, of course. Given the price I was shocked at the fresh and delicious taste. The whole meal from a local bento shop “Shun No Furutsu Harima” ran around 600 yen -which for 6 dollars in America could buy one bite of a California roll.
These low prices and amazing flavors add to the appeal of visiting these working class neighborhoods in Osaka. After briefly chatting with the owner about the Dodgers I realized we’d gotten sidetracked by the banana and sports talk and had to move on. We’d come to see Hakusendo, a retro cafe (all the rage now) concealed within a dagashi sweets shop in the Central Joto Shotengai (shopping arcade.)
Arriving at Hakusendo
You had to look for the kissaten if you wanted to find it. That was part of the charm of this place! After winding through the maze of stores and stalls that is Joto Shotengai you’re hit with the bright colors of neon paper wrappers, giant cartoon characters, some sugar-engorged kids. But waaay in the back, there are some neon orange swinging doors that lead to another world. Wow, there’s a coffee shop back there? How amazing.
What was hidden behind the candy stalls? There was plenty more than banana sandwiches! On the teppan outside the interior they made ika-yaki which are savory pancakes with squid doused in sauce and mayonnaise (an Osaka staple.)
I imagined taking my father here, who has a deathly fear of fish. “What type of food do they have?” “Squid pancakes” “What?…with maple syrup??” My dad would be speechless. He wouldn’t understand the sweet sauce or the salty pancakes. And how about the 20 or so goldfish in the cloudy tank watching him with bulbous eyes? A recipe for an upset stomach?
But he would love the retro interior modeled after the Osaka World Fair. Remodeled to be “space age and futuristic” in 1970, the colored bulb lights and technicolor pastel tiles have remained unchanged.
Only the owners have gotten older and I want to slip them an anti-aging pill so they can run the place for another 50 years.
Besides the squirm-inducing seafood, there were ice cream parfaits, ice cream floats, and an ice cream wafer sandwich “monaka.” He would have no problem with these. He has a sweet tooth (not a squid tooth.)
The lovely older couple split chatting with me about how I loved Japan and with their regulars who I imagined had been coming since 1970. When they entered the owner said “welcome back” as they replied “I’ll have the usual.” I felt bad for intruding on their turf. Perhaps a fish-phobic gaijin wouldn’t be welcome here?
But the two owners were nothing but friendly and chimed in with explanations on the difference between an “ice monaka” and “soft monaka” (Soft serve vs. regular) as I became confused. I’d never been to a place with both options, and I’d never seen a homemade monaka before. It was all very new and exotic. The older woman masterfully tossed it together like a seasoned artist.
She boiled coffee through a siphon (makes it less acidic she claimed) like a mad scientist. The creamy Rokko Farm ice cream, the crunchy wafer, and the freshly siphoned coffee was a titillating sensory overload. Almost a shame these amazing tastes are buried behind a dagashi shop.
But somehow TV crews and newspapers had found it. The “owarai” comedian big whig Masatoshi Hamada had come here, there were signatures and news articles on the wall. The owners explained that the media came every now and then but even with all that exposure, today there were only a few locals here.The magic of dagashi was keeping this shop a hidden gem..
“Would you be okay if I told my friends at Osaka.com about your cafe?” I asked. “Absolutely, please come again soon.” It was nice to know that behind a wall of candy, a time warp to a retro space age cafe is waiting for us to come again anytime.
Leaving Hakusendo there were some vegetable stalls with amazing prices. 100 yen for a bucket of mini tomatoes? What’s the catch? You could make 20 caprese salads with a haul this big. Prices were half of anywhere else, any cheaper and they’d be free! Next door was a takoyaki stand, essential offering for a shotengai. A little further down was an indie- looking food market.
So great to get away from the chain store’s that have the same stuff. They don’t have a cabbage and octopus croquette, like they do here, a unique Osaka twist on the traditional potato and meat.
The market also had great deals on yaki-imo sweet potato and fresh food dishes. The yaki-imo was 150 yen, (another half price.) These were 2 giant honking pieces of potato, baked over hot stones. These aren’t those strange orange things from Thanksgiving back in the states. Japanese taters are white fleshed, warm and fluffy, oozing with sweet potato syrup that you can’t believe have no added sugar. And with prices like these I’ll have to make a special trip back again.
But I was still eager to explore more kissaten around Osaka. On my list was Umeda’s “Madura” and another in Shinsekai “Do Re Mi.” We jumped on the train to Umeda first. I had seen the cafe on TV, so I knew it was on people’s radar. What I didn’t expect was how crowded it would be.
When I arrived, it had a similar look to Hakusendo, the 70’s-style space age decor, the amazing art deco decorations, sofas, and tables. They were both like a living time capsule. But this was much bigger.
The only thing missing was the interaction with the owners, the quiet local atmosphere -we were in Umeda now. This place was much much bigger and with that came the immersive atmosphere of a living museum. After a quick check with the staff we heard that the owner’s son now runs the place, just like Hakusendo.
It was fun to order off the historical menu and take in the atmosphere. It reminded me of Canters Deli in LA another retro masterpiece. We tried a classic kissaten favorite: egg sandwich and also ordered a pudding a la mode. I am ashamed to say that the visuals of the cafe were so astounding I couldn’t focus on the taste of my food but I took a photo to capture the memory anyhow.
A quick note for non-smokers, this place was quite smoky. If you’re like me, you may find it upsetting. But this is very common with the retro kissatens as I found out at the next cafe.
Kissa Do Re Mi
We had to visit this charming kissaten on a different day. I have seen other bloggers write about visiting 3, 4, or 5 separate eateries in a day and I don’t know how they do it. I have to space it out. I’ve heard of actors gaining weight for their craft but I wasn’t ready to take that step for a blog.
Coming from Madura my first impression of Do Re Mi was shock at how small it was. (Or should I say “cozy?”) The other big impression was how close it was to the Tsutenkaku tower. You couldn’t pick a location closer to it if you tried, I took a picture to illustrate this.
Having recently dined at Madura in Umeda and eaten an egg sandwich I wanted to order one here to compare. I opened it up to examine what was going on inside. There were little bits of pickles which were great accenting flavors. The egg was still warm and the ingredients felt freshly made. Something about this sandwich had an extra umph.
Next came the pancakes, which I’d seen on the Google Map listing -I knew we had to give those a try. We were told “it will take around 20min to make, is that okay?” Which made me think “wow, if it takes that long to make, they must taste great!” The hotcakes arrived and were big and thick and included a big slab of margarine and syrup. Biting into them I could see they weren’t the usual fluffy kind. They were on the harder side and more like soft spongy bread. I enjoyed it and assumed this was the “retro” style but didn’t know for sure.
I also ordered another kissaten standard, the Napolitan which is Japanese Showa style pasta. Just like the sandwich it tasted fresh and like the chef gave it some love. The little peas in the pasta were delicious and the little slabs of bacon were good quality. I’ve had many Napolitans in Japan, but this one was particularly good. Its hard to take an old standard and stick out from the crowd but they managed to do it!
Like Madura, I found it hard to relax and soak in the atmosphere of the cafe because I was too busy soaking in poisonous gas clouds from cigarette smoke. (When they say time capsule they really mean it! No concept of non-smoking.) On the other hand, they had a matchbook with a great retro mascot cartoon, loved that!
A quick walk around the Shinsekai area led us to an Osaka.com favorite Seyhan Kebab for a dinner of hummus kebab later that evening. Thank you Osaka.com contributors Matt Kaufman and Wes Wesson for introducing it to me.
Matt also showed me a strange movie theatre in the area, Shinsekai Kokusai Theatre. They have hand painted movie signs on the wall. They show b-movies and nudie cuties from what I can gather from the Jack Nicholson and boob pictures. A real oddity and worth the small trot away from the tower.
Nearby Tamade is the wackiest supermarket in Osaka whose claim to fame is low prices, mind-melting colors and neon. Also close JR Shin-Imamiya station is Mega Don Quixote Shinsekai which is even bigger than the regular Don Quixote, which if you don’t know is a store that sells just about everything. It was amusingly located on top of a massive pachinko parlor.
That sums up my kissaten trip. In the end I gained some weight for my art after all but it was worth it. I look forward to introducing you to some more cafes and amazing eateries around Japan very soon—I’ll just make sure to space it out over many days!