The best dishes to eat when visiting Osaka

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On our website, we have already presented you with a one-day food tour itinerary around Osaka, where to find some local delicacies and see the most of this bustling city at the same time. While walking in the streets, you are constantly stimulated by different smells coming from countless street vendors lined along the pavement, and selling treats you’ve probably never heard of! what to eat in Osaka

Osaka got its nickname Nation’s kitchen (Tenka no daikoro in Japanese) in the 17th century when Kyoto was the Japanese royal capital. However stunning Kyoto is, its location among mountains makes is quite inaccessible, but nearby port city Osaka fit the position of trading hotspot perfectly. The rulers gave orders to collect all the goods here and then distribute them to the rest of the country. That is how Osaka got its first dibs on the best ingredients and ever since then its cuisine just blossomed.

The true spirit of Osaka lies in its food culture which is represented by the famous saying: “Kuidaore!” with the literal translation: “Eat until you drop!” In this article I would love to tell you more about few typical Japanese dishes, many of which originated directly in Osaka. My love for this city and Japanese cuisine is immense so I hope you will try some these dishes during your trip.

 

TAKOYAKI

If you researched at least a little bit about Osaka and its street food, you probably have come across takoyaki. Takoyaki are delicious octopus balls served with special takoyaki sauce, bonito flakes, spring onions, Japanese mayonnaise and sprinkled with aonori (edible green seaweed). These delicious small hot savoury balls with a piece of octopus in the middle are considered the soul food in Japan and they are very popular among locals. The name literally means grilled octopus: tako = octopus and yaki = grilled or fried.

Takoyaki were first invented in 1935 in Osaka by a street vendor Endo Tomekichi. It became an immediate success and was spread all over Japan. You can still visit today his original food stall in Osaka – it’s called Aizuya and they have different location across the city, however the first one is located in Nishinari Ward.

Takoyaki is sold on every corner in Osaka, but my personal favourite is Akaoni. Akaoni is located on a quiet corner in otherwise busy Namba area. It’s not a sit down restaurant, only a street food stall, yet it is listed in the Michelin guide. This doesn’t mean that they actually have a Michelin star, but being in the guide itself is still a great achievement! You will recognize their stall easily, as there’s an Aka Oni at the front. Aka means red and Oni is a demon in Japanese folklore. This Oni in Akaoni restaurant is, however, a rather cute one.

what to eat in osaka
Takoyaki are made in a special takoyaki pan – being fast when turning them around is very essential skill!
what to eat in osaka
Classic takoyaki with spring onions next to Dotonbori Canal

KUSHIKATSU

Another traditional dish that originated in Osaka is kushikatsu. Kushikatsu is a dish of meat or vegetables cut into mouthful pieces, sticked on a skewer, battered and deep fried to a crispy golden finish. Kushi refers to the bamboo skewers and katsu means meat cutlet. Kushikatsu experienced its humble beginnings in 1929 in Osaka’s suburb Shinsekai (near Tennoji Park). It was now legendary Daruma restaurant, who served this rather simple dish for the first time to the groups of labor workers who were coming home after a long day. Today, kushikatsu is enjoyed by everyone and it is well-paired with a beer or sake.

Be aware though that there is one important rule that must be followed when visiting a kushikatsu restaurant! You will probably notice quite a big tray with mysteriously looking liquid on every table. This is kushikatsu sauce where you dip your skewers before eating. Because the sauce is shared, double-dipping strictly prohibited! Kushikatsu is usually served with cabbage leaves to help with digestion, as deep fried food can be very heavy.

The most popular flavors of kushikatsu are beef, chicken, pork, quail eggs, potato, onions or shiitake mushrooms. There are many restaurants serving kushikatsu around Osaka, but I would personally recommend Daruma that you can find in multiple locations around Shinsekai and Namba.

what to eat in osaka
Classic selection of kushikatsu with sauce and cabbage
what to eat in osaka
Mascot of legendary Daruma restaurant – you can find it standing in front of all of their branches

KITSUNE UDON

Kitsune udon is a dish popular across all Japan, but also has its origins in Osaka in Usami-tei Matsubaya restaurant in Chuo Ward. It represents true soul food of Osaka. Standard kitsune udon from Kansai is characteristic for its light broth served with thick chewy udon noodles and a piece of deep-fried tofu, which simmered in a sweet sauce. The name kitsune means fox and it comes from a saying that “fox likes to eat tofu”. If you would like to know more about this delicious dish, or try to make it by yourself, check out our previous article here, dedicated solely to kitsune udon.

what to eat in Osaka
Famous kitsune udon with thick noodles and fried tofu

RAMEN

Who wouldn’t know and love a good bowl of hearty ramen? Japanese ramen is experiencing a great popularity all over the world and it is taking the stage as an international dish. Even though Osaka doesn’t have its own ramen typical for this area, you will find here a plethora of ramen shops that will serve you with the best ramen from all over Japan.

The most favourite ramen restaurants in Osaka, among locals and tourists alike, are:

If you have never been to Japan, the ramen shops may surprise you at first. It is not a typical restaurant, because you order your food in a “vending machine” usually located right at the entrance. The menu is either displayed on the walls, on a board or directly in the vending machine. Once you pay, you get a ticket that you hand over to the kitchen staff and they will bring you your ramen to the table.

what to eat in osaka
Miso style ramen
what to eat in osaka
Black ramen with squid ink and red chilli ramen

 

OKONOMIYAKI

Okonomiyaki is my personal favorite Japanese dish. It is a thick savory pancake that is crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The main components are flour and eggs based dough and shredded cabbage, then other ingredients such as squid, pork, scallions, vegetables etc. are added. In typical okonomiyaki restaurants, it is usually prepared right in front of you on a teppan (hot plate) table. There are two main styles of okonomiyaki – from Hiroshima and from Osaka. Hiroshima style okonomiyaki has also a layer of noodles so it is thicker and more filling.

Okonomiyaki is another example of a dish that has its origins in Osaka, but it became very popular all over the country and it is considered as one of the “soul foods of Japan”. The name okonomiyaki is derived from “okonomi”, meaning what you like, and “yaki” meaning grilled or fried. When you are in Osaka, you cannot miss a good okonomiyaki dish. These restaurants will not disappoint you:

If you would like to know more about this dish, about its history and how to make it, check our earlier article dedicated solely to okonomiyaki here.

 

what to eat in osaka
Fresh okonomiyaki with egg
what to eat in osaka
Classic okonomiyaki with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise

BATTERA SUSHI

I bet you have already tried or at least heard of sushi, popular Japanese dish consisting of a piece of raw fish and rice. However, have you have heard of battera sushi? Battera sushi, called also oshizushi or pressed sushi, is a type of sushi that originated in Osaka. Battera sushi is made by stacking slices of mackerel, salmon or shrimp that are cured in vinegar, together with kombu seaweed and sushi rice, and pressing them into rectangular shapes. The slices of fish are so thin they are almost see-through.

And where does the name battera come from? First battera sushi was made in the 19th century when Portuguese Jesuit missionaries were still in Osaka. The shape of this pressed sushi reminded them of boat, or bateira in Portuguese and that is how they named it. There are many sushi restaurants in Osaka that also make battera and I definitely recommend you to try.

  • Sushi Baru Battera Lock – Namba
  • Honto Sushi Kaiba – Namba
  • In the suburb Shinsekai you can also find many family-owned restaurants that serve battera sushi. I like to go to Yamatoya Honten and also order Ika-yaki, a delicious squid omelette.
what to eat in osaka
Battera sushi and classic maki
what to eat in Osaka
Battera sushi made with mackerel

TEMPURA

Tempura may have its origins in the city of Nagasaki, but because of its simple preparation and delicious crunch, it found its way to the whole of Japan and other countries as well. Tempura dishes consist mostly of fish and vegetables that are battered and deep fried. The light batter and the frying technique were introduced by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century. In Japan, the ingredients, style of cooking and serving tempura vary from region to region, but they have one thing in common – they always use fresh local and seasonal products.

You can eat tempura as a whole dish served either with a light sauce or salted without sauce, you can find a piece to tempura in Japanese bento boxes, or served with soba or udon noodles. Many restaurants in Osaka have tempura on their menus, but these are the ones with their focus solely on this dish:

  • Tempura Tarojiro – Namba
  • Tempura Daikichi – Den Den Town
  • Ichimizen – Nipponbashi
what to eat in Osaka
Tempura dish with miso soup

WAGYU BEEF

Wagyu beef refers to all the beef that comes from Japanese cattle. Wa means Japanese and gyu means cow. Wagyu beef is usually a high quality meat, because in Japan crossbreeding is prohibited. There are different brands of wagyu beef that you have probably heard of – the most popular one is famous Kobe beef. Kobe beef has very strict standards and only about 3000 cows per year can qualify as Kobe. It is significant with high degree of marble fat, therefore it is very expensive.

However, you can enjoy a great steak in Japan that doesn’t necessarily have to be Kobe, “only” wagyu. Just like any other beef, wagyu has different cuts with their own unique flavour and aroma. Steaks from loin have fine marbling, rib roast is a good combination of marbled fat and lean meat, or you can try shabu-shabu which is sort of Japanese fondue.

what to eat in osaka
Plate of wagyu with soy sauce and pickled vegetables

KAMAMESHI

Kamameshi a dish of mixed rice “meshi” that is prepared in a special iron or ceramic pot called “kama”. Apart of rice and seasoning that include soy sauce, mirin (sweet cooking wine) and sake, there are no set rules as what to put in kamameshi – it can be anything from meat, to fish, nuts, vegetables and even fruit, the combinations are endless.

Today, not many families own the traditional kama pots, as they were replaced by modern rice cookers. Therefore kamameshi remains the dish to be eaten out in restaurants. Kamameshi is eaten directly from a pot where is also served. Some of my older Japanese colleagues describe kamameshi as the best dish there is and it belongs to their favorites.

Kamameshi is not a typical dish from Osaka, it was made first in Asakusa and it distributed all over Japan after the Great Kanto earthquake. However, Osakans love this dish and there are many great restaurants where you can try! My favorite combination is with sea bream.

what to eat in osaka
Kamameshi with shrimp and eel – unagi

NIKUJAGA ( 肉じゃが )

Nikujaga is a dish that was invented by chefs in Imperial Japanese Navy in the 19th century. The story says that is was famous Japanese admiral Togo Heihachiro, who gave the order to the naval cooks to prepare a dish which would be similar to British beef stew. They used beef, potatoes and onions, however, they kept the flavors typical Japanese by simmering the ingredients in sweet soy sauce and adding konnyak noodles.

Nikujaga is beloved comfort food eaten mostly in winder months, and every grandma, mum and housewife in Japan has her own recipe. It may not look tempting at first, but the flavors are delicious and the meat and potatoes are very tender.

what to eat in Osaka
Classic bowl of Nikujaga with onion, potatoes and beef

So these are all the favourite Japanese dishes, which in one way or another represent Osaka. I hope this article gives you an idea and inspiration what to try here on your next visit. People of Osaka take a great pride in their local cuisine so you can make sure that this city will always feed you well!

Now, the only thing left to say is Bon appétit, or as we say in Japan: Itadakimasu!

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