As with most cities, Osaka is known for having a few of its own specialty dishes. I wasted no time in seeking these out to try them for myself.
On the very first day, my friend Jade and I took a stroll down the main road in the Dotonburi area of Osaka. This lively street runs along a canal and has everything from clothing stores to restaurants to theatres. I wasn’t expecting to jump right into my exploration of the country so quickly and was immediately flooded with excitement as I took in the view of the brightly illuminated billboards and strange signs that were so foreign to my understanding.
After some time, we began to notice very long lines of people massed around little street stands about every few hundred yards. Curiosity got the better of us and we decided to join the crowd without knowing what may lie at the front of the line. The answer, my friends, was Takoyaki, otherwise known as octopus fritters. This street food favorite is becoming very popular all over the world but is supposed to be the absolute best in Osaka.
The fritters are made out of a creamy batter that is dispensed into spherically shaped grills and cooked to crispiness on the outside. The inside remains soft, and moist and the portions are topped with condiments such as mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, scallions, seaweed or bonito flakes.
Unable to control our patience, we bit right into the little dough balls and paid the price of burning our mouths and embarrassing ourselves when the gooey mess fell from our chopsticks onto the table. The snack was tasty, but I found it rather bland, mostly enjoying the Takoyaki for its toppings.
A few evenings later, Jade and I had the enjoyable experience of trying Okonomiyaki. Translated to “Grilled any way you like”, this is a cross between an omelet and a pancake. The filling can be left up to the imagination but usually consists cabbage, egg and flour with a protein of seafood or pork. The fun part is that you can cook the pancake yourself over a large flat griddle in the middle of the table. Jade and I had a great evening enjoying views of the river while we sipped on sake and cut off wedges of our seafood combination Okonomiyaki. The seafood was tender and the eggs were fluffy, each bite complimented by a hefty dose of scallion. The grill kept the meal hot throughout our entire dinner and I was in heaven experimenting with all of the condiments at my disposal.
Another ridiculously fun experience was trying Kushikatsu. Jade and I had spent the entire day at “Spa World”, a multi-story, themed public bath house offering massages and relaxation. Naturally, there was no better way to end our day than to soothe our souls with a meal of fried everything on a stick! We sat at the bar and ordered a la carte from the menu. Pieces of panko breaded and fried fish, meat and vegetables were laid out steaming before our eyes alongside cabbage and tonkatsu dipping sauce. Though different, the concept reminded me of tempura, but more fun. The tangy dipping sauce was communal and thus came with the strictly enforced rule of “no double-dipping”. I washed down my crunchy shrimp tail with a cold beer and thought to myself about how Japanese food culture is designed so that people interact with their meals instead of just devouring them. Eating is an experience, both in preparation and in a social sense. For once it was acceptable for me to play with my food.