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Close to the sea and the mountains, Osaka has always been a city with abundant ingredients, helping shape its strong sense of food culture. These days it’s known affectionately as ‘Japan’s Kitchen’ – you won’t leave empty bellied! Travel consultant Holly takes to the streets to find the tastiest food in Osaka.
What Osaka lacks in traditional sightseeing and activities (in comparison to Tokyo and Kyoto) it most certainly makes up for in the food stakes. The city truly comes to life at night, particularly along the bustling Dotonbori district where neon lights, animatronic crabs and stalls selling some of Japan’s most delicious local street food line the canal.
However, it has plenty to offer during daylight hours too.
Food in Osaka by Day: Kuromon Ichiba Market
Tucked away off the streets of the Nanba district is the historic Kuromon Ichiba Market, said to have been here for over 115 years. The market stretches over 500 metres across covered arcades and is particularly famed for fresh seafood.
One of the huge draws to local working markets in Japan is that many stalls will happily prepare, cook and serve their goods to you right then and there. I don’t know about you, but I certainly couldn’t resist the temptation to stop, sample, stroll and repeat. It’s a quick, simple and an inexpensive way to try local specialities. Most stalls don’t have seats, but the dishes are small, so it’s easy enough to snack and move on.
Here are a few foodie highlights from the friendly market stall owners:
Fresh scallops, cooked over the coals and served in bite-sized pieces in the shell. Japan never fails to have both decorative and practical ways of serving food!
Fresh crab, covered in panko breadcrumbs and lightly fried, because everything is better when it’s fried, right?
For those who aren’t partial to seafood, the market offers a whole host more including both fresh and pickled vegetables and fruit, locally sourced meats, flowers and confectionery. It’s usually open from 9am – 5.30pm each day and located just a short walk from Nippombashi Subway Station.
Food in Osaka by Night: Dotonbori
The Dotonbori area is at the heart of Osaka’s nightlife and food culture. This famed stretch along the river is somewhat of a sensory overload; there are restaurants, bars and shops packed tightly together (both horizontally and vertically), each vying for your custom and attention.
The inventive store fronts leave quite an impression – when you come face to face with an animatronic crab or rolling takoyaki ball, there’s no denying what the establishment is offering…
Although initially overwhelming, this is the perfect place to sample Osaka’s famed takoyaki; the strip is lined with stalls, each with a small army of workers cooking up batches upon batches with deft precision.
If you tried to explain takoyaki, it sounds repulsive, ‘a fried ball of savoury dough concealing a piece of octopus and covered in mayonnaise, takoyaki sauce and spring onions’. The edible reality is so much more than that though, and you’ll have to try them to trust me. One small piece of advice: wait for them to cool slightly. Unless you fancy burning the inside of your mouth beyond all recognition, that is!
Whilst takoyaki may be one of the most famous food in Osaka, a few izakayas put their own spin on some of the area’s most popular foods. One small izakaya just off the main strip offers their unique ‘fuwafuwa-yaki’.
Fuwafuwa loosely translates as light, airy and fluffy; the word can be used to describe anything from a bunny rabbit to a pancake. Yaki on the other hand means grilled or fried – a word you’ll find affixed to many food items in Japan. In this establishment, they were offering what can only be described as a fluffy pan-fried omelette filled with mochi cheese.
Almost like the lovechild of a takoyaki and an okonomiyaki (savoury pancake), one of Osaka’s other most famous street foods. The end result was a delight and truly embodied its name of fuwafuwa.
A tough day eating my way through the food in Osaka (all in the name of research) could only be capped off with a steaming hot bowl of ramen. It’s a joyful experience: the staff are always efficient, and ordering via a ticket vending machine never gets old. Ramen has a million different varieties and broths, but these two were shoyu (soy sauce) based. The perfect end to an overindulgent eating adventure.
Fancy eating your way through Japan’s Kitchen? Speak to us about visiting Osaka. If you’re short on time, the city can easily be visited as an evening trip from Kyoto; trains run late into the evening.
While the food in Osaka is incredible, it’s only fair to try everything else in the country for comparison; fervent foodies should take a look at our Gastronomic Adventure self-guided trip.