Osaka often referred to as the “kitchen of Japan”. While many think it’s a nod to the city’s rich gastronomic heritage, the nickname is actually derived from Osaka’s position at the centre of country’s rice trade in the Edo period.
That said, it’s easy to understand why the “kitchen of Japan” reference tends to precede introductions to Osaka’s vibrant food scene. After all, Osaka is a place where I’ve never had a single unsatisfactory meal in the two years that I lived there. I always tell my friends that, unlike in other parts of Japan, they can eat anywhere in Osaka and have a good meal. Or, for those who require detailed directions to specific eateries, I give them this: close your eyes, count to five while turning in a circle, then enter the third eating place you see on your right. Viola!
Jokes aside, some places in Osaka are more delicious than others. My list below may not focus that much on Japanese or Osakan food – for that, I refer you to my directions above. But if you’re keen on some mouth-watering dishes that will stay in your mind and on your palette, here are my top picks:
- Fugetsu for okonomiyaki
Most of you would already know that okonomiyaki is one of the dishes – together with takoyaki and kushikatsu – that Osaka is best known for. There’s a reason why Fugetsu is a chain of okonomiyaki restaurants all over Japan: their okonomiyaki is top notch with the perfect blend of egg and flour, and cooked by experienced staff so that the cabbage is melt-in-your-mouth soft. Opt for one of the options with bacon if you can, as the bacon will be slightly crisp and add that bit of umami to every mouth.
Directions: Select an outlet most convenient for you from Fugetsu’s English website.
- Chinmaya (陳麻家) for spicy and fragrant noodles
If you’ve never tried dan dan noodles (担担面) in a thick peanut and sesame soup, you cannot miss Chinmaya’s version of this dish. Choose your level of spiciness (tip: don’t go for the hottest), slurp and savour! You will soon be perspiring and panting, but enjoying every mouthful.
Directions: From Nagahoribashi Subway station, take exit #3 and walk east for about 85m. Chinmaya will be on your right.
- Pasta de pasta for crab cream pasta
Crab and cream is a match made in heaven, but for some reason this combination has yet to spread beyond Japan. The crab (kani in Japanese) cream pasta was love at first bite – look at this bad boy below and tell me you don’t want it NOW.
Directions: There are few outlets, but the most convenient would be at the Sanbangai (阪急三番街) of Hankyu Umeda station, South Block, Basement 2. It’s also a 1min walk from Umeda Station on the Midosuji Subway line, or a 3min walk from JR Osaka station.
- HARBS for out of this world cakes
Also another chain throughout Japan, HARBS’ cakes can seem pricey but the slices are massive and the cakes sublime. Ignore everything else on the menu, as while they’re good, nothing compares to the mille crepe that’s chock full of fruits and light fresh cream – just look at the hurriedly taken picture shot many moons ago. I never was a fan of fruity cakes until I had my first bite of HARBS’ mille crepe – it was a truly a life-changing moment.
Directions: Take your pick of outlet from HARBS’ English website.
- Pomodoro Fresca for the best Italian food
I mentioned this in my other post on Osaka, but Pomodoro Fresca deserves a mention each time I talk about Osaka – they really are that good. Every dish on the menu is superb, especially their carbonara and tomato cream pastas – I have never been able to enjoy either of those at any other restaurant the same way again. Check out the amazing breads at Narutoya while you’re there too.
Directions: Take the JR loop line to Momodani Station. Go out the exit facing the road, and head down the street with Lawsons. The Lawsons is visible from inside the station gates, so you can’t get lost.
Wildcard – anything with 手 or手づく sign
When walking around Osaka, amble down the side streets and keep your eyes peeled for a手 or手づくsign. This indicates that the shop sells handmade noodles, and is always a good bet. Chances are the menu is limited, the place is small and the proprietor is elderly and speaks no English, but you’ll be treated to a simple, honest meal made with pride, care and love. Congratulations – you’ve had a taste of Japanese home cooking, which is beautiful and heart-warming in its simplicity.
Looking out for other attractions while in Osaka? Check out my post introducing 5 things you must do when in Osaka!