While Tokyo resides on the tip of tourist tongues, those who are culinarily inclined have discovered that Osaka is the true palette pleaser. Perfectly situated near continental Asia, what was once Ancient Japan's capital quickly industrialized, culminating into a culture rich with art, entertainment, history, and language. Osakans are known for their combination of warmth, humor, straight-forwardness, and colorful phrases from their dialect, Kansai-ben (関西弁). Considering that the phrase Kuidaore (食い倒れ, eat until you drop) is its motto (as well as mine), it's no wonder that this city is home to an array of iconic gourmet foods that are synonymous with Japanese history and culture. Without further ado, I'd like to present five of the most praised dishes Osaka has perfected as well as the best restaurants at which to enjoy them.
1. Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)
Freshly grilled okonomiyaki on teppanyaki
There’s no other way to introduce Osaka cuisine than with a personal favorite: Okonomiyaki. Meaning “grilled as you like”, this dish has expanded far beyond its humble Osaka beginnings and become a staple in Japanese cuisine. This tasty pancake has a savory base of flour, dashi (fish stock), shredded cabbage, nagaimo (yam), and eggs. It is then further elevated by an array of ingredients: green onion, meat, octopus, squid, shrimp, and/or vegetables. The only thing that keeps me from devouring it at once is the lively, hypnotic dance of bonito flakes. The light texture from the omelette base paired with the rich flavor from the extra ingredients deliver a delicious dichotomy to diners.
Located in a quaint alley, Houzenji Sanpei is considered to be a must-go by locals and foodies alike. Patrons are provided with casual, friendly service and offered a front-seat view of the chef as he stands above the teppanyaki (grill). Reservations aren’t necessary for this small gem but recommended for those who simply can’t wait.
(Houzenji Sanpei - 1 Chome-7-10 Dotonbori, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0071, Japan)
2. Udon (うどん)
Steaming bowl of shrimp tempura udon
We all find ourselves in need of comfort, especially in the form of food. I find the most fulfilling dish is none other than udon. Osaka is considered to house the most comforting udon bowls, wrapping their diners in warmth. Udon itself is a thickly cut noodle most often served as a hot noodle soup with shrimp tempura, kakiage (mixed tempura fritter), aburaage (deep-fried tofu) and kamaboko (fish cake) as common toppings. Steaming with savory aromatics, udon fills diners full to the to brim with flavor and feeling.
The highly acclaimed Umeda Hagakure is nestled cozily within Osaka Station, often difficult to find. Customers don’t mind, especially after delving deep into the luscious broths and excitedly slurping the handcrafted noodles. Umeda Hagakure’s signature noodles are known for their finely balanced texture and ample chew. Despite the meticulous precision, the chef presents customers with a relaxed, entertaining presentation on proper dining etiquette.
(Umeda Hakagure - Osaka station 3 building, 1 Chome-1-3 Umeda, Kita Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 530-0001, Japan)
3. Kushikatsu (串カツ)
Assortment of kushikatsu
Deep-fried food is a delight from fairs and festivals to fine dining and stomachs worldwide. It takes shape in foods from deep-fried Oreos to deep-fried Coca-Cola, but it’s Osaka where we find it in the form of kushikatsu. Meaning “deep-fried meat and vegetables”, kushikatsu is a must-eat for travelers and foodies. Areas such as Tsutenkaku are famous for having a myriad of vendors, offering an even larger variety of kushikatsu: beef, pork, chicken, mackerel, shrimp, scallop, squid, broccoli, mushroom, pumpkin, sweet potato are just a fraction of the list. The crisp crunch as you take a bite into the freshly fried panko (breadcrumbs) is music to the ears.
Tsutenkaku is unarguably the best area to get kushikatsu. However, it’s Kushikatsu Daruma and their multiple locations that’s claimed the hearts of locals, foodies, and travelers alike. Known for their beloved grimacing chef mascot, this chain has been serving satisfaction since 1929. Their batter is said to have the perfect crunch, which is exactly what I like to hear.
(Kushikatsu Daruma - 1 Chome-6-8 Ebisuhigashi, Naniwa Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 556-0002, Japan)
4. Butaman (豚まん)
Pork and onion-filled butaman
When craving a nice set of buns (I just had to), butaman hits the spot precisely. Also known as nikuman, this classic dish has become an Osakan treasure. Ground pork and fresh vegetables encased in a thick, yet fluffy dough are steamed to perfection. While it’s tempting to eat one in its entirety, many find gratification in taking at least one bite. Chomping down to reveal a juicy, delicious filling.
Want some buns? 551 Horai has got ‘em hun (it had to be done). Selling over 110,000 butaman per day, 551 Horai is known for their finely crafted dough. Perfectly fluffed with virtually no air-space, Horai buns leave patrons with a hearty, satisfying filling of tender pork and minced onion. Enjoy two for only ￥320 (~$3 USD) and take in the beautiful sights with the Dotonbori River just blocks away.
(551 Horai - 3 Chome-6-3 Nanba, Chūō-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 542-0076, Japan)
5. Takoyaki (たこ焼)
Freshly baked takoyaki with mayonnaise and bonito flakes
Last but certainly never least, is another personal favorite: takoyaki. Simply made with flour, dashi, eggs, and bite-sized octopus, and possibly drool (due to mouth watering). The batter bakes into a savory dough that melts in the mouth while the octopus gives great chew and texture. Like okonomiyaki, takoyaki finds its origin in Osaka when it was created by Tomekichi Endo in 1935. Since then it’s journeyed across the nation, available in convenience stores, street vendors, and fine dining.
Takoyaki Wanaka Sennichimae
Much like kushikatsu, takoyaki finds itself in a vast amount of locations, but it’s Takoyaki Wanaka Sennichimae that hits the octopus ball right out of the park. As a bonus, this satisfying shop is situated just around the corner from 551 Horai. Quick, efficient service provides customers the ability to pick up their order with ease and chew their day away.
(Takoyaki Wanaka Sennichimae - Japan, 〒542-0075 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, Chuo Ward, Nanbasennichimae, 11-19, Japan)
Feeling hungry? Subscribe and receive our curated collection of Osaka inspired snacks from our April Bokksu. Since we can't deliver these dishes, we've selected the snack versions such as Takoyaki Corn Puffs, Okonomiyaki Senbei and many more!