Osaka was the first stop on my trip to Japan and I was keen to waste no time in discovering what the city had to offer food wise. Japanese has always been one of my favourite types of food and it didn’t take long before I realised that what I knew about Japanese food barely scratched the surface of the intricacies and depth of this unique cuisine.
Japanese food is very regional. While there are common dishes and ingredients across the country, each region has its own speciality dishes, ingredients and techniques – be it using chicken instead of pork, thin noodles instead of thick, mustard instead of wasabi, frying instead of steaming etc. Some of the food that I ate in Osaka simply couldn’t be found when I visited Kyoto and Tokyo.
Osaka is arguably the food and drink capital of Japan. Its nickname “tenka no daidokoro” (the nation’s kitchen) comes from its time as Japan’s rice hub during the Edo period, but today refers more to the vast array of food options available. Many of the food places in Osaka are small, and seat no more than a handful of people and they are found everywhere. On main streets, down alleyways, in basements, and several stories up in the high rise buildings that are all over the city somebody is cooking something. Sometimes these places are easy to spot and sometimes they are not – the phrase “follow your nose” is apt. Indeed, by the end of my time in the city I’d barely visited any of the recommendations that were on my list – my wife and I kept on stumbling across places that looked and smelled amazing, and were full of locals – always a good sign.
If I have one piece of advice to impart to you for when you visit Osaka it would be to bring a list of places to visit, make sure you check out a few of the places that really interest you but don’t let the list restrict what you try. While not as big as Tokyo, Osaka is still, by global standards, a very big city and often you’ll find yourself in a part of town that’s not near any recommendations on your list. Additionally it can be hard to find certain places as streets are more often than not not in English (both physical street signs and in Google Maps), the venues don’t have English names and aren’t always on the main street level. Use the guide as exactly that – a guide. Follow your nose and don’t be afraid to make your own discoveries.
Food standards in Osaka are high, from the quality of the food and its presentation to the customer service that patrons receive. I’ve never been anywhere in the world where standards are so high on such a consistent basis. Perhaps because of this, Japan has a reputation as being an expensive place but I was surprised at how affordable the food and drinks were in the country, with Osaka generally being cheaper than Tokyo. Of course the food in Osaka isn’t as cheap as that in other Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand but when compared against similar highly developed, global centres, it fares well.
I’m going to try and keep any repetition between my Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto food guides to a minimum and will be cross-referencing to the other guides in here as I put them up. Rather than listing the places that I ate at, I think a better way of setting things out is by the type of food – a brief introduction to the dish, followed by some recommendations based on my experiences followed by recommendations that were on my list that I never got around to visiting.
Department stores in Japan are a cut above what you tend to find elsewhere in the world. Sure, there are many cities that have high end department stores with nice food sections however in Japan the sheer selection is outstanding. Along with the highest quality fresh produce and ready-to-eat meals that you could imagine, these department store food halls are where you can find concessions from stores that have set up shop from all over the world. They even have their own name, “depachika”. The product ranges are extensive and everything is beautifully presented.
Takashimaya Food Hall
Takashimaya has stores across Japan, and sells a wide variety of products. Takashimaya’s basement food courts are amongst the best in Japan and the Osaka store in the Namba district is no exception. The photo below is of the first thing that my wife and I ate in Japan. Sushi with uni (sea urchin), scallops and salmon roe. It was delicious and very fresh. The rice itself was a perfect slightly chewy texture. Often when travelling overseas, certain dishes aren’t any better than back home. For example it’s possible to find authentic Neapolitan pizza outside of Italy that’s just as good as anything in Italy. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t eaten very good sushi outside of Japan before, however it was one of the foods that, on a whole, was better, more consistently, in Japan than anywhere else and the sushi at Takashimaya food hall, not only in Osaka but also in Kyoto and Tokyo was excellent.
It wasn’t just the sushi that was great at Takashimaya. There was a huge assortment of all kinds of Japanese foods to choose from, and a lot of European desserts too.
Takashimaya (Namba Store)
Hanshin Department Store
The basement food hall at Hanshin was something that I stumbled across while making my way out of the Umeda subway station. It was smaller than some of the other food halls that I had been too but had some interesting products that I hadn’t seen elsewhere and a lot more free standing concessions.
Hanshin (Umeda Store)
1-Chome 13-13 Umeda
While not as large as the Shinshibashi store, the Daimaru in Umeda had a decent food hall and an impressive grocery section full of interesting products to browse.
Daimaru (Umeda Store)
3 Chome 1-1 Umeda
The Isetan at JR Osaka was the most luxurious of the food halls that I visited in Osaka and had a very impressive selection of French concessions, including 2 of my favourite Parisian brands, Jean-Paul Hevin and Pierre Herme.
Jean-Paul Hevin is a chocolatier and I was happy to finally have the chance once more to pick up a cake and 2 of my favourite items, the Traditional Nut Spread, made with caramelized hazelnuts (think Nuttella, but better) and the Mirabelle Plum Jam.
Over at the Pierre Herme concession, I picked up some macarons which, in my opinion, are still amongst the best macarons available anywhere in the world, some Ispahan (raspberry and rose) candied pates and some Jardin de Pierre tea (citrus, jasmine, rose & violet).
Isetan (JR Osaka Store)
1-Chome 1-3 Umeda
Torikara is crumbed and fried chicken breast. Choose your size, choose your salt and sauce (curry salt, rock salt, lemon juice, sweet chilli sauce, mayonnaise, black vinegar) and you’re good to go. Simple and tasty – a great snack.
There are a handful of these across Japan – 1 or 2 per major city. They were always very popular. I went for the original with salt & pepper and sweet chilli sauce.
1 Chome 5-12 Namba
Okonomiyaki is a pancake without rules. The name is a combination of the words for “what you like” and “grilled”. It’s an Osaka speciality and involves a flour, yam and water batter being mixed in with a variety of ingredients such as eggs, shredded cabbage, diced meat and/or seafood and diced onion. The mixture is grilled on both sides then topped with otafuku/okonomiyaki sauce, seaweed flakes, bonito flakes and Japanese mayonnaise. What combination of ingredients and toppings you want is completely up to you.
Mizuno came up in my research as being one of the best places in Osaka to have Okonomiyaki. It opened in 1945, right after World War II ended and has been serving Okonomiyaki ever since. I got one which came with 6 types of meat and seafood and my wife ordered a mini seafood one. It’s very much “comfort food”. Healthy? No. Delicious? Yes.
1 Chome-4-15 Dōtonbori
An Izakaya is a casual venue that serves food and drinks. Similar in style to spanish Tapas venues, there are a range of small dishes on the menu and you can either order as the night progresses or in one hit at the start. The food comes out as it’s cooked and the whole thing very informal. Generally there’s an open kitchen with seating at the bar/kitchen as well as standard tables.
My wife and I chose to wander around the area near our hotel on our first night in Osaka. There were Izakaya everywhere we looked – on major streets and down seemingly insignificant lane-ways. After a walking around for a while we decided to eat at this place. It was busy and the food smelled great.
The open kitchen was a hive of activity. The guy in the foreground was grilling all of the chicken and had a variety of things cooking at any given time. The other 2 guys were busy prepping the meat and doing a variety of things and all of the staff seemed to be having a lot of fun.
Yakitori refers to grilled chicken (generally over binchō-tan, or “white charcoal”) and this place specialised in Yakitori. Everything on the menu was chicken and no part of the animal was wasted.
To being with was Kappa Nankotsu (chicken breast cartilage). For 30 years I’ve thrown this part of the chicken in the bin. Little did I know that it was possible for it to be cooked like this and eaten. It was very crunchy and a bit chewy, lightly salted with lemon. It tasted great.
Complimentary pickled okra and sprouts in fermented soy bean were brought out too.
Next was Kawa (chicken skin).
Kimo (chicken liver)
The Seseri Negimamire (chicken neck with green onion) was another part of the chicken that I hadn’t eaten before. Just like everything else on the night, it tasted great.
Tare Tsukune (chicken meatballs with sauce & mustard). This was my first encounter with Japanese mustard. In Osaka mustard was much more common than wasabi and it was, compared to real Japanese wasabi, hotter. Only the most minute amount was required with each mouthful to get the full effect.
I had to order this out of curiosity. A “Kirin Frozen” which was basically Kirin draught beer with a Frozen Coke like “foam” on the top. I’m not quite sure what the point was, but the beer was nice enough.
The Kokoro (chicken heart) was one of the highlights of the night. Super tender and very flavoursome.
Tori Wasa Oroshi Ponzu (seared chicken breast tenderloin with wasabi, grated white radish and citrus soy sauce) was something that I never thought I’d eat in my life – practically raw chicken. I never knew that raw chicken was a popular dish in Japan however completely raw chicken sashimi and seared chicken such as the dish below were commonplace. It tasted like chicken, but a lot more mild compared to when it is cooked.
Many of the Izakayas that I went to in Japan had, on the menu, a section dedicated to their chicken – its source, how it was fed and raised etc. As long as you know that the meat is fresh and coming from a reputable source then it’s perfectly safe. I return to my usual comment about eating food overseas – eat as the locals do. If it wasn’t good or was making people sick they wouldn’t be eating it.
There was one English menu which was doing the rounds between my wife and I and another non-Japanese reader/speaker who was upstairs however for this dish we just pointed at what seemed like a very popular dish and asked for 2 of them. Tsukimi tsukune (chicken meatballs with raw egg) is what the dish was and it was similar to the other tsukune that we had. Another discovery was the use of raw egg as a dipping accompaniment, which we found to be quite common at the yakitori venues we ate at during our time in Japan.
Usagi was where my wife and I had one of our most memorable meals, not just because of the amazing food, but because of the people that we met there. I came across it during my research on where to eat in Osaka on an old forum and decided that it sounded like it was worth checking out. It was central, but just out enough (about 10 minute walk) to not be the kind of place one could simply stumble across. Walking up to the second floor on a quiet street, there was a small bar with a small apartment sized kitchen behind it and enough space to seat only a few people. There was no English menu, and the chef/barman/owner didn’t speak a word of English.
While I’ve had many a good meal despite the existence of a language barrier, it is nice to be able to get a bit of insight into what it is you’re eating. There were a group of friends sitting near us at the bar and one of them spoke English quite well. It turned out that they were regulars and she explained to us that the chef had been cooking for many years and was trained in Japanese and European cooking techniques and wanted to know what we felt like eating. We said “Japanese food, whatever he feels like making” and so it began. Our new friend was happy to explain what each of the dishes were about and, by the end of the night, far more sake, sochu and whiskey had been consumed than anticipated, and new friends had been made.
To begin with was sushi of squid, jellyfish, baby squid, tuna and pickled cabbage. It all tasted great, just like everything else that came out over the course of the night. The baby squid with the sweet yellow sauce was something that was very common throughout Japan and became one of my favourite snacks during my time in Japan.
Next was tempura of octopus, yam (yama imu) and pork.
This wagyu beef was not from Kobe, but from an area in the south of Japan that also has very good beef. The advantage of having someone to translate between the chef and my wife and I was that we learned a bit about some of the regions where beef is grown around Japan. The wagyu we ate at Usagi was super tender and the fat melted as soon as it hit the tongue. It was served with ponzu dipping sauce.
This dish was very interesting and unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. Oden is fried tofu and konnyaku (made by mixing konjac (a kind of yam) flour with water and limewater, with hijiki added to give the dark colour) in a light miso-dashi broth. The konnyaku had a dense, rubbery texture to it which was unexpected.
Udon noodles with raw egg and seaweed.
I love the open kitchens of Izakayas. Here’s the chef/barman/owner.
1 Chome-22-7 Shinmachi
Mochi are cakes made from glutinous rice that is cooked pounded into a paste and then moulded. The sweet dessert daifuku is a mochi that is soft, round and stuffed with a filling. Azuki bean (red bean) is a common filling.
Being cherry blossom season, there were sakura mochi on offer, which I couldn’t resist trying. My wife got one that had a strawberry inside.
I might not be able to tell you the name or address of the place below, but rest assured there are no shortage of places to get your mochi fix in Osaka.
Unknown Address (Arcade near Naniwanomiyaato Park)
Curry was introduced to Japan during the Meiji era and was modified over the years to become a distinctly Japanese dish. A base of onions, carrots and potatoes is used, with the curry sauce consisting of, at a basic level, fried curry powder, flour, and oil.
I’m not sure what this place was called, and all of my attempts to find the name of the place have led to dead ends. I walked in namely because I wanted to try ordering from a shop with ticket machine out the front. Press the button, put in the money, get a ticket, walk inside and give the chef the ticket.
I got a Katsu-karē (crumbed pork fillet) over rice which was similar to the Japanese curry dish that can be found in Western cities but with some significant differences. The crumbing was a lot denser and the sauce was spicier. I don’t know how the curry I had rated in comparison to the other curries in Osaka but I do know that I really enjoyed it and it was great value.
Unknown Address (Approx 20 minute walk north of Nipponbashi)
Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat, and is synonymous with thin buckwheat noodles, which can be contrasted with udon, which are thick noodles. The main types of soba are:
- Mori soba is served cold on a tray with a cold tsuyu dipping sauce on the side.
- Zaru soba is Mori soba topped with seaweed flakes.
- Kake soba is served in a hot tsuyu broth.
- Kitsune/Tanuki soba is topped with thin layers of fried tofu.
- Tempura soba is topped with tempura.
- Tsukimi soba is topped with a raw egg, which poaches in the broth.
- Tororo soba is topped with yam puree.
- Sansai soba is topped with sansai (wild vegetables).y
- Nanban soba has leek in the broth and can be topped with duck or chicken.
Kappa Soba Kanda
My wife got the tororo soba.
We agreed that my selection, which appeared to be a hybrid mori-tsukimi soba was the better of the two, with the egg, beef and soba mixed together and then dipped in the soup.
Kappou Soba Kanda
3F Nu Chayamachi PLUS
Takoyaki was invented in Osaka in 1935 and consists of balls of wheat based batter that are cooked in special takoyaki pans and generally filled with diced octopus. They are brushed with takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise then topped with aonori and dried bonito flakes. They are very common in Osaka and commonly sold by street-side vendors such as that below.
Beware when eating these as the filling is gooey and very hot. Give them a few minutes to cool down.
Kappo Style Fine Dining
Kappo style dining originated in Osaka over 100 years ago and involves the chef, preparing and cooking food at a counter in front of a small number of customers. A kappo chef is trained (generally over 10-15 years) to master numerous ways of cooking and to understand the seasonality of food, the quality of ingredients and the presentation. The name comes from the Japanese words for “cut” and “cook” and the style of dining is today more popular than ever.
My wife and I had our first fine dining meal in Japan at the newly Michelin starred Oimatsu Kitagawa. Neither the owner/chef or any of the staff spoke English and there was no English menu. We asked our hotel to make us a booking and, after the hotel staff member confirmed with us that we were ok with the fact that nobody at the restaurant spoke English and that there was no English menu, the booking was made. 2 days later when we were in a taxi heading towards the restaurant, we had the first of many humbling experiences of the night. The restaurant was very hidden – not in the touristy part of town and in the back streets off a side street. The taxi driver got to where he thought the restaurant was and it wasn’t there. He switched off his meter and phoned the restaurant to get some help. After driving around for about 10 minutes and another call to the restaurant he drove to a spot and motioned for us to wait. A few moments later one of the chefs from the restaurant came walking down the street and led us to the restaurant.
We didn’t get to sit at the chef’s counter, which is understandable given that we wouldn’t have been able to understand a word he was saying, and that interaction is a bit part of the experience. Instead, we were taken to a private dining room. Our waitress for the night had English “cheat sheets” that the staff had made up that day in order to let us know what each of the dishes were. Whenever she got stuck she’d get out her phone and load up Google Translate and show us what the phone was saying. My wife and I were completely ok with eating whatever came out and were amazed that the restaurant would go to such an effort to accommodate us. Our waitress even learned a few English terms from us for various ingredients.
As for the food itself, it’s traditional Japanese fare – unpretentious, with a focus on seasonality and the ingredients and some interesting unconventional twists. I’m not going to go into too much detail on each of the dishes – everything was excellent.
A tray with a number of sake cups was brought out at the start, and we got to choose which ones we wanted to drink out of.
Red clam, jelly & bok choi.
White flaky light fish, green pea tofu, perilla and bonito broth.
Horse head fish, wasabi, uni.
Pink snapper sushi. The rice was at just the right temperature – lukewarm. By this stage of the trip I was really beginning to understand just how important the quality of the rice used in any given dish was.
Abalone, white asparagus.
Rape blossom, baby squid, fried squid ink vermicelli.
Hair crab, seaweed, bamboo shoots, ginger.
Trout, crumbed broadbean, white miso sauce.
Spanish mackerel, burdock.
Scallop and burraback with rice. Pickled veg assortment and green tea (sencha).
Matcha ice-cream and strawberry.
At the end of the meal when we left, all of the staff came out to say goodbye to us and we were grateful to be able to get a photo with the chef. An amazing meal and a truly humbling experience. It’s experiences like this (amongst others) that really make me love Japan.
4 Chome-1-11 Nishitenma
Central Wholesale Market
The Central Wholesale Market, which is one of 3 locations of the Osaka Municipal Central Wholesale Markets, was established in 1925 as a way of centralising all of the separate wholesale markets that existed at the time. Along with the wholesale activities, there are a variety of stalls that sell food that can be eaten on site. It’s important to note that in Japan, it is considered rude to walk around while eating. If you do get something to eat from one of the stalls, stand to the side and eat it before continuing to walk around.
While the market predominantly deals with fresh fruit and vegetables and seafood, there are some meat stalls too. This place sold varying grades of Kobe beef.
It was simply cooked on the hotplate and served with some salt and pepper on the side. I’d tried wagyu beef before but this was by fat the best I had ever tasted. The sirlion was very tender, and the fat melted as soon as it hit my tongue. It was extremely luxurious and the taste remained in my mouth for quite a while. Up to an hour later I was still repeatedly making comments to my wife about how amazing it was.
This place was selling a variety of raw, steamed and grilled seafood. My wife and I tried scallops and conk which were raw and, as I suppose seems obvious, very fresh.
Quite a few stalls were selling cold tempura. I assumed that they wouldn’t taste that good as they had been sitting out for a while but we tried a few things and they were still very tasty and crispy.
Another stall with a range of delicacies to try.
Central Wholesale Market
1 Chome-1-86 Noda
One place near the market that my wife and I really wanted to try as we had heard good things was Endo Sushi but we didn’t get the chance as we had left the address at the hotel and this was before we got our portable WiFi sorted. It’s just outside on the east side of the market.
These might be resolutely fast food, but whenever I visit a city that has a Mos Burger I always make a visit.
The iced tea comes unsweetened with sugar syrup and milk packets provided so you can get it just the way you like.
Mos burger sell traditional style burgers…
… and burgers with rice instead of bread patties with not so familiar fillings.
Small Grocery Stores
Small grocery stores are much more common than larger format stores, in the cities at least. The quality of the produce in them is very high and often my wife and I would pop in and grab a snack. The baby squid with the sweet yellow sauce was one of our favourites and we tried it for the first time while perusing the aisles at one of these small stores.
Salon de the Alcyon
We stumbled across this cute little tea shop/cafe while exploring the city and tried some samples. The teas were nice, especially the floral combinations and we purchased a few to take back home with us.
Salon de the Alcyon
1 Chome-6-20 Nanba
This was the night that we went to Usagi for dinner so we never ate here but if I didn’t have plans, I would have given it a shot. I can’t remember the address and have no idea what it was called, but wanted to share the photo with you.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through my Osaka Food Guide and would love to hear about any Osaka food recommendations you might have in the comments below. If you’re looking for tips on where and what to eat in Tokyo and Kyoto, check out my Tokyo Food Guide and Kyoto Food Guide.
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