It’s said that Osakans are happy because they eat good food. Indeed, since ancient times, the best of the land and sea has found its way to the great city. Even in a nation of obsessive foodies, Osaka is known as an excellent place to eat, exemplified by the Osakan mantra, kuidaore, which literally means “eat yourself into ruin”. Now we wouldn’t recommend that you do that but nevertheless when in Osaka, there are certain typically Osakan foods worth trying.
Battera Sushi – Battera, as opposed to hako sushi, is upside down and has a layer of aspidistra leaves, which make for its easier removal from the mold. The leaves themselves, however, are not edible. Standard toppings for battera sushi include gizzard shad and mackerel – fish that tend to be strong-tasting and oily. Battera sushi is a variant and direct descendant of primitive sushi, Osaka’s battera sushi is unique for its squarelike shape. Popular with quick diners as it stays fresh for days, this sushi is also sold as a take-away in departmental stores and train stations but it is also widely available in sushi restaurants and bars.
Okonomiyaki is a popular pan fried dish that is primarily made up of batter and cabbage, a savory pancake. Selected toppings and ingredients are added which can vary greatly (anything from meat and seafood to wasabi and cheese). This variability is reflected in the dish’s name; “okonomi” literally means “to one’s liking”. Batter and toppings tend to vary from one region to the other but the Osaka-style okonomiyaki is the predominant version of the dish, found throughout most of Japan. The batter is made of flour, grated yam, water or dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage, and usually contains other ingredients such as green onion, meat (generally pork or bacon), octopus, squid, shrimp, various vegetables, cheese or kimchi. It’s typically served with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, and toppings, such as katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), green onion, pickled red ginger, aonori (dried seaweed powder), tenkasu (tempura crumbs), and so on.
Okonnomiyaki is usually eaten at restaurants that specialize in the dish and these restaurants are divided into two different types. The more popular type is one where the restaurant’s dining tables are each equipped with an iron griddle (teppan), and customers are given the ingredients to cook the meal themselves. This is often preferred as it resembles home cooking and stays true to the “to one’s liking” philosophy. As cooking this dish can be rather daunting especially to a novice or if you are simply can’t be bothered to get involved in the cooking process, there are traditional restaurants, where the okonomiyaki are prepared by the chef and served ready to eat. Okonnomiyaki is actually rather easy to prepare so we have included a recipe for those who fancy making it themselves. Ingredients
- 2 cup all purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cup dashi soup stock or water
- 4-6 eggs
- 1 – 1 1/2 lb cabbage, finely chopped
- 4-6 Tbsp chopped green onion
- 1/2-3/4 cup tenkasu (tempura flakes)
- 12-18 strips of thinly sliced pork or beef
- vegetable oil
- For toppings:
- ao-nori (dried seaweed powder)
- okonomiyaki sauce
- katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) *optional
- beni-shoga (pickled red ginger) *optional
Preparation – Put flour in a large bowl. Pour dashi and mix to make batter. Rest the batter for about an hour in the refrigerator. To make one sheet of okonimiyaki, take out about 1/2 cup of the batter in another bowl. Mix about 1/4 lb of chopped cabbage, about 1 Tbsp of chopped green onion, and about 2 Tbsp of tempura flakes in the batter. Add an egg in the batter and stir. Heat an electric pan or skillet and oil lightly. Pour the batter in the pan and make a round shape. Cook for about 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, fry a couple slices of meat on the side and place the meat on top of the okonomiyaki. Flip the okonomiyaki and cook for about 5 minutes or until cooked through. Flip the okonomiyaki again and spread okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise on top. Sprinkle aonori over the sauce. Sprinkle katsuobushi and beni-shoga if you would like.
Tip: Should you decide to try your luck on your own, you might want to dress for the occasion: pork slices, the most common topping, are usually very fatty and tend to splatter grease all over the place. You probably shouldn’t wear that nice shirt or top for dinner 🙂
Takoyaki (literally fried or grilled octopus) is a popular ball shaped Japanese dumpling or more commonly known as the small, round cousin of okonomiyaki, and like okonomiyaki it originated in Osaka. Takoyaki is quintessentially Japan’s most popular street food snack, consisting of flavored batter and a tiny piece of octopus inside. Today, this dish is brushed with takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise, and topped with green laver (aonori) and katsuobushi (shavings of dried bonito). Takoyaki has evolved since its invention in 1935, like any other popular dish there are many variations to it. The batter has essentially remained the same but the stuffing has expanded to consist of chicken, pork, cheese and even chocolate! For all the budding takoyaki enthusiasts, here’s the recipe.
- 1 2/3 cup flour
- 2 1/2 cup dashi soup
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 lb. boiled octopus, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1/4 cup finely chopped green onion
- 1/4 cup finely chopped benishoga (pickled red ginger)
- 1/4 cup dried sakura ebi (red shrimp) *optional
- *For toppings:
- katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)
- aonori (green seaweed powder)
- Worcestershire sauce or takoyaki sauce
Preparation – Mix flour, dashi soup, and eggs in a bowl to make batter. Thickness of the batter should be like potage soup. Preheat a takoyaki pan and grease the molds. Pour batter into the molds to the full. Put octopus, red ginger, green onion, and dried red shrimp in each mold. Grill takoyaki balls, flipping with a pick to make balls. When browned, remove takoyaki from the pan and place on a plate. Put sauce and mayonnaise on top and sprinkle bonito flakes and aonori over.
An Osaka favorite, Kushikatsu is a Japanese-style of deep-fried shish kebab. In Japanese, ‘kushi’ refers to the bamboo skewers whilst ‘katsu’ is a corruption of the word ‘cutlet’. Kushikatsu can be made with chicken, pork, seafood, and seasonal vegetables. The ingredients are skewered on bamboo kushi; dipped in egg, flour, and panko; and deep-fried in vegetable oil. They may be served straight or with tonkatsu sauce. The Shinsekai neighborhood of Osaka is famous for its kushikatsu.
- 1 lb pork fillet, cuto into about 1/2 inch thick, bite-size pieces
- 2 medium onion, cut into about 1/2-inch thick wedges
- 1 large egg, beaten
- all purpose flour and panko breadcrumbs for dusting
- vegetable oil for frying
- bamboo skewers
- tonkatsu sauce or mixture of Worcestershire sauce and ketchup for dipping
- karashi mustard (optional)
Preparation – Thread pork on bamboo skewers, alternating with onion. (place 1 or 2 pork slices on each skewer.) Sprinkle salt and pepper over the ingredients. Dust with flour, dip in egg, and cover with breadcrumbs. Place skewers in a flat pan and cover with plastic wrap. Keep in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. Heat oil for deep-frying in a large pan to about 340 degrees F. Fry the skewers until the pork is cooked through. Serve tonkatsu sauce and karashi mustard on the side. If tonkatsu sauce isn’t available, mix about the same amount of Worcestershire sauce and ketchup for dipping sauce.
Eating out in Osaka – There are all types of restaurants, ranging from high end establishments to local neighborhood shops. Family style restaurants offer menus with various dishes for adults and children alike. If you are pressed for time and just want to grab a quick bite, head over to the many noodle and beef bowl shops. Japanese people love their coffee so we suggest you try a cup of coffee at a traditional Japanese kissaten. The widest selection of restaurants is in Osaka’s main entertainment districts, with the highest concentration of all in the Umeda (Kita) and Dotombori (Minami) areas. For the food explorer, take a walk in the vicinity of any train station and you will come upon a plethora of restaurants with varied menus and prices that range from reasonable to…well almost unimaginable.
Truly the food capital of Japan, Osaka has everything to offer from traditional cuisines passed down from generation to generation, to modern foods like burgers and nuggets. So we say, wear loose pants and bring with you a healthy appetite!