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Osaka Food Guide: What to Eat in Japan’s Kitchen
If you come to Osaka hungry, you’re sure to leave happy. Just make sure to pack your stretchy pants.
Known as the Kitchen of Japan, Osaka is the place for food. To eat like a local in Osaka, take to heart the Japanese saying “kuidore,” which means “to eat until you drop.” Just follow your nose to Osaka’s famous, neon-lit Dotonbori Street to chow down on specialties like takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes). Grill up some mouthwateringly good Kobe beef at a yakiniku restaurant and wash it all down with a locally brewed Asahi beer. Don’t miss out on the best things to eat in the city with this Osaka food guide.
Takoyaki in Osaka
Undoubtably, takoyaki reigns as one of the must-eats of the Osaka food scene. You’ll find stalls all over the city grilling up these tasty octopus-filled dumplings, but head to Dotonbori Street for some of the best. Crispy on the outside and gooey in the middle, takoyaki consists of egg-and-flour batter, octopus, ginger, and spring onions–all topped with takoyaki sauce (similar to teriyaki), mayonnaise, nori, and bonito flakes. While standing in line, watch the chefs expertly cook, fill, and rotate the balls to a beautiful golden brown.
Local Expert Tips for Eating Takoyaki:
- Wait a few minutes for it to cool. Your hot-off-the grill octopus balls are just that—hot! They might smell tempting, but if you can wait a few minutes, you might avoid burning your mouth with the molten deliciousness inside.
- Eat the ball whole. If you try to be dainty, you risk all the gooey insides spewing out and making a big mess. They are bite sized for a reason, after all.
Okonomiyaki – Osaka’s Soul Food
Often described as a “Japanese pancake,” okonomiyaki is a far cry from the fluffy griddle cakes you’re probably used to. Although it starts with a batter, cooks on an iron griddle, and appears round and flat, the similarities end there. Okonomiyaki roughly translates to “what you like cooked” and aside from cabbage, nagaimo (a type of yam), and eggs added to the batter, the other ingredients are up to you. Popular variations include pork, shrimp, vegetables, cheese, or mochi. Whatever you like, it’s all topped with a tangy-sweet brown sauce, creamy mayonnaise, salty nori, and curling bonito flakes. A staple of Osaka food culture, Okonomiyaki definitely ranks as a must-try food in Osaka.
Local Expert Tips for Eating Okonomiyaki:
- At an okonomiyaki restaurant in Osaka, either a chef prepares your okonomiyaki in the kitchen or on a griddle right in front of you, or it’s a cook-it-yourself adventure. At the latter, you get ingredients, illustrated instructions that may or may not have English translations, and a teppan (hotplate) built into your table to commence your culinary escapade.
- If you’re traveling around Japan, be sure to try okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, as it differs from Osaka-style okonomiyaki. In Hiroshima, chefs make okonomiyaki in layers rather than mixing all the ingredients together and it usually includes yakisoba noodles. Yum!
Find Fugu in Osaka
You can dine on plenty of fresh fish as sushi or sashimi around Osaka, but if you’re feeling adventurous, try fugu. Eating pufferfish can be lethally poisonous if prepared incorrectly. But worry not—Japanese chefs must train for 3 years to become certified to serve fugu, making it safe to eat at restaurants. Delicately flavored, you can eat pufferfish raw as thinly sliced sashimi, cooked in soup, or karaage (deep fried). While exploring Shinsekai and Dotonbori, look for the large pufferfish lantern hanging over the restaurant Zuboraya to dine on this delicacy.
Where to Eat Kobe Beef in Osaka
To try world-famous Kobe beef in Osaka, head to a yakiniku restaurant. The savory scent of grilling meat welcomes you to sit at a table outfitted with a small charcoal barbecue. Order your choice of wagyu beef cuts and then grill the thinly-sliced, well-marbled Kobe beef to your liking. Make your mother happy by rounding out your meal with some grilled veggies, such as onions or Japanese pumpkin. You’ll find a high concentration of yakiniku restaurants in Osaka’s Korea Town—Tsuruhashi.
Seeking to satisfy an eclectic palate? Try the Osaka specialty of horumon. Grilled like yakiniku, horumon consists of animal offal like liver, esophagus, or intestines. This delicacy remains popular in Osaka for its nutritional benefits, strong flavor, and budget-friendly price.
Kushikatsu – Osaka’s Bar Food
The salty, fried Osaka food specialty kushikatsu perfectly complements the lively bar scene of the city. This unpretentious snack food consists of battered and deep-fried meat or vegetables on a stick. Popular types of kushikatsu include chicken, prawn, fish, lotus root, shiitake mushrooms, eggplant, shishito peppers, and quail egg. Your fried-and-skewered morsels come accompanied by shredded cabbage (to help with digestion) and a brown dipping sauce that tastes like a citrusy version of Worcestershire sauce. Head to Osaka’s Shinsekai neighborhood to order an assortment of kushikatsu or pick your favorite skewers from an a la carte menu.
Local Expert Tip for Eating Kushikatsu:
- Don’t dip twice! The bowl of kushikatsu dipping sauce on your table is communal, so it’s considered rude to dip the same piece more than once. If you need more sauce, try scooping it up with some of the provided cabbage leaves and drizzle it on your deep-fried delight.
Sweet Street Food in Osaka
There’s always room for dessert, right? While snacking your way through Osaka’s Dotonburi Street or the Kuromon Ichiba Market, you’re sure to be tempted by some sugary treats. Try taiko-manju, a sweet pancake-like bun filled with red bean paste. Although similar in flavor, taiyaki comes stamped in the shape of a fish and often filled with red bean, vanilla custard, or chocolate. If you burned your mouth eating takoyaki, cool it down at the World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melon Pan Ice Cream. This green and white food truck in Dotonburi sells fresh-baked melon bread sliced and stuffed with a scoop of vanilla or matcha ice cream.
Local Expert Tips for Eating Street Food in Japan:
- Although you’ll find delicious street food market stalls all over Japan, it’s considered rude to either eat and walk or drink and walk at the same time. If you buy some delicious grilled meat on a stick, find a place to stand or sit out of the way and eat it fresh.
- Don’t litter! This might seem self-evident due to the cleanliness of Japanese streets, but public trashcans can be oddly scarce. Hold on to your garbage until you find a proper place to dispose of it.
Osaka Food Tours
If you’re intimidated by the language barrier or want to find your new favorite hole-in-the-wall ramen joint, book a food tour in Osaka. Learn about Osaka food culture as you sample your way around the city by bicycle or get away from the touristy spots on a nighttime Osaka foodie tour. After you’ve eaten your way around Osaka, take the short train trip to explore Kyoto’s food in the old izakayas of Gion or at a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
Cooking Classes in Osaka
Learn to make delicious Osakan food at home by taking a cooking class with a local. Uncover the secrets to making tasty okonomiyaki at home, prepare takoyaki from scratch, and use a special pan to make taiyaki for dessert. Or try your hand at grilling up crispy yakitori chicken and simmering savory udon noodle soup. After eating your creations, take home the perfect souvenir—a recipe book of all your favorite food from Osaka.
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