Thursday, September 20, 2012

Japan times - part 7: Osaka eats

I recently spent two-and-a-half weeks in Japan, eating and drinking my way through a destination I've wanted to visit for more than a decade. This is the seventh of several posts of foodbooze and sights in Japan.

Glico man in Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan
Osaka is significantly different to Tokyo; much more so than our local Sydney and Melbourne comparisons.

I found there was less English spoken in Osaka, while people seemed a lot less conservative than their Tokyo counterparts. Prices, in general, also seemed a little less harsh on the back pocket.

Dotonbori Canal, Osaka

Takoyaki octopus balls from Daimaru depa-chika, Osaka
Our first stop in Osaka on arrival at about 7am, post a necessary Starbucks stop, was the nearby department store, Daimaru, where it was proven that I have a slight obsession for depa-chika basement level food halls. I probably could have spent entire days in depa-chika around Japan.

Osaka is the home of 'street food' like takoyaki octopus balls and okonomiyaki Japanese savoury pancakes, so it was only appropriate that we had our first meal at the takoyaki stall at Daimaru.

It also happened to be probably the best takoyaki I'd ever had up until that point, with the pressure cooked octopus making a big difference.

Streetside takoyaki
We managed more takoyaki later that night and during many other days and nights, to the point where I think I could probably eat takoyaki every day. Good thing I know how to make my own.

Udon and soba shop
We had actually not come across any udon stores in Tokyo, so keenly awaited a seat at a busy udon and soba restaurant where handwritten Japanese menus covered the walls.

Ordering directly with the chefs in front of us, it was easy enough to copy orders from fellow diners if one couldn't read the menus. Most of the male diners ordered a bowl of what looked like fried rice alongside their udon, which I suppose wasn't huge, but certainly sufficient for breakfast.

Tempura prawn udon
It probably took about 30 seconds between order and a steaming bowl being placed in front of us. Noodles grabbed from the plastic crates were cooked in boiling water for about 15 seconds, unloaded into a bowl, filled with one of two broths, then topped with the customer's order.

The tempura udon featured a single tempura prawn that wore a cloak of batter that inevitably goes soggy in the slightly sweet, clear soup. I'm not the hugest fan of shallots but I find the thinly shredded ones absolutely necessary in Japanese noodle soups.

Kitsune soba
Luckily for me, not an udon lover, I could order almost any udon option with soba buckwheat noodles instead, which I much adore. I had no idea what the kitsune option was, but it ended up being safe with shallots and abura-age sweet, deep fried tofu pockets.

The serving was just the right size for me, clean and simple, and good slurping practice as well. The light serve also provided capacity for a naughty lunch.

Kushikatsu in Osaka: okra, lotus root and eggplant
Osaka is also the home of kushikatsu; basically fried things on a stick. It's hard to go completely wrong when deep frying is involved, although our late lunch venue was not one of the better kushikatsu venues around. I'm positive at least half of our ordered sticks, if not more, came frozen from a packet.

Kushikatsu: beef and pork
Served with a huge bowl of tonkatsu sweet brown sauce or dipping (only once!) and a bowl of fridge-cold cabbage leaves which is said to counter the oiliness, the crumbed morsels were passable for a late lunch.

Kushikatsu asparagus, octopus and prawn
We ordered a number of sticks: eggplant, okra, lotus root, asparagus, beef, octopus and prawn, with the latter probably being the best.

Dotonbori, Osaka

Mechanical crab outside a restaurant in Dotonbori, Osaka

Cooking our own takoyaki, Dotonbori, Osaka
I was glad I'd learnt how to make takoyaki previously as the cook-your-own restaurant provided no pointers whatsoever; although I suppose watching enough street stalls should give anyone a fair idea.

They poured in the batter - just enough to spill over the holes - and from there, you had to move at some pace before the batter cooked too quickly.

Fillings and condiments for cooking our own takoyaki
We were given a choice of fillings, and we eschewed the traditional octopus for prawns and scallops.

Other standard fillings included shallots, beni shoga pickled ginger and some sort of crisp bits that sadly lost their crispness as soon as they hit the batter.

Fillings in and cooking takoyaki

Turning takoyaki
Armed with a single bamboo skewer, we weren't quite as fast or skilled as the professional takoyaki masters spotted throughout Osaka, but we managed not to burn anything.

DIY takoyaki end result
The best part was that we had all the condiments at our own disposal (which was also the case at Daimaru). I can eat katsuoboshi bonito flakes from the packet as they are, so each takoyaki ball got the full treatment.

This certainly wasn't the best meal or takoyaki we'd had but it was fun nonetheless.

Glico man by night

Gobo burdock root sralad
We didn't find okonomiyaki quite as common as takoyaki throughout Osaka, but did manage one meal. The casual restaurant featured teppan flat grills at every table, with a varied menu that seemed appropriate for self cooking.

We had no idea what the gobo salad was, but knew we needed some vegetables to the grilled meal. The julienned burdock root and carrot, smothered in a creamy, seasame sauce, turned out to be a total winner.

Grilled chicken skin
The first item to hit our personal grill was chicken skin - par cooked in the kitchen and really just meant to be kept warm on the grill. I suppose customers couldn't be trusted to really cook their own food.

The mass of skin, garnished with shallots, was on the soft and chewy side which seems standard in Japan, whereas I definitely prefer crisp and crunchy chicken skin where possible.

Okonomiyaki on the grill
The okonomiyaki also came out pre cooked and in the most perfect round shape with almost magically sealed sides (how on earth do you seal pancake sides?).

We dressed our selection of a modern-yaki with the condiments provided at the table; essentially the same condiments as for takoyaki.

Modern-yaki okonomiyaki
With utensils provided, we divvied up the okonomiyaki which was spilling with soba noodles and thin pieces of pork belly.

Modern-yaki okonomiyaki - dressed with katsuoboshi
And of course, I festooned each portion with plenty of katsuoboshi. Like takoyaki, I think I could eat okonomiyaki everyday and not get bored. Indeed, it's even easier to make than takoyaki.

Back streets in Namba, Osaka
Over our days in Osaka, we had noticed a serious number of Italian restaurants dotted around the city, and not just the generic franchise looking ones we saw in Tokyo. Indeed, some of the small venues looked like proper trattorias, with wine bars, apertivo and all.

Cured ham off the bone from Pieno, Namba
In one of the back streets near our hotel in Namba, we regularly passed by a tiny Italian restaurant seating about 10 people in a particularly small and squishy venue. It could well have been a yakitori-ya at one point and made most of Sydney's small bars look cavernous.

Squeezing past diners, we put our bags up on the overhead shelf space and immediately ordered a serving of the cured ham that sat atop the counter. A cheery American accented Japanese chef sliced the ham by hand, while Campari and blood orange was the drink of choice.

Four cheese pizza
The miniature pizza was a slight letdown with its pre-made base but it was very generous in its four cheeses topping.

I'm not sure what I should have expected of pizza in Japan, but Osaka eats, especially at the cheaper end of the scale, proved to be quite some match to Tokyo.

Dotonbori, Osaka
More Japan posts to come in Osaka and Tokyo; in the meantime, see more photos on my Facebook page.


john@heneedsfood said...

DIY takoyaki, now that's something I want to try. I reckon I'd go takoyaki crazy if I was there!

Missy Piggy said...

Osaka seems like food porn central. EVEYRTHING I like to eat is in your post...I love takoyaki and the DIY takoyaki places looks like heaps of fun.

Hannah@MissMarsMade said...

That okonomiyaki looks delicious - totally understand what you mean by eating it everyday and not getting bored! My friend just went to Japan, I'll tell him to go to a cook your own place, how fun!

Richard Elliot said...

Loving the DIY cooking. It looks pretty expert to me!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

How fun to make your own takoyaki! I adore okonomiyaki and we sometimes have it for dinner here (although mine aren't are perfect looking at those).

Tina said...

Hi John - Haha, I have a takoyaki pan at home! It's easier than it looks :)

Hi Miss Piggy - It is a bit of street food heaven, isn't it? :)

Hi Hannah - Yeah, cos you can put in whatever fillings you like, and it's so easy to make! Love it!

Hi Richard - Haha, thanks!

Hi Lorraine - Not sure I have any idea of how to make such perfect okonomiyaki...

SL said...

Japan looks lovely :) Planning to visit there end of this year, defs trying all the food you posted!

Sara said...

Hi, can I know which shop did you DIY takoyaki? Thanks.


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