Japan is famously a foodie’s paradise. Meals like sushi, ramen, and katsu curry are celebrated the world over. But Osaka is where food is truly innovated upon, and many of Japan’s most delightful culinary surprises can be found. With Tsuruhashi, one of Japan's most celebrated Koreatowns, and districts famous for their restaurants like Shinsekai and Dotonburi there’s plenty to explore. From bite-sized pockets of joy like takoyaki to the wholesome and savvy innovation that is omurice, there is so much food to love in Osaka
If there’s one food that’s entirely associated with Osaka, it’s the fried and diced octopus balls known as takoyaki. The crispy, seasoned batter on the outside complements the gooey soft inside and is covered with a combination of sticky sweet sauce, bonito flakes, mayonnaise, and powdered seaweed before serving. The balls are fried in a special takoyaki pan, a griddle with spherical molds, and seeing the chef masterfully shape these perfect balls is all part of the fun. Typically eaten as street food, you’ll be able to try these in any of the Osaka arcades or food markets. You can also visit the popular Kougaryu in Shinsaibashi. A serving will usually consist of eight to 12 takoyaki and will undoubtedly fill you up for the day.
Another of the delicious konamon (flour foods) popular in the Kansai region, okonomiyaki could be described quickly as a layered savory pancake but the endless options for this cheap and delicious staple make it a dish you’ll want to try over and over again. The Osaka/Kansai style of okonomiyaki mixes the ingredients, typically cabbage and pork, into the batter, then is grilled on both sides before toppings and sticky sauce is added. In some places, you can cook the okonomiyaki yourself or watch the chef make it right in front of you. As this is generally a very customizable dish, vegetarian options are almost always available. Like takoyaki, you’ll easily find this inexpensive dish as street food but if you’d rather sit down to eat, try Mizuno in Dotonburi.
Also known as kushiage, these fried vegetable and meat skewers are said to have originated in the Shinsekai district of Osaka, a district that should be top of any food lovers trip to Osaka. Kushi means skewers and katsu means a cutlet of meat so a lot of the skewers you’ll find will be meat dipped in panko, egg, and flour before being deep-fried. Many restaurants will also offer options such as shiitake mushrooms, quail eggs, lotus root, onion, and eggplant so vegetarians can also indulge in this Osaka delicacy. Dip your skewers in your provided tonkatsu sauce before eating but, as this sauce can be shared with several others, never double dip your skewer. One of the most famous kushikatsu spots is Daruma in Shinsekai.
Pressed Sushi (Oshizushi)
While sushi is something you can indulge in all over Japan, Osaka is home to one of the biggest fish markets in Japan and has a big fishing culture in general. You can also try the Osaka specialty oshizushi (also known as box sushi): sushi that has been pressed in a mold known as oshibako. One example of Osaka’s oshizushi includes battera which is pressed sushi with mackerel and kombu and is named after the Portuguese word for a small boat. Due to the skill it takes to make this flavourful pressed sushi, there aren’t as many places to try it but a great option is Yoshino Sushi. They also serve great lunch sets.
Barbecued meat is a real treat in Japan with unparalleled cuts of steak that will melt in your mouth. Yakiniku is thought to be Korean in origin (very similar to the famous Korean barbecue) and the Japanese trend is thought to have originated with a Korean person living in Osaka. You’ll be able to cook your meat over a traditional charcoal grill or a flat teppan cook surface. Both options are equally fun and this is a meal that’s best enjoyed as a group. Typically you’ll pick the cut and grade of beef you want and some vegetable sides to barbecue as well. One yakiniku place to try is Kitahama Nikuya which serves some of the finest cuts of beef in Japan, they also have English menus.
Another Osaka delicacy, negiyaki is a beloved relative of okonomiyaki but the key difference is that the cabbage is replaced with a ton of green onions resulting in a thinner pancake with a completely different flavor profile. Of course, this is still covered in the sticky sweet sauce and toppings familiar to okonomiyaki lovers. Yamamoto specializes in negiyaki and is said to be the originator of this alternative savory pancake.
This hearty dish translates to fox udon based on the myth that foxes love to eat fried tofu (the same myth that also gives us the name inarizushi). Thick udon noodles are served in dashi broth and topped with aburaage or fried slices of tofu that have been braised in sweet soy sauce. The deep-fried tofu is also said to resemble a fox when it shrivels up. Usami-Tei Matsubaya is said to be the restaurant where kitsune udon originated and also offers some delicious sides like tempura.
Though traditionally associated with China, these steamed buns are very much a favorite throughout Japan and the pork bun is a firm staple in Osaka. In fact, over 170,000 buns are sold a day from the popular Kansai chain 551 Horai. Often served with karashi (Japanese mustard), you can pick up hot buns to eat immediately or chilled ones which can keep for days. Outside of the Kansai region, they’re known as nikuman but since niku refers specifically to beef, the name doesn't work in Osaka. Hence the name butaman (meaning "pork bun").
While yakiniku focuses on fine cuts of meat which are cooked over an open flame, horumon takes the same principle but applies it to offal. Other horumon based dishes include two hotpot dishes namd chiritori nabe and motsu nabe. Innards that are generally used include intestine, tongue, kidneys, stomach, and spleen. These are combined with a number of vegetable sides to barbecue. Considered full of collagen, this is a non-wasteful approach to meat-eating that’s cheap and extremely popular in Osaka. To try a high-end restaurant that specializes in horumon (and yakiniku) with English menus head to Mannoya.
One of Japan’s most heartwarming dishes got its start in Osaka. It is thought to have originated in 1925, at the popular restaurant Hokkyokusei, when a customer would frequently order omelet and white rice. The chef decided to combine the two by wrapping the rice snugly within the fluffy omelet before topping with a savory tomato sauce. Thus Japan’s famous omurice was born. Several variations have developed since with curry sauce being added on top and various extras like fried chicken or mushrooms.