Local Cuisine Spotlight: The Best of Osaka
Osaka's Top 10 most mouth-watering dishes, as featured in local gourmet rankings and selected by travelers.
Takoyaki, a fried dough ball with octopus inside, takes first place as the sould food of Osaka! Osaka has a staggering 650 takoyaki restaurants (Tokyo has only 160) making it the most competitive market for takoyaki in Japan. Osaka's Minami district is the frontline in this fierce market battle, with restauranteurs pulling out all the stops to attract and keep customers. Some shops innovate on the classic favorite with a variety unique variations such as takoyaki with shaved ice (a summer version), while long-estabilshed restaurants tout sauce-less "plain" takoyaki, aiming to win on the taste of top-quality ingredients alone.
"Kushi-katsu" Deep-fried Skewers
Kushi-katsu is a skewer dish with bite-sized meats and vegetables breaded with flour, eggs and bread crumbs, which is deep-fried. Kushi-katsu restaurants are most concentrated in Osaka's Shinsekai area, where hungry visitors can dine in well established old restaurants to stylish newcomers. This area offers something for everyone, from shops who load their skewers thick with breadcrumbs and deep-fry their dishes to a crispy finish to chewy, to those who barely dust and only lightly fry ingredients for a chewy, fritter-like texture. Slather your deep-fried delicacies in savory dipping sauce and dig in - and order another round of beer for good measure!
"Okonomiyaki" Savory Pancakes
Coming in third place is okonomiyaki, a flour and cabbage pancake with various fillings. In Osaka, the kingdom of carb-rich foods, okonomiyaki is a fitting prince. The chunky batter sizzles as it is spread out on a piping hot griddle, and the aroma of the dashi broth base and sweet-and-spicy okonomiyaki sauce as it cooks will make your mouth water. Varieties include gluten-free versions made with sweet potato, as well as healthier offerings packed with more cabbage and less flour. Countless other iterations include cakes crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. Being able to try so many styles is one of the key appeals visiting the home of okonomiyaki.
"Butaman" Steamed Pork Buns
Fluffy dough buns stuffed with juicy pork meat -- in Osaka, this is what they call butaman (called nikuman elsewhere in the country). The classic butaman is filled with minced pork and onions finished off with flavorful seasonings, but in Osaka you can find a variety of unusual versions, such as buns containing a blend of dried scallops for a lighter taste. There are so many varieties you could eat yourself into a food coma trying to find your favorite!
"Negiyaki" Green Onion Pancake
In 5th place is negiyaki, a green onion-based savory pancake and popular cousin to takoyaki and okonomiyaki. At first glance this dish looks like okonomiyaki, but it contains no cabbage. Instead, it is stuffed thick with scallions, beef sinew, and konjak devil's tongue, then grilled up and dipped in soy sauce. This dish originated at an okonomiyaki restaurant in Juso, Osaka, where it soon spread in popularity and there are now many specialty shops for negiyaki. One popular establishment offers 11 varieties for hungry customers to try.
"Kitsune Udon" Noodles with Deep-fried Tofu
Kitsune udon, a hot soup of thick wheat noodles topped with slices of deep-fried tofu, is such a familiar dish throughout Japan that most people don't realize it originated in Osaka. The soft, chewy udon noodles in carefully prepared broth pair perfectly with the sweet-and-sour tofu. Enjoy the delicate taste and aroma of the lightly-seasoned broth -- you'll drink this soup to the last drop. Osaka's famous udon restaurants use a bonito-based broth, competing with each other through their specially made, customized soup stocks.
"Udon-suki" seafood and vegetables cooked sukiyaki style and served with udon
Udon-suki is a creative Osakan combination of hot pot stew and wheat noodles. It pairs a rich variety of surf and turf ingredients with familiar udon noodles. This dish originated from a well-established restaurant using a recipe dating back to the Edo period. Today, it has fans nationwide, with local interpretations all over Japan. The lightly-flavored borth enhances the unique flavor of each ingredient in the stew, and the udon noodles provide a perfect grande finale. Udon noodles are ideal for this dish as their texture stays strong even when stewed in this way.
Osaka is filled with restaurants specializing in yakiniku (literally "grilled meat".) Tsuruhashi is considered the epicenter of yakiniku cuisine -- as soon as you alight at the train station, you are greeted with the appetizing aroma of freshly-grilled barbeque. Not only is the food here tasty and affordable, but shops offer many unusual cuts of meat that will have epicureans jumping for joy. Eating your way through the various shop specials, such at such richly marbled sirloin and rare shoulder cuts, is a luxury only avaialable in Osaka!
"Tessa" Blowfish Sashimi
Osakans love blowfish sashimi, called "tessa" in Japanese, consuming 60% of the country's total supply. A glut of competing speciality tessa shops drives prices down, so visitors to Osaka can enjoy this luxury fish for a comparatively good price. The tautly textured meat is cut thinly, giving it remarkable consistency and flavor. Shops also offer many non-sashimi blowfish dishes, giving epicureans the chance to eat a whole course built around blowfish.
Ikayaki "Grilled Squid Pancake"
The go-to snack in Osaka is ikayaki, a grilled thin pancake with squid. In this popular dish, sliced squid is mixed in a flour-based batter, which is then cooked in a specialized pressing apparatus to create a flat, ovoid pancake. It's not fine dining, but it's the kind of inexpensive neighborhood cuisine that locals crave. Cooked on the spot as you order, the sweet-and-spicy sauce and chewy texture of the dough and squid meat are addictive. Don't be surprised to find yourself downing two or three ikayaki in the blink of an eye. Lining up in the department store food concourse to place your order is a fun experience in its own right. While Osakans hate to stand in line, ikayaki is the one thing they will -- and do! -- brave crowds for.
*Rankings are based on an e-mail survey sent to users who booked overnight accommodations in Osaka Prefecture on Rakuten Travel between July 15, 2014 and July 15, 2015 (excludes residents of Osaka)
*Survey dates: July 23, 2015-July 27, 2015 (total votes cast: 2,454)
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