It has been said that the people of Osaka spend more on food than on anything else, and the term "kuidaore" ("eat until you drop") is used to describe the food culture here. At the same time, the locals have high expectations towards the quality of their cuisine, and restaurants have to maintain high standards or face closure.
Not surprisingly, Osaka is famous for various local dishes, some of which have attained nationwide and even international fame. Luckily for the budget traveler, most of these dishes are economical fares:
Takoyaki literally means "grilled octopus". A flour and egg based batter is cooked with a filling of octopus slices, pickled ginger and green onion, using a special takoyaki pan which molds the ingredients into small balls. Takoyaki sauce and other toppings such as mayonnaise, green laver (aonori) and dried bonito (katsuobushi) are then added to complete this popular street snack.
Okonomiyaki is a pancake-like dish popular in various styles across Japan. In Osaka, shredded cabbage and a whole range of other ingredients such as squid, prawn, octopus or meat are mixed into a flour based batter and cooked before eaten with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, green laver (aonori) and dried bonito (katsuobushi). In some restaurants, okonomiyaki is prepared by the customers on a hot plate at their table.
Kushikatsu are battered and deep fried pieces of food on skewers. Meat and vegetables are the most common ingredients for kushikatsu, but some restaurants also have more exotic varieties such as strawberries on their menus. Shinsekai is the best place to enjoy kushikatsu in a nostalgic Osaka atmosphere.
Kitsune Udon is a simple dish of udon (thick wheat noodles) served in a hot soup with a piece of deep fried tofu (aburaage). Kitsune means "fox" in Japanese, and the dish is thus named because fried tofu is believed to be a fox's favorite.
Teppanyaki means "grilling on a metal plate", referring to the style of cooking a meal on an iron griddle in the presence of a customer. At teppanyaki restaurants, diners are seated at the counter, where the chef prepares the food and then serves it immediately. Part of the enjoyment is derived from the sight of the chef skillfully maneuvering the ingredients. A large variety of ingredients may be used, but the main dish is typically a piece of high grade beef or seafood.
Where to eat
The best place to experience Osaka's food culture is the neon-laden Dotonbori district near Namba Station, which is packed with all types of eateries along its main thoroughfare and many side streets.
For a nostalgic atmosphere of past decades, the Shinsekai district with its kushikatsu shops and shogi parlors cannot be beaten. Another major dining district is Kitashinchi, a ten minute walk south of Osaka Station, while Osaka Station City itself is a safe destination for the less adventurous diners with its multiple elegant restaurant floors.