Eating your heart out in Osaka

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Different kinds of sushi

FOOD is taken seriously in Osaka. It did not become known as Japan’s food capital for nothing. The Japanese word “kuiadore” – which roughly translates to “eat until bankrupt” (or to put it mildly, eat until you drop), perfectly captures the spirit of gustatory pleasures in Osaka.

From that unassuming stall selling street food to the ubiquitous moving crab billboard, from the humble ramen house to the Michelin-starred restaurant where you can literally eat your way to bankruptcy, there is no dearth of delicious dishes to choose from.

Takoyaki and okonomiyaki are some of Osaka’s iconic snacks. If there is an octopus sign, someone cooking takoyaki in round molded griddle pans could not be far behind. One order usually has around six to eight pieces of piping hot savory balls with a chunk of octopus tentacle inside, doused in a piquant sauce and Japanese mayonnaise and topped with dried bonito flakes and green onions and served in a boat-shaped container. Some jazz up their takoyaki with grated cheese as free additional topping.

Okonomiyaki is Japan’s answer to Italy’s pizza. It means to grill anything you want – shrimp, pork belly slices, and cabbage, among others. The ingredients are cooked in batter with tempura scraps, and topped with mildly sweet sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, dried seaweed, and dried bonito flakes.

No trip to Osaka is complete without a visit to Dotonburi. If you like to shop and eat, this is the place to be. At the heart of the Dotonbori area is Kinryu, a popular ramen house packed with Japanese workers, a sure sign that you’d get delicious and authentic ramen at a fraction of the price of more upscale restaurants. A floating dragon welcomes customers, followed by Japan’s iconic vending machine where you would get a ticket for your ramen. You give the ticket to the staff in exchange for a number, and within less than five minutes they will call out your number and serve your chosen ramen. The soup is tonkatsu (pork broth) style and the noodles are served with thinly-sliced chashu pork.

Another famous restaurant across Osaka is Kani Doraku. Its original branch in Dotonbori serves both king crabs and snow crabs. The lunch set menu, starting at around 3,000 yen (P1,500), is less expensive than the meals served for dinner which can fetch for as high as 9,000 yen (P4,500). From boiled crab to crab tempura, to miso crab and crab sushi, you can have your fill at this store, as long as you make sure to reserve ahead as the restaurant is almost always full.

But if you are feeling like a crazy rich Asian, why not try one of Osaka’s top Michelin-starred restaurants for a truly first-class dining experience? Fujiya 1935, with its spacious tables and wood design, has three Michelin stars to its name. A set menu for a 13-course dinner would knock you back by at least 15,000 yen (P7,500) – for this amount, you get to enjoy wild eel in yellow paprika sauce, sea urchin and small squid capellini, and lamb loin from France with chili pepper peach, among others.

So if you decide to go to Osaka, don’t forget to bring your inner kuiadore, and unleash it in the second largest city in the land of the rising sun.