While travellers flock to Tokyo for its nightlife and Kyoto for its serene temples, serious foodies know that the best Japanese food can be found in Osaka. Kuidaore, or ‘to ruin yourself through extravagance in food’ in Japanese, is the very spirit of Osaka that makes the bayside city one of the best culinary cities in the world.
The third-largest city in Japan earned the nickname of the ‘nation’s kitchen’ in the Edo period (1603 – 1868) when it was the centre of Japan’s system of rice brokers. The name stuck, and in present-day, references to how the city is a local favourite spot to dine in.
In a country where culinary prowess is the norm, the nickname certainly attests to the level of dining that can only be discovered in the Osaka. From fine dining to hearty street food, here is the ultimate dining guide to Osaka’s most iconic dishes and where to find them.
Takoyaki was invented in Osaka, and no one leaves the city without a bite into one of these fluffy battered balls. While you can grab a plate from the famed Kukura at Dontonburi, a truly authentic plate should be savoured at the birthplace of the dish, Aiduya. In addition to the regular takoyaki stuffed with a generous portion of boiled octopus tentacle, they also managed to incorporate new flavours like beef tendon and spring onion to provide customers with a bit more variety. Each takoyaki has a satisfying crisp to its outer shell, while the insides are warm, gooey and rich.
Unlike the Tokyoites and their soba-loving palates, udon is the preferred style of noodle in Osaka. The local style to eat this thick wheat flour noodle is Kitsune udon, with roots that are also centred around this city. The dish comes with doughy udon noodles in a light dashi broth, topped with a piece of sweet stewed tofu. The simplicity of the dish elevates each ingredient and is a heartwarming bowl to savour on a cold, windy day. At Dontonburi Imai, they use premium kombu and bonito from Kyushu to create their dashi broth, complementing their chewy noodles. Established in 1946, it is located in the middle of Namba, just a three-minute walk from the famous Glico man.
Osaka’s close proximity to the ocean makes it hard for one to miss out on deliciously fresh seafood here. With one Michelin star to its name, sushi gourmands from all over the world find themselves in Jinsei for its omakase menu. Expect succulent sea urchin, fatty tuna and sweet white fish sushi here. The meal usually begins with seasonal snacks like the stewed octopus, saltwater eel liver and steamed blue crab, then slowly moves on to more impactful seasonal flavours for the rest of its sushi course. Here, Jinsei highlights the natural taste of the seafood that has been carefully created to reflect the seasons of the year. Dine along the hand-carved wood counter and watch as the chefs create mouth-watering morsels before your very eyes.
Mention a fancy dinner in Japan and one usually thinks of kaiseki, a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner that showcases the skills and techniques of the chefs that prepare it. Each dish is small and intricately served in succession, and guests are made to feel like the royal noble classes of the past. To experience this elegant affair in Osaka, head to Honkogetsu, an intimate space that serves a monthly seasonal menu of 11 to 12 courses. Here, find a dramatic single plank of 600-year hinoki wood as its serving counter, with the rest of the space decorated with hanging scrolls and ikebana displays. The food is no less memorable: each bite is reminiscent of the season’s best picks, infused with the captivating charm of a graceful Japanese evening.
Unagi, or eel in Japanese, is an extremely popular dish throughout the year, but especially so in the summer. According to the locals, it helps to boost the immune system for summer fatigue, and since it is high in omega-3, it helps to improve blood pressure and lower cholesterol as well. Shizuka is a popular spot for locals who seek out the addictive fish. Here, the eel is first steamed to render the bones soft, then grilled and coated with a special marinade, similar to the cooking methods from before the Edo-period. Each piece is tender and flavourful, with the sweetness of the eel amplified by its exquisite marinade. For a more unique experience, guests can enjoy a rare type of eel from Shizuoka as well.
A 15-minute shinkansen (high-speed train) from Shin-Osaka station will take you to the beautiful Kobe, home of the famed Kobe wagyu beef. The distance between the two cities has made the domestic import of Kobe beef to Osaka extremely convenient. Many who are unable to spare time for a trip to Kobe sink their teeth into the delicious meat in Osaka. Yakiniku, or grilled meat, is one of the best ways to enjoy the most natural taste of the wagyu. At Wagyu Matsushita, find premium hand-cut portions of aged-to-perfection beef adorned with flower-like marblings beef fat. Each juicy piece is tender, sweet, and best sampled with a sprinkling of salt or the house special sauce.