Thinking of visiting Osaka in Japan? Read our expert guide to a few of the best places to eat sushi, drink sake and shop for Japanese knifes, right here…
Osaka, the second biggest Japanese city after Tokyo (Read our guide to the best places to eat and drink in Tokyo), is often referred to as the kitchen of Japan. Known for being more friendly, and less traditional, than Tokyo, with a thriving stand-up comedy scene, Osaka is also one of the best places in Japan to experience a wide variety of Japanese food. So much so that there is even a local maxim, kuidaore, which means to eat yourself into bankruptcy. We’re not suggesting you do that but, if you want to try some of the country’s classic dishes, here’s where to start…
The most popular street food in Osaka, takoyaki are molten balls filled with chunks of octopus. In some cases they’re tiny little nuggets but thankfully the ones at Honke Ootako are the real deal – light and crisp on the outside and filled with big pieces of octopus, all topped with a sweet Worcestershire-type sauce, mayonnaise and bonito flakes. Make sure you only buy these when they’re fresh (fried as you order), otherwise they lose their crispiness.
Honke Ootako, 1-4-16 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka (9am-11pm Mon-Sun)
Yakiton | Photograph by Edd Kimber
How can you resist a fish-shaped waffle? Taiyaki are just that – a street food snack that has the feel of a funfair treat. Traditionally they are filled with sweetened red bean paste and sometimes you find them with more modern fillings, like chocolate and custard, but at this spot you’ll find two fillings: the classic red bean or a sweetened sweet potato version.
Naruto Taiyaki, 2-7-2 Sonezaki, Kita-ku, Osaka (10am-11pm Mon-Sun; taiyaki.co.jp)
Often described as a Japanese pancake, okonomiyaki are actually more akin to bubble and squeak, a thin batter loaded up with cabbage, with your choice of pork belly, scallops or prawns added in. As with the takoyaki they are topped liberally with a sweet sauce and mayonnaise, plus a sprinkling of green nori powder. You can also add a fried egg to the top of the dish if you fancy. This place is incredibly popular with locals but the queue moves quickly and you’ll be served very promptly once seated.
Fukutaro Okonomyiaki, 2-3-17 Sennichimae, Chuo-ku, Osaka (11am-11pm Mon-Sun; 2951.jp)
Okonomyiaki | Photograph by Edd Kimber
We’ve all heard of the more common yakitori restaurant, a grill restaurant that specialises in chicken, but a yakiton is definitely more my style as it specialises in pork (think coarse pork meatballs served with a raw egg yolk, or pork belly skewers). For the more adventurous this spot specialises in the often-overlooked parts of the pig – intestines, spleen, tongue and some other parts you didn’t even know were edible. Of course all of this goes brilliantly with plenty of Japanese beer.
Tayu Tayu, 2-6-10 Sennichimae Chuo-ku, Osaka (5pm-3am Mon-Sat; tayu2.com)
Yakiton – pork meatballs served with a raw egg yolk | Photograph by Edd Kimber
The most common type of sushi around the world (and in Japan itself, too) is nigiri, mounds of rice topped with fish, but Osaka’s local style of sushi, hako-zushi is a pressed square form of sushi. It’s a little less common these days but you can still find it at its birthplace, Yoshino, or at its concession in the Hanku Omeda department store, if you’re planning a picnic.
Yoshino, 3-4-14 Awaji-machi, Osaka (11am-1.30pm Mon-Fri; yoshino-sushi.co.jp)
Sushi | Photograph by Edd Kimber
Kuromon Ichina Market
This covered market in Osaka is halfway between pure tourist attraction and local market. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit, just that it will be packed! You can buy everything from tiny octopuses whose head cavities have been stuffed with quails eggs, to clothes, to coffee beans. Of course the market is mainly stocked with fresh ingredients and it’s well worth exploring the variety of fish and vegetables on offer. One of the supermarkets that lines the sides of the market also specialises in the extra special (read very expensive) fruit and vegetables that Japan has become known for (a £50 melon, anyone?).
Kuromon Market, 2-4-1 Nippombashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka (9am-6pm Mon-Sun; kuromon.com)
Conrad Osaka Hotel
Inside this high-rise hotel is a restaurant 40 floors up that serves teppanyaki and sushi. Dinning at tables with incredible views, with a chef cooking right in front of you, is one of the most special dining experiences you can have in Osaka. This is the place to try dishes made with incredible produce like wagyu (soft as butter beef) or fatty tuna that almost dissolves as you eat it.
Conrad Osaka, 3-2-4 Nakanoshima, Kita, Osaka (conradhotels.com)
Teppanyaki view | Photograph by Edd Kimber
Enter this unassuming-looking sake store and ask to do a tasting. You will be led down a wooden ladder, into a basement filled with sake bottles, led to a seat and given your choice of sakes to taste. You pay by the serving so you can try as much or as little as you like. It’s a great way to try a whole range of styles that you might not otherwise get the chance to taste. It is also self service; you help yourself and simply pay for what you have drunk at the end. Make sure to try some of the more unusual aged sakes. They’re so different from what is commonly thought of as sake.
3-5-1 Itachibori, Nishi-ku, Ōsaka (Mon-Fri 9am-7pm Sat 9am-6pm; sake-shimada.co.jp)
Simply the best bowl of ramen I have ever had! This place is so popular they have instituted a their own queuing system; once you arrive you’re handed a token with a time to return to enjoy the ramen. Inside, the restaurant is deceptively simple, but what it lacks in style it makes up for in flavour. We tried both the regular shoyu (soy based) ramen and the dipping ramen and it is the latter, the tsukemen, that really blew us away. If I have to travel back to Osaka to eat this again I will do.
Ramen Yashici, 3-4-8 Toyosaki, Kita, Osaka (Mon-Fri 10.45am-4pm, or until sold out)
If you’re going to buy a knife for the kitchen you can’t really go wrong in Japan, especially so in Osaka since Sakai, the traditional knife-making capital of Japan, is in Osaka prefecture. The language barrier means you want to buy somewhere that you can ask questions without potential confusion and Tower Knives is the best knife buying experience you could hope for, with knowledgeable, multi-lingual staff. We spent a fun couple of hours being shown the knives, having the vast array of differences explained to us, testing out the knives we liked and eventually having our initials hammered into the knives we chose. For a souvenir that will last a lifetime you couldn’t make a better choice. Note: Tower Knives have two stores around the corner from each other; they are run by the same people but the newer store is a lot bigger so carries a wider range.
1-4-1 Ebisuhigashi, Naniwa Ward, Osaka (mon-sun 9am-6pm; towerknives.com)
Words and pictures by Edd Kimber @theboywhobakes
Want to make your own Japanese ramen at home? Check out our super easy one hour comforting ramen recipe right here…
Want to cook more Japanese food for the family? Read our expert tips on everything you need to know about cooking Japanese food at home…