I slowly walk through immigration after a short plane ride and the city is similar to the one I left. This one, like Busan, is an important hub of activity. Port cities have many things to offer, but with Osaka food is king. I sample some takoyaki and walk around the quiet neighborhood not far from Osaka Castle. It is time to walk directly into Japan’s kitchen.
This Osaka travel guide is part of our series on Food Travel, Japan Travel, and East Asia Travel. It was originally created on February 4, 2015. It has been maintained and updated (as of December 28, 2018) to reflect current viewpoints and travel trends.
You can’t visit Osaka without walking through Dotonbori, the city’s entertainment and cheap food hub. Namba Station approached and as we walked out the exit, my eyes scanned around the area for one thing – that big crab. The crustacean and the restaurant that accompanied it (Kani Doraku) was always a personal landmark for me in Namba. After pacing through some of those iconic Japanese alleyways, there we were.
Hello Osaka. Good to see you again. Where to first?
Tourists and locals alike were on the hunt for the perfect meal because where else would you look? Stalls and restaurants presented a variety that bordered on food porn, with options flashing through my head. The whole spectacle was overwhelming.
Two beers. Two gyoza please.
I order in a form of Japanese plagued by rust. Our draft beers come out as we plot the next point. It’s all about keeping the night in motion, taking it all in. Ramen would be too filling and end the night prematurely. Maybe later. Take it easy tonight. After finishing two very delicious hand-rolled dumplings, my eyes scan around until I can see the dish that nobody (unless you’re from Hiroshima) can do better than in Osaka – okonomiyaki.
Calling it a Japanese pancake doesn’t do this culinary masterpiece any justice, but analogies are necessary when describing something so uniquely delicious. After searching for a few minutes and making a loop or two, we find a second floor restaurant and are seated by a charismatic chef.
The food comes out to join the beer and hot sake, and only after a short wait. It’s beautiful and truthfully, doesn’t take long to consume. Small, cute meals made up the majority of our trip, and this night was just the beginning. There it was – a circular batter filled with cabbage, pork belly, and that delicious sauce grouped with a whole swathe of other flavors that entered my body during that blissful meal.
The rest of the night is a blur, thanks to the copious amounts of sensory overload (and the saké). The bright lights and noise in Osaka’s center stage play second fiddle to some of the best food I can remember eating. This isn’t the first time Namba District will leave me comfortably full and, as my brain struggles to process it all, the night quickly flashes and turns into the next morning.
I wake up and prepare for the next merry-go-round in this food carnival, but know that first night was where we’ll peak. After leaving Osaka, we have more great food experiences in other parts of the country but it’s always that first night that keeps coming back. That first night in the Osaka restaurant mecca was a spectacular way to begin, as our palettes and taste buds truly met the best in Japan’s kitchen.
26 thoughts on “Osaka, Looking Inside Japan’s Kitchen”
Osaka is probably one of my favourite place to visit. I almost go there every year! Loving the food there especially Ichiran Ramen:)
Thank you so much Audrey. Have you written about Osaka? Feel free to share your link in a reply!
I didn’t really love Osaka on previous trips the way I did the rest of Japan but I’m determined to give it another go next year and it’s true they do make the perfect okonomiyaki
Osaka is great to me, but I can understand not everyone enjoying it. Thanks for the comment. How long do you plan to stay upon returning?
I loveeee Okonomiyaki. I ate it at least 4 times while I was there. I love the different fillings. I loved Osaka, even though I only spent one night there. We drank and ate so much. I’m not sure why people are always saying that it’s an ugly city. It might not be old and full of temples, but it’s a great place to hang out and have an amazing meal. I enjoyed it.
I love Osaka as well. I didn’t get any dirty vibe while there so I’ll agree with you on that. Japanese cities as a whole seem really clean to me, and that’s in comparison to everywhere I’ve been. Thanks for commenting! I hope you enjoyed:)
Damnnnn I need to go to Japan. I used to think that Asian food was Asian food. Dumplings are dumplings no matter where you go. So, so, so wrong! Those Japanese pancakes look incredible and the experience of wandering the streets trying to make the best restaurant choice, clearly adds to the fun, experience and deliciousness!
Thanks Katie! I think everyone needs to go to Japan and that pretty much any time of year is okay. I’ve lived there and come back as a visitor and still want more. It’s just that awesome!
Thanks for commenting! Do you have a plan to go there?
I’m dying to go to Japan! I never really considered going to Osaka, but the more research I do, the more intriguing it becomes. This culinary delight looks absolutely delicious, and now i’m hungry for Japan.
I hope you get to visit. It’s truly worth it, no matter the place. I lived there and after returning a couple of times, I can gladly say that I’ll be back. It WILL happen.
Gah, I looooved the food in Osaka. I didn’t have okonomiyaki there, I had it in Nara, but I did have ramen and takoyaki! My favorite place, though, was a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant that only served chicken in all its various forms. They didn’t have an English menu, so I pointed at two random things and got lucky. A baked chicken dish with a raw egg cracked over it and a raw chicken breast with wasabi and soy sauce. So strange… so delicious! Thanks for taking me back!
I appreciate how you were managing your food intake for the night. That’s the mark of a true foodie right there. Mission-based fooding 😉
Ah man. I found a similar chicken place in Kyoto and loved the randomness that was served to me. Good on you for just pointing your way through it.
I do have a bit of a mission when it comes to some places and dishes. Some, I feel, are meant, as main meals while others can be part of a long session. Either way, I come out happy:)
Thanks for commenting Nathan!
We are headed to Osaka and Kyoto at the end of the month. Even though we have been to Japan several times I’ve never eaten a lot of Japanese food because my fiance is vegetarian and it can be difficult. We when go back it’ll probably be our last time (at least for a while) so I really want to have teppanyaki!
Hm, I bet you’ll be having some fun then. Not sure how one can manage a trip to Japan as a vegetarian. Never really thought about it, actually. Lol. Anyway, may your travels be happy ones and full of veg along the way. Thanks for commenting!
I love Osaka and their delicious food! I ate Okonomiyaki and takoyaki while in Osaka but always found myself returning to a lovely and cheap sushi place a few restaurants before that big crab! Your blog post just brought back all my lovely Osaka memories!
Osaka really does have it all. I sometimes regret living in Tokyo for so long instead. Would’ve loved living in Kansai for a spell. Thanks for the comment. I’m getting hungry from some sushi as we speak now, lol!
Thank you for taking us along for your first night of wanderings; I want a taste of Japan now! I like how you walked around and left yourself open to discovering the area rather than sticking to the plan. I’m learning to do that. You have some great night shots too!
I hope you get to visit Japan at some point. I’m sure there’s something there that will bring you closer at some point. Thanks for the compliment. I don’t like to stick to a plan, unless I have something else ahead in mind. I guess that’s a plan after all, huh? Lol.
I really enjoyed Okonomiyaki in Osaka. I went to one of those restaurants where you get to make it yourself. I was NOT however a fan of the octopus balls. Funny, because I would prefer to eat live octopus over the balls.
Okonomiyaki is something you can’t go wrong with, huh? Sorry that you didn’t like the takoyaki. Maybe they’re not for everyone, I guess. Shrug. Anyway, thanks for commenting!
Such great night shots and I can only imagine how great everything tasted. Someday, I will eat my way through Asia 😉
Thanks for the compliment, Jeri. Means a lot, especially coming from you!
You took me back to Osaka with this. Sensory overload is definitely the right term for Namba. So much food, so many lights, so much going on.
I really want some Okonomiyaki now!
Thanks Matt! I really hope you can get back there and get some of that good food! Cheers!
i have to be honest… okonomiyaki never really worked for me…. there is a lot of great food in Japan but it was always heavy and relied mostly on the sauces… which didnt appeal! Give me a good bowl of ramen on the other hand….
Never spent serious time in Osaka.thanks for writing it up – no where to go for a meal now when I’m there!
Ah I see. Interesting. I guess it’s not for everyone then, huh? Anyway, go to Namba and you’ll still find some great Ramen, gyoza, and a whole host of other things. Thanks for commenting! I really appreciate your thoughts!