Osaka sits by the Pacific Ocean on a large, fertile plain. Its strong fishing and farming heritage, and a cuisine supported by its many wealthy merchants, has seen it named the “Kitchen of Japan”– just one of the reasons we've named it as one of our destinations to visit in 2019. When sniffing out the best of Osaka food, these are ten local dishes you must try.
These dough balls with steamed octopus (tako), ginger and onion – crispy outside, soft inside – are a popular street food. You’ll find them in multiple takoyaki stands around the city – the most famous is probably Kukuru, which is easy to spot thanks to the enormous 3D octopus attached to the wall. Wherever you end up, takoyaki are served piping hot with a traditional sauce of Japanese mayonnaise and sprinkled with dried bonito (tuna flakes) and seaweed (aonori). Get used to this delicious sauce – you’ll see a lot of it.
Try it here:Wanaka is a small chain (currently with nine outlets) that specialises in the fried dish.
These savoury pancakes, made with batter, cabbage and a bewildering array of other fillings (okonomi means 'whatever you like') are served ready made for you to prepare yourself on a hotplate. They're a great choice if you're looking for vegetarian options (although the batter sometimes contains fish stock, so do check if you're unsure).
The batter is poured out, then flipped like a pancake before being dressed with okonomiyaki sauce (a mix of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, honey and soy sauce), mayonnaise, and, you guessed it, bonito and seaweed flakes. These fluffy pancakes are so popular locally that they are often called “Osaka soul food”. A delicious fast food variety made with pressed grilled squid worth trying is known as ika-yaki.
Try it here: Fukutaro at the heart of the Namba shopping district is famous for its okonomiyaki sauce.
Kushiyaki (meaning 'grilled skewers') is a bamboo skewer of pork, vegetables, seafood or other ingredients (even ice cream) cooked over charcoal. Kushi-katsu is the breaded version. This cheap snack is popular with post-work commuters and so you'll commonly found a kushiyaki stall near mainline rail stations. Don’t double dip the sauce if you're eating on the spot – the bowls are communal!
Try it here: The old Shinsekai area is full of kushiyaki restaurants, including some that are open 24 hours.
4. Soufflé Pancakes
If you haven’t realised by now, Osaka locals love flour-based dishes – known as konamono (kona means 'flour'). So it’s no surprise to find many pancake shops in the city, with imaginative toppings to suit even the most demanding Instagrammer. The soufflé-style stacks that melt in your mouth taste as good as they look.
Try it here:Hoshino Coffee makes its soufflé pancakes to order, but also serves great coffee to ease the 20-minute wait.
Popular in winter, this hotpot of thinly sliced meat (suki) or seafood plus various vegetables is cooked at the table. Much like a fondue, you add your own ingredients and eat them when ready, then the broth at the end makes a delicious soup. One local variety worth trying uses thick udon noodles and is known as udon-suki.
Try it here:Mimiu. With multiple outlets across the city, Mimiu is famous for creating udon-suki and is still the best place to try it in Osaka.
If you’ve ever thought an indoor barbecue sounds like a great idea, then you’re going to love yakiniku or 'grilled meat'. This dish normally takes the form of thinly sliced beef cooked over a table-side charcoal grill, often served with kimchi or cold Soba noodles. With its origins in Korea, this form of self-service, communal cooking is now wildly popular in Japan and Osaka’s Tsuruhashi district (Korea Town) is the heart of it.
Try it here: Hakuundai Eki-Mae just outside Tsuruhashi station specialises in beef tongue, but has plenty of other cuts of meat on offer.
7. Beni Shoga Tempura
Tempura (battered and deep-fried food) is a well-known Japanese dish despite taking its origins and name from Portuguese peixinhos da horta, battered green beans, often served during tempora, or lent. The typical Osaka's beni shoga tempura is slices of pickled red ginger served tempura-style, e.g. deep fried in batter. It’s another great choice for vegetarians or vegans visiting the city.
Try it here: Osaka's Kuromon Ichiba – Farmers Market – is a must-see for any visitor, and beni shoga tempura is easy to find here, along with lots of other tempting snacks.
The local Osaka version of shaved ice comes in all kinds of flavours, from green tea to caramelised pumpkin. It’s the taste of Japanese childhood, along with the more commercial “ice candy” lollies from the Hokkyoku Company, whose flavours range from pineapple to sweet potato.
Try it here:Cocoo Café near Utsubo Park, is famed for its creme brûlée kakigori. The café serves up Instagram-friendly dishes that taste great too.
9. Cup Noodles
In 1958, working out of a shed in Osaka, businessman and scientist Momofuku Ando invented the world’s first instant noodles. He went on to develop cup noodles in 1971 and reportedly ate them every day, living to the age of 96. They are a big thing in Japan, sold everywhere from vending machines to bullet trains, and you can’t leave Osaka without tasting the delicious local version.
Try it here: The Cup Noodles Museum has its own unique varieties for you to try, as well as many fascinating exhibits to see.
These steamed dumplings originate from China, and are usually filled with minced pork and veg. They are each made by hand and best eaten right away. Watching the process is part of the fun. Preservatives are a no-no and the most famous maker, 551 Horai (not to be confused with a rival, Horai), only sells its wares in the Osaka region to maintain freshness. The buns are normally served in even numbers for good luck, and garnished with mustard.
Try it here: The original 551 Horai shop is in Nanba, but there are many other outlets across the city, including at most train stations.