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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Japan 2010: Let's Eat!


Our arrival in Osaka, Japan prompted only one response: Let's eat!

Fluffy clouds
(taken with iPhone)

The flight had been reasonably uneventful. We had taken advantage of the buy-one-get-one-free Jetstar offer on sale early last year -- the only downside was the 6.10am departure from Sydney and the transfer from domestic to international at the Gold Coast. The early check-in time and a last-minute panic over pre-written posts for Grab Your Fork meant I didn't even bother going to bed.

Brunch: Beef with udon, cabbage salad, bread roll and chocolate
(taken with iPhone)

After the delightful obento box meal we'd enjoyed on our 2007 trip to Japan with Jetstar, we were a little saddened by the options on offer today. The udon needed some serious saucing action and the sugar snap peas and carrots were bland and soggy.

Afternoon snack: Beef pie with tomato chilli relish and Mango Weis' bar
(taken with iPhone)

Five hours later, the plane was filled with the smell of pastry. Feeling a little woozy from lack of sleep, a greasy meat pie was the last thing I wanted, but it was scoffed down in the name of sustenance anyway. A Weis' mango and cream bar never goes astray though!

By the time we had checked into our hotel, I was ready for real food. We stayed at Hotel Kinki which backs onto Doyama-cho. It's a somewhat colourful area, dotted with clubs and bars and perhaps akin to Sydney's King Cross, but we always felt safe.


On this trip, we were a travelling band of six. The larger size meant we could all split up into smaller groups and eat as we pleased. Pocahontas and I headed out for our first fix of ramen.

In Japan, ramen is everywhere. It's fast food for the masses, and is served with endless variations, often marked by regional influences.

Travelling in a foreign country often presents language barriers but the Japanese always go out of their way to be helpful. If your knowledge of Japanese is patchy, the food models out the front of restaurants are always a huge help.

We pick a ramen place on the corner, and slide open the heavy glass doors. The staff have limited English but motion us outside so we can point at the dishes we want. We sit at the wrap-around counter on bar stools, cradling glasses of iced water. Within three minutes our bowls of noodles arrive.

Char siu ramen with wontons 800yen (about AU$10.15*)
*based on our exchange rate of AU$1=78.9 yen

Pocahontas has the chair siu ramen, a surprisingly lean cut of pork fillet that is served with wontons and a garnish of bean sprouts and green vegetables.

Pork rib ramen 800yen (about AU$10.15)

My pork rib ramen is served off the bone, and the flesh is so soft and tender it falls apart with ease. Our ramen noodles are thin and quite chewy. The soup is clear and subtly sweet, a perfect antidote to the long day of travel.

Dumplings and pork buns

We explore the surrounding streets with the others and are instantly drawn to the stalls offering freshly made snacks.

Pork buns 6 for 780yen (about AU$9.90)

We bring back a container of pork buns, piping hot from the steamer - they all contain a pork mince filling although the orange buns have a kimchee addition.

Making takoyaki balls

And if there's one thing you must have in Osaka it's takoyaki balls.

Takoyaki stall

We end up waiting about twenty minutes for this street snack, a batter which is cooked in a cast iron pan with semi-spherical molds. In the middle of each ball is a small piece of octopus, and it's almost magical to watch the runny batter slowly cook, its crisped surface rotated with a skewer until a perfect ball-shaped snack appears.

Cooked takoyaki

Takoyaki packaging

Our takeaway order marks our first encounter with excessive packaging for the trip. Our takoyaki balls are carefully placed into a segmented printed paper box which is then put into a specially printed paper carry bag.

Takoyaki balls 550yen for 10 (about AU$7.00)

You're either a soggy or a crunchy takoyaki ball fan. I'm more of a crunchy person, but the others like the gooey goodness of these. The scorching hot snacks are a mouthful of barely cooked batter, an ooze of mayonnaise, a light brush of sweet okonomiyaki sauce (like a thick sweet Worcestershire sauce) with a salty hit from ground seaweed and thin flakes of dried bonito (dried, fermented and smoked tuna).


For breakfast the next morning, we head to the 24-hour trading Meshiya.

Plastic food model menu display

Kitsune udon 380yen (about AU$4.85)

Speedy's kitsune udon is a deep bowl of noodles that comes with seaweed, fish cake and a huge pocket of aburaage, the tofu pocket that is said to be well liked by foxes, hence the name kitsune (fox).

Breakfast set with sausages and egg 380yen (about AU$4.85)

Pocahontas has the breakfast set with sausages and a fried egg.

Salmon and natto breakfast set 450yen (about AU$5.70)

Veruca Salt and I have the salmon and natto breakfast set. It's a journey of flavours and I love that everything is served separately, even if it does mean an excessive use of dishes.

Salmon seems to be always served quite well cooked in Japan, the thin slice seared on both sides and served with an accompaniment of seaweed. We pick our way through the cube of cold fresh tofu topped with shredded green onion, a bowl of miso soup, a raw egg which I mix through my rice, and the star of the show, natto.

Natto with hot English mustard

Natto has been a dish I've struggled with on previous visits to Japan. The fermented soy beans have a distinct musty smell and the alien-like strands that appear upon stirring do little to whet the appetite.

Mixing the natto with soy sauce and mustard

Sticky mucus-like goodness

On my second visit to Japan, a friendly local had given us a few tips on the best way to enjoy natto.

The trick to eating natto

DILUTION. That's the key.

Natto sushi

The packets of toasted nori seaweed are not on your breakfast tray by coincidence. By placing a small amount of natto on top of your rice, you can then use a sheet of nori to make a mini natto sushi roll. The end result is surprisingly palatable and, I'm pleased to report, it's the first time I've ever managed to eat my entire portion of natto.

And just to prove that natto is always a good excuse to play with your food, check out Veruca Salt singing her impromptu natto song whilst she stirs.

Hotel Kinki
17-8 Doyama-cho, Kita-ku, Osaka
530-0027, Japan [Google Maps]
Tel: +81 6 6312 9117

10min walk from Osaka JR station

> Read the next Japan 2010 post

< Go back to the first Japan 2010 post

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
My first encounter with natto (published in To Japan with Love)

Read about my trip to Japan in 2007Read about my trip to Japan in 2004
27 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/02/2010 02:02:00 am


  • At 3/02/2010 3:21 am, Blogger trashtastika.com said…

    I haven't tried Natto and don't wish to, but everything else looks DELISH!! There's so many foods I'm looking forward to eating again in Tokyo soon :)

  • At 3/02/2010 3:24 am, Anonymous grace said…

    hey helenn good to have you back!!
    I love how all the foods are so pretty and delicate looking.. except for natto, which just looks awesome full stop haha

  • At 3/02/2010 4:33 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Hurrah! Helen's back with yummy Japan eats! :D

    I love how full of contrasts Japan is:eg, 3 minutes for a "dinner" of ramen, 20 for a street snack :)

    And I definitely would have chosen the salmon breakfast set too!

  • At 3/02/2010 8:02 am, Blogger uberannie said…

    welcome back :) I also stayed at Hotel Kinki when I was in Osaka, back in 2003 - what are the odds!!

  • At 3/02/2010 8:34 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Going to Tokyo in 3 weeks! did you go there? can't wait to see what you ate! any recommendations?

  • At 3/02/2010 8:58 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Love Takoyaki balls but dislike natto :( Love the vibrant-ness of Japan street scene! Great post.

  • At 3/02/2010 10:36 am, Anonymous Tina said…

    lol at the segmented takoyaki box. But yummo!

  • At 3/02/2010 11:22 am, Blogger Eyes Bigger Than Belly said…

    Oh I'm so jealous of everything - except your Jetstar meal!! It all looks so exciting and delicious... am definately going to have a plan a trip over there...

  • At 3/02/2010 1:44 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    :( I want to go again HAHHA mmmm need more ramen but I was disappointed I didnt find any squid ink takoyaki so I didnt end up getting any :S

    Come on Hellleenn, natto is tasttyy ^^!

  • At 3/02/2010 2:35 pm, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Ugh I tried a natto sushi roll once, and even with the dilution I was squeamish about the texture. Definitely an acquired taste! OOH mango weis bar on the airplane, that is awesome!

  • At 3/02/2010 3:28 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    squee individual sections for each takoyaki ball! so cute!

  • At 3/02/2010 6:51 pm, Anonymous chibbiestchan said…

    Fantastic Post Helen!!!
    pics are awesome as usual :)

  • At 3/02/2010 8:17 pm, Blogger A cupcake or two said…

    Takoyaki balls are ridiculously good. We had Giant ones in Ueno. OMG so good. Your post is great Helen. I love Japan. I cant wait to go back. By The way my mum asked where that great wall of keyrings is in Osaka. She is leaving for Japan in a few weeks..

  • At 3/02/2010 8:44 pm, Anonymous Veruca Salt said…

    Still not there yet with the natto. I thought the egg yolk would calm it down but somehow it became even stickier.

    The mustard really heaps.

  • At 3/03/2010 1:04 am, Anonymous mike@scallopsandpancetta said…

    Wow. I can't wait to visit Japan for the first time; everything looks great - even the Natto!

  • At 3/03/2010 1:57 pm, Anonymous pommiefoodie said…

    Hi! Welcome back and great post. We're off to tour Japan in 3 months and so I'm eagerly awaiting the rest of your posts as 'research'! More tips (like how to eat natto) much appreciated...!

  • At 3/03/2010 5:36 pm, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    a beef pie onflight! hehe i've never seen that before :-) visiting japan is one of my dream to do :-)

  • At 3/03/2010 6:18 pm, Anonymous Pocahontas said…

    Arggggh Im Ramen overloaded! Really missing those gooey ooey Takoyaki balls! As for Natto hmmmm wish i really gave it a second try. Now get your butt onto those Japan posts, having withdrawls!

  • At 3/04/2010 2:25 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi The Fashionate Traveller - Aww you have to give everything a go at least once! lol. I figure it's like oysters or sashimi - once you get the hang of it, you can't get enough!

    Hi Grace - It's great to be home! I think all food in Japanese is presented exquisitely and natto is strangely mesmerising too.

    Hi Hannah - You know I hadn't even realised the contrast in times until you pointed it out. The takoyaki is cooked fresh to order, I suppose, and we were behind a group that had just placed a huge order for eat-in.

    Hi uberannie - Wow, that is a coincedence. We stayed there in 2007 too so it's a bit of a familiar haunt for us.

    Hi Anon - We were in Tokyo, yes. You can check out my posts from my 2004 and 2007 trips to see where we ate as I don't think I'll get up to Tokyo before you leave!

    Hi Ellie - Natto is definitely an acquired taste. I'm still working on it - I won't give up! And Japan is just magical for street photography - a photo opp on every corner.

    Hi Tina - The takoyaki box was very impressive. I felt like we were eating savoury jewels!

    Hi Eyes Bigger Than Belly - The Jetstar meal was a little disappointing, particularly as they used to offer such delicious obento boxes. Hope to get to Japan soon - it's so much fun!

    Hi FFichiban - I've never found squid ink takoyaki but it sounds intriguing! And hmmm I think I can do natto sushi now but yes, still working on it!

    Hi Stephcookie - I'm getting better with my natto. I think the rice does help disguise the texture too. The mango Weis bar was good although it was already semi-melted by the time I finished my pie :(

    Hi chocolatsuze - Ha, the box was very cute. It did a little excessive in terms of packaging though!

    Hi chibbiestchan - Thanks and ha, I took thousands of photos. The culling process needs to be brutal methinks.

    Hi A Cupcake or Two - The great wall of keyrings was at Dotonbori. It was a very large souvenir shop - the keyrings were at the very back of the store. Hope your mum enjoys her trip!

    Hi Veruca Salt - Yes, mustard is good for everything. I think we are progressing well with our natto training though!

    Hi Mike - Japan is so much fun. Hope you get there sometime soon - you won't regret it!

    Hi pommiefoodie - Ahh lucky you. You will have a ball! Will be trying to post as fast as possible but I am sure you will find all th locals very helpful if you ever have any questions!

    Hi Simon Food Favourites - Hope your dream comes true soon :)

    Hi Pocahontas - We never did try natto again which was a shame and lol, ok ok, here's another Japan post!

  • At 3/04/2010 9:36 pm, Anonymous Mark @ Cafe Campana said…

    Yay for Japan! It seems like such fun.

  • At 3/06/2010 12:00 pm, Anonymous Simon @ the heart of food said…

    So that's what Veruca Salt sounds like.. Love the natto song, btw!

    Had some good takoyaki while I was in Osaka, though served far less "elegantly", with only a single paper bowl as the carrying/eating vessel.

  • At 3/08/2010 12:05 am, Blogger yan_ange said…

    I am one massive massive fan of Natto and the Japanese styled breakfast with miso and tofu. I love having the raw egg in the rice, there's a nice strange feeling having warm rice mixed in with the freshness of the eggs.

    I simply love fresh Japanese food, oh the Osaka ramen...yum! Very very jealous of your trip to Japan!

  • At 3/09/2010 2:45 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Mark - Japan's a great place to visit. It's my third trip and I'm still not sick of the place.

    Hi Simon - Glad you enjoyed the natto song. I actually have another spot in Osaka which is more my favourite, but details on that to come soon!

    Hi yan ange - Raw eggs in rice has taken some getting used to, but I am starting to see the appeal. Japan has such a wealth of great eats though - it was so sad to have to come home!

  • At 3/09/2010 4:26 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    How anyone can eat Nanto is beyond me,
    i was given it by my friends mother and i tried to be a good boy and eat it all, i just couldnt!! the texture is took much for me

  • At 3/17/2010 1:52 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - Natto is definitely an acquired taste methinks. I am still trying and I think I'm slowly getting there!

  • At 10/10/2010 3:47 pm, Anonymous Bev said…

    Hullo Augustus Gloop!

    Natto should be stirred around 15 times before eating-the threads become thicker, the flavour becomes milder and it's easier to handle with the chopsticks. Try it next time :D Cracking a raw egg into it and stirring helps too.

    Also, bonito is not fermented dried tuna, it's a type of mackerel which is dried to make flakes or katsuobushi.

    Your Japanese is improving! What a lovely blog and thanks for the entertainment :).

    Happy eating!

  • At 10/13/2010 8:40 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Bev - Thanks for the info. Natto is definitely an acquired taste - maybe one day I will start to crave it!


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