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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Okonomiyaki, Kuromon Ichiba Market and all-you-can-eat Gyukaku Yakiniku barbecue, Osaka

Cooking takoyaki octopus balls at Shinsaibashi, Osaka, Japan

You can't visit Osaka without eating takoyaki. You'll find this classic Osaka street food everywhere, its production a show in itself as the takoyaki warriors spin, flick and stab each puddle of batter until they emerge as perfectly round orbs in a deep golden brown.

Inside the crisp shell is a jumble of chopped octopus, pickled red ginger and finely sliced shallots. Most of the time you'll end up burning your tongue as you bite into each ball, but that's half the fun.

Takoyaki octopus balls at Shinsaibashi, Osaka, Japan
Takoyaki octopus balls from Takoyaki Wanaka

We almost burn our fingers just holding this sailing boat of piping hot takoyaki, or octopus balls, from famous takoyaki outlet Takoyaki Wanaka. Lashings of Kewpie mayonnaise, a huge mound of katsuoboshi dried bonito flakes and a good dousing of fruity takoyaki sauce add creaminess, texture and a gentle fishiness. It's the kind of fast food you can shovel down on your own or hover around in a circle with friends, each armed with a toothpick.

Mapping our travels from Nara to Osaka, Japan
Travelling from Nara to Osaka

We made our way from Osaka from Kyoto, after a detour to see the wild deer in Nara. It's only 43km between Kyoto and Osaka, and the shinkansen will get you there in precisely 14 minutes.

Giant puffer fish above the crowds on Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan
Giant puffer fish above the crowds along Dotonbori

Osaka has historically been known as the "nation's kitchen", primarily due to its central significance as a merchant city, especially for rice. Perhaps that's also why Osakans are known across the country for their appetite for food. Osakans love to eat and drink.

Giant nigiri sushi on Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan
Giant nigiri sushi

Every tourist gravitates toward Dotonbori, a pedestrian mall that runs for several blocks filled with no end of restaurants. It's here you'll find the giant moving crabs above seafood restaurants, huge puffer fish lanterns and monster-sized nigiri sushi, like a food version of Godzilla.

Glico running man sign on Ebisu-bashi bridge on Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan
The famous 33m tall Glico running man sign on Ebusu-bashi bridge

And everyone needs a photo of the Glico running man, originally installed in 1935, and an iconic image of Osaka by night.

Everyday crowds at Shinsaibashi, Osaka, Japan
Everyday crowds at Shinsaibashi

The city streets can feel claustrophobic in Osaka, the second biggest city in Japan with a metropolitan population close to 19 million. The crowds we encountered at Shinsaibashi, the main shopping area of Osaka, made us feel like we were in the middle of a New Years Eve crush. It was just an ordinary weekend in an ocean of people.

DON Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki at DON, Osaka, Japan

We end up at DON Okonomiyaki randomly. We're hungry, we want okonomiyaki and DON is the first place we find. Our okonomiyaki is cooked to order in the downstairs kitchen and then served on our table grill, turned on to medium so our cabbage pancakes remain hot as we eat.

The DON special okonomiyaki in Osaka, Japan
The DON special okonomiyaki with pork and seafood 1380 yen / AU$15.20

The DON special is so over the top we have to have it, a shuddering behemoth of octopus, bacon, plump prawns and a genuine crab claw.

Beef and cheese okonomiyaki at DON in Osaka, Japan
Beef and cheese okonomiyaki 1000 yen / AU$11.00

I share in the beef and cheese okonomiyaki too, the cheese melting into rivers of molten goo.

Spicy pork okonomiyaki at DON in Osaka, Japan
Spicy pork okonomiyaki 1080 yen / AU$11.80

Others dig into the spicy pork okonomiyaki, liberally slathered with a fiery chilli sauce that triggers noticeable sweating.

Mini okonomiyaki shovel at DON in Osaka, Japan
Mini shovels to cut up your okonomiyaki

Everyone gets chopsticks and a shovel-shaped spatula to cut your okonomiyaki into manageable pieces.

Inside the beef and cheese okonomiyaki at DON in Osaka, Japan
Inside the beef and cheese okonomiyaki

The toppings across the top are similar to takoyaki: katsuoboshi shaved bonito, a fruity okonomiyaki sauce and several shakes of dried seaweed flakes.

Crab nigiri sushi in Osaka, Japan
Crab nigiri sushi

On another night we end up in a random sushi train joint, loading up on cheap plates of sushi. We dabble through the usual salmon, raw scallop, tuna and crab until we spot a particularly odd looking plate of sushi that looks like raw beef but not.

Basashi horse sushi in Osaka, Japan

It takes a couple of charade actions with the chef to confirm that yes, it's basashi or horse sashimi, a raw meat and fat duo obtained from the neck. I give it a go in the name of gastronomic openness. The meat is lean and strong in flavour. The fat is thick, hard and chewy that I have to eventually swallow in large chunks just to get it down. It's wildly different to anything I've ever eaten before.

Making egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery in Osaka, Japan
Making egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery

On a late night wander through Dotonbori we stumble upon Lord Stow's Bakery, a famous egg tart bakery started by Englishman, Andrew Stow, in Macau.

Egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery in Osaka, Japan
Egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery

Based on the Portuguese egg tart so popular in Macau, Andrew is said to have added his own English touch to local recipes. The bakery hit such stratospheric popularity it has now expanded to Japan and the Philippines.

Egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery in Osaka, Japan
Takeaway egg tarts from Lord Stow's Bakery 167 yen / AU$1.85

We find the pastry isn't as noisily crunchy and flaky as some of the Portuguese tarts you can get in Sydney, but the custard is super eggy, with an elegantly smooth and silky mouthfeel. They're also modestly priced too, at less than AU$2 each.

Mango Calpis soda from a Japanese vending machine in Osaka
Mango Calpis soda

And in the continuing adventures of random drinks from Japanese vending machines, I get my hands on a bottle of mango calpis soda - like fizzy mango yoghurt! -

Grape Fanta from a Japanese vending machine in Osaka
Grape Fanta

and a can of grape Fanta that tastes just like liquid bubblegum.

Umaibo corn puffs at Don Quixote on Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan
Umaibo corn puffs at Don Quixote

If I'd had the luggage space, I would have bought one of the giant bags of umaibo, hollow cylindrical corn puffs that are favourites with Japanese school kids. The corn potage flavour is so good!

Plastic sushi displays at Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street, Osaka, Japan
Plastic sushi displays at Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street

And if I'd had more money, I'd have bought one of these plastic sushi displays from Sennichimae Doguyasuji, the kitchen alley of Osaka lined with crockery shops, kitchenware stores and everything in-between.

Kuromon Ichiba Market

Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan

It can be hard to kill time between meals so we often ended up at markets, ironically looking at more food while waiting to get hungry again. Kuromon Ichiba is only a stone's throw from Sennichimae Doguyasuji, and one of Osaka's oldest markets having been established in the early 1900s.

Baked sweet potatoes at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Baked sweet potatoes

About 170 stalls run its 600-metre length. It covers everything from raw seafood to fruit and vegetables to tofu.

Baby octopus at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Baby octopus

Uni sea urchin roe at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Uni sea urchin roe

Fresh tofu and sesame tofu at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Fresh tofu and sesame tofu

Horumon beef offal stew at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Horumon beef offal stew

Fugu puffer fish at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Fugu puffer fish

Rockmelons at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan

Bitter melon at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Bitter melon

Mountain yams at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Mountain yams

Fresh wasabi at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Fresh wasabi

Marbled rosu beef loin at Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Japan
Marbled beef loin for sukiyaki or shabu shabu

Gyukaku Yakiniku

Cooking ox tongue at Gyakaku Yakiniku in Osaka, Japan
Ox tongue

We walked a lot during our Japan holiday. Maybe that's why we often ended up so ravenous all we could think of was meat. And that's where all-you-can-eat yakiniku came in. Oh yeah.

Beef short ribs and beef loin at Gyakaku Yakiniku in Osaka, Japan
[front] Karubi beef short ribs and rosu beef loin

Gyukaku Yakiniku is one of the biggest yakiniku or Japanese barbecue chains in the country. There are about 800 outlets across Japan. They're also open in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taipei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

We go for the premium buffet menu which gives us unlimited orders of over 100 dishes for 3580 yen or AU$39.40 in a 2.5 hour period. And oh boy do we eat.

Cooking beef loin and prawns over charcoal at Gyakaku Yakiniku in Osaka, Japan
Rosu beef loin and prawns on the charcoal barbecue

We indulge in a massive protein fest, searing seafood and meat over glowing coals of charcoal.

Cooking chicken with mixed cheese fondue at Gyakaku Yakiniku in Osaka, Japan
Chicken with mixed cheese fondue

The marinated chicken with cheese fondue - a foil cup of grated cheese that you melt over the grill - is dangerously tasty.

Scallops with butter at Gyakaku Yakiniku in Osaka, Japan
Scallops with butter

And whoah, did we go to town on the scallop orders. If the restaurant made minimal profits that day, it was probably due to our voracious appetites.

Hokkaido Cremia premium soft cream soft serve in front of Osaka Castle, Japan
Hokkaido Cremia premium soft cream in front of Osaka Castle 500 yen / AU$5.50

And sure we did non-food touristing. We made it to Osaka Castle... where we ate ice cream. The Hokkaido Cremia is noted not just for its trademark vertical piping, but also its presentation in a langue de chat cats tongue wafer.

Hokkaido milk gives an unparalleled richness. We think it's a little reminiscent of cream cheese with its lingering tang. It's super creamy, and just what we need as we stretch our legs before we head off to our next meal...

Dotonbori in Osaka, Japan

Grab Your Fork on Radio National

And in case you missed it, I was on Radio National on Monday talking with host David Mackenzie about the demise of Sizzler and what this says about Australia's changing dining habits.

The podcast for this show is currently available online here. You'll have to fast forward to the 50:40 mark to get to my segment. Meantime I'll be making myself some Sizzler cheese toast.

>> Read the next Japan 2015 post: Kobe wagyu beef at Wakkoqu, Kobe
<< Read the first Japan 2015 post: Toyama black ramen and firefly squid

Japan 2015: Toyama > Kanazawa > Nagano > Kyoto > Nara > Osaka > Kobe > Kagoshima > Hakata > Hiroshima and Miyajima Island > Sapporo > Otaru > Hakodate Tokyo

DON Okonomiyaki
3 Chome-2-33 Nanba, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0076
Tel: +81 (06) 6643 6578

Gyukaku Yakiniku
1-6-10 Dotombori Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0071
Tel: +81 (06) 6484 0129
Open daily 5pm-5am (last order 4am)
Weekends and public holidays also open 11.30am-3.30pm

Kuromon Ichiba Market
2-4-1 Nippombashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0073
Open daily 9am-evening (varies for each shop)

Lord Stow's Bakery
1-10-6 Dotonobori, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0071
Tel: +81 (06) 6214 3699
Open daily 10am-12 midnight

Sennichimae Dogusuji-Ya Shopping Street
542-00075 around Nambasennichimae, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan
Open daily 9am-8pm (varies for each shop)

Takoyaki-Douraku Wanaka
3-7-24 Namba, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0076
Open daily 10am-10pm
14 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/02/2015 12:58:00 am


  • At 7/02/2015 8:30 am, Anonymous Racy_staci said…

    It always amazes how the takoyaki ends up being so round and so freakily molten hot. Delicious

  • At 7/02/2015 9:21 am, Blogger Evelyne said…

    What an amazing post - makes my mouth water. Am planning my 1st trip to Japan in November and your information will definitely come in handy, as I'm in a state of confusion as to where to go and what to do. At least, my meals will be planned right if I follow your plan. Thank you for posting :)

  • At 7/02/2015 9:42 am, Blogger Jacq said…

    Those corn potage snacks are so good! I couldn't resist buying a huge pack to take home

  • At 7/02/2015 9:54 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Umaibo!!! Bought so many packets back before mmmmm

  • At 7/02/2015 1:02 pm, Anonymous Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said…

    I love your writing, Helen. I could see and feel my fingers burning as I took those hot takoyaki out of that boat shaped dish.

    You certainly find all the best food.

  • At 7/02/2015 6:36 pm, Anonymous Berny @ I Only Eat Desserts said…

    I'm drooling over the yakiniku - why did I know about this place when I was in Japan? Must bookmark this page for the future :D Oh and I love grape fanta - I swear it tastes better in Japan then the ones we have in Australia!

  • At 7/03/2015 7:30 am, Anonymous John | heneedsfood said…

    Takoyaki is my number one Japanese food item. I adore them. And that crowd in Shinsaibashi! I feel tense just looking at your photo of all those people.

  • At 7/03/2015 3:37 pm, Anonymous Hotly Spiced said…

    I'm not one for crowds so I might have to navigate around Osaka when I visit Japan. The horse meat doesn't sound the best! You'd definitely need to wash it down with a grape fanta xx

  • At 7/03/2015 9:16 pm, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    Errmahgerd I want that all you can eat yakiniku!!! Will smash to scallops with butter too lol awesome photos Helen!!

  • At 7/04/2015 2:12 pm, Anonymous Cara @ Gourmet Chick said…

    So jealous of this Japan trip Helen - it looks so amazing (I've been to Osaka years ago and this is making me so keen to go back).

  • At 7/04/2015 10:40 pm, Anonymous Sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    Osaka is one place in Japan I want to spend more time in. Have only had an overnighter there. Thanks for the inspiration to do so Helen.

  • At 7/05/2015 7:37 pm, Anonymous Gareth said…

    All the food looks so good, just as well my dinner is ready. The okonomiyake has to be my favourite. Such good memories of the food in Japan, thanks for refreshing them and my taste buds Helen.

  • At 7/08/2015 9:50 am, Anonymous Brian @ Brian Tam Food said…

    Takoyaki are just as dangerous as Xiao Long Bao! When we were in Osaka recently we stayed right near the Kuromon markets - I thought they were great and felt less touristy than a lot of the other markets we went to. We saw someone buying $300 worth of sukiyaki wagyu there!

  • At 7/11/2015 6:35 am, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    This looks like a place that you enter one dress size and come out one size larger! Everything looks so good! My Dad is French and he tells me horse meat is like the best and most expensive fillet steak you have ever had. Having said that I'm not sure I could bring myself to eat these noble creatures!


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