The lady on the early morning prepare from Osaka station made swift work of a big noodle-stuffed omelette, and simply as I used to be considering that was a considerable breakfast for a removed from substantial particular person, it was out with the chopsticks once more as she set a couple of beneficiant bento field, its 9 compartments stuffed with rice, fish, veg and pickled fine details.
But that’s Osakans for you: prodigious appetites for meals and, in marked distinction to Tokyoites, additionally for ingesting and common enjoyable. You have to like a metropolis that has a phrase for “scoff till you drop”. Kuidaore actually means “eat to ruin” (whether or not that’s monetary or bodily will not be specified).
To feed these appetites, the consuming alternatives in central Osaka are many, vastly diversified and, for these with solely very fundamental Japanese, mystifying. So we requested Ayako “Aya” Kiyono, an Osaka-born tour information whose pastime is eating places, to take us on an evening out.
Dotonbori is the town’s eat road, home to, amongst others, a number of seafood eating places (Osakans go loopy for crab and three seafood joints now have mechanical crabs exterior). But it was late spring and crab is at its greatest in winter, stated Aya. Anyway we fancied down and soiled road meals, not gourmand fare. What about ramen? Isn’t factor?
Bowled over … tonkotsu ramen from Kinryu, central Osaka. Photograph: Liz Boulter
Oh sure, stated Aya, and one of the best are tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen from Kinryu – see the retailers with the dragons exterior, 4 branches in Dotonbori. But ramen are for the tip of the night, once you’ve one final nook to fill earlier than going home. I made a psychological notice to suit some in.
Instead, we went for takoyaki, the octopus balls Osakans eat at any time of day, however significantly as afternoon snacks. Stalls on Dotonbori have slick takoyaki manufacturing strains: batter poured right into a cast-iron pan with round holes, then bits of chopped octopus, tempura scraps for crunch, ginger and spring onion. A bored-looking youth expertly used a cocktail stick with spin the batter into balls. These had been then drizzled with mayonnaise and takoyaki sauce, and sprinkled with bonito flakes that danced within the warmth.
You have to place them in your mouth entire, in any other case the squidgy inside squirts all over the place. They had been scrumptious, I feel – too sizzling to style correctly. Osakans additionally appear to have asbestos mouths. We ate our takoyaki exterior Kadoza comedy membership. Osakans are identified for his or her irreverent humour – and plenty of of Japan’s prime comedians are from right here. Tokyoites would name them uncouth; Osaka says the capital is simply uptight. (The language barrier needn’t cease you benefiting from Japan’s comedy capital: there’s English standup a brief stroll from Dotonbori each weekend at ROR comedy membership, which additionally hosts Magic Lab, a Sunday-night bilingual comedy magic present.)
Having a ball … takoyaki octopus dumplings on Dotonbori. Photograph: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images
Next up, okonomiyaki, typically known as Japanese pizza, although it’s extra like a pancake-cum-frittata: fish-broth batter fried with shredded cabbage until brown, and served with cooked pork and thick, brown, salty, barely candy sauce on prime. Yum.
Warai (1-5-6 Dotonbori) is Aya’s okonomiyaki secret – much less queueing, higher meals. We tried an unique model plus kyotenyaki, with beansprouts, and waraiyaki, with noodles. They had been introduced part-cooked to complete on the recent plate (teppan) in the midst of the desk. They’d be horrified in Tokyo, however Osakans simply dig in, consuming them with a spatula straight from the teppan. A facet of “addictive cucumber” – smashed in garlicky sesame dressing – lived as much as its title, and the whole thing went very well with native Asahi beer, and chuhai (candy potato shochu spirit with soda and fruit juice).
Taking crepe … okonomiyaki in Osaka Photograph: Alamy
In the temper now, we staggered on to a close-by izakaya. Japan’s reply to a pub, these are an off-the-cuff locations the place you go to speak nonsense (and smoke, because it occurs), however all of them additionally do “drinking food” that it could be a disgrace to be too pie-eyed to understand. At Rikimaruchaya, (1-5-6 Namba), we soaked up heat and chilled jugs of sake with super-tasty nibbles: sashimi of scallops and spring mackerel; grilled avocado; and enoki mushrooms with ponzu sauce and grated daikon. Small plates price from ¥300 (simply over £2); beats a bag of nuts!
Dotonbori was enjoyable meals, however we needed a style of extra on a regular basis consuming, and the subsequent day we received it in Shinsekai. This low-rise, working class district provides a glimpse of outdated Osaka, away from the gleaming towers, and has a barely dodgy popularity – which is nearly felt refreshing in clear, ultra-safe Japan.
A two-wheel tour with Cycle Osaka
Here, Brit Ben Daggers has arrange Cycle Osaka, providing small group bike excursions, together with a meals one. “We have small houses but very big radishes,” he stated at our first cease, a conventional breakfast cafe serving oden – stew, mainly. Daikon slow-cooked in broth was falling-apart delicate and attractive with bonito flakes. More difficult was doteyaki – simmered beef tendon. Though not everybody was satisfied, I preferred its winegum texture, lifted by the seven-spice combine on prime: chilli, seaweed, black and white sesame, sansho pepper, roasted orange peel and ginger.
Osaka is home to Japan’s greatest Korean neighborhood, and provides extra welcome spice on this land of refined flavours. In the market alleys of Korea Town (round Tsuruhashi Station) we feasted on jeon, chewy Korean pancakes, vibrant with kimchi, spring onions or prawns, and kimbap – Korean rice rolls.
Jeon and kimbap in Osaka’s Koreatown. Photograph: Liz Boulter
Japanese meals is as a lot about texture as flavour: jellies, beancurds, wibbly seaweeds. And one texture everybody loves is mochi, extremely sticky rice cooked and pounded to a paste: westerners have in contrast it to Blu-Tak or wallpaper paste. It comes wrapped round candy crimson bean paste, or grilled, or flavoured with inexperienced tea, and few celebrations are full with out it, although it’s a choking hazard. One of its most scrumptious kinds is “strawberry big happiness” from confectioner Shinonome do, within the Karahori buying road. A recent strawberry coated in candy crimson bean paste and a layer of mochi, it additionally seems to be very impolite: like a small white breast with a pink nipple.
Naughty however good … kushikatsu is breaded fried issues on sticks. Photograph: Alamy
Back close to our start line, in a restaurant known as Yamatoya, we tucked into traditional sushi, with toro (fatty tuna), aburi (seared salmon) and unagi (eel). Ben confirmed us find out how to flip it on its facet with chopsticks, then over, so solely the fish layer goes within the soy sauce. It was super-fresh and scrumptious, however you may get sushi everywhere in the world. Yamatoya, nevertheless, is linked by a hatch to a purveyor of a deal with invented right here in Shinsekai within the late 1920s. Kushikatsu is mainly breaded fried issues on sticks, the right consolation meals for hardworking residents. Chicken, beef, seafood or greens price from simply over £1 per stick, with citrussy ponzu sauce to dip it in. Get in!
Just after we felt the feasting had reached a peak, Ben unveiled dessert: a kushikatsu Oreo. Yes, a type of chocolate biscuits coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Both myself and a fortysomething American lady on the tour stated we’d be intrigued to strive a bit however couldn’t probably handle a complete one. Ben smiled. And, in fact, as soon as we’d bitten by means of the crisp crumb into the melty chocolate goo… Well, there was no stopping.
In Tokyo, individuals say, they spend all their cash on sneakers; in Kyoto it’s wonderful kimonos; however in Osaka it’s meals. I do know which I want. Now, about these ramen…
And once you’ve had sufficient of metropolis life …
A keep in Osaka can simply be mixed with in a single day journeys showcasing very totally different points of Japanese life, be they religious or sensual.
Grave matter … a monk and customer in Okunin cemetery, Mount Koya. Photograph: Alamy
Mount Koya, or Koyasan, 85km south of the town, is the centre of the Shingon Buddhist sect, with over 100 temples in a small mountaintop city, 52 of which provide shukubo, or visitor quarters (doubles from £120 an evening full-board). It’s reached by prepare and funicular by means of spectacular wooded mountains and may be very properly set-up for vacationers, with helpers directing guests to the fitting bus for his or her lodgings. The peaceable city is a bit like Oxford or Cambridge, besides as a substitute of historical schools, the streets are dotted with temple complexes, and monks clip-clop round in picket geta sandals. There’s no privation, although: en suite rooms have wifi and in-room eating, with vegan breakfast and dinner fantastically introduced. The outdated buildings are beautiful and friends can take part night meditation, 6.30am prayers and a dramatic 7am fireplace service. Each night, a monk leads a go to to Okunin cemetery, the holiest in Shingon, which is atmospheric, peaceable and never spooky in any respect.
Bathing beauties … Yukata-clad guests to Kinosake Onsen spa city. Photograph: Alamy
On the north coast, 165km from Osaka and reached by direct prepare, Kinosaki Onsen is a city devoted to bodily, fairly than religious, pleasures, with seven sizzling springs, all with specifically constructed tub homes. It’s all very Japanese: we knew our ryokan (conventional inn) was known as Nishimuraya, however needed to discover it by memorising the kanji characters, because the title wasn’t written wherever in roman script. Wandering round in bathrobe (yukata) and slippers would make you are feeling like a affected person wherever else, however right here nearly everybody on the streets is thus attired, as they tub crawl from one spring to a different. Most westerners most likely really feel clear sufficient after a few tub visits – ryokans provide you with a bar code totally free entry – what with scrubbing totally earlier than getting into the recent water and wallowing about bare along with your (gender-segregated) co-bathers, however it’s a captivating perception into what the Japanese love.
A kaiseki meal, at Nishimuraya onsen, Kinosaki. Photograph: Liz Boulter
Kaiseki dinners are one other ryokan expertise – a number of, beautiful, particular person dishes and a invoice from about £35 a head. Onsens simplify a brief break splendidly: they supply all of the garb, so there’s no deciding what to pack, little no laundry afterwards.
• The journey was offered by Inside Japan Tours, whose 10-night Osaka, Koyasan and Kinosaki tradition and meals journey prices from £1,757, together with B&B, prepare tickets and actions however not flights. The company’s 13-night, self-guided Gastronomic Adventure prices from £2,430pp, excluding flights. Accommodation in Kinosaki was offered by Nishimuraya Onsen.
British Airways is launching a direct flight from Heathrow and Osaka on 31 March 2019, from £599 return