Literally every prefecture in Japan has extraordinary culinary offerings, but Osaka is typically regarded by many as the culinary capital of the islands.
Osaka is often referred to as the city of “Kuidaore,” which means “eat until you drop” or “stuff yourself until you can’t eat anymore.” It is packed with everything from street food stalls to Michelin-starred, high-end restaurants featuring a wealth of cultural influences. While high-end dining is certainly something I enjoy, it obviously comes with a high-price tag.
Exploring local specialties in Osaka is a great way to learn more about the cuisine without spending your entire travel budget on one dinner.
Here’s a look at a few iconic Osaka foods to scout out on your travels:
This is probably the most well-known of Osaka’s local foods. They are basically small octopus dumplings served hot off the pan with a special sauce. While you can find these all over town, much like other food stalls around the world – look for lines as not all tako-yaki are made the same!
The boiled octopus is fried in a mixture of flour and water in a special pan with circular shaped molds. Typical portions are six to twelve balls, depending on the size, and may be topped with scallions and bonito flakes in addition to the special sauce.
You will find people all over Osaka nibbling on these, especially at night when the streets of popular districts, like Dotonbori, come alive. Just keep an eye out for people with small boxes or bags with toothpicks, and there’s likely to be a tako-yaki stand not far away. Another pretty easy way to spot a stand is to look for some sort of an octopus symbol, as most stands have no English.
Much like Taiwan night markets where you can find nearly every imaginable food on a stick – Osaka is known for taking it one step-further…the essential deep fry.
Kushi-katsu are bite size pieces of meat or vegetables placed on a bamboo skewer and then deep-fried. Everything from pieces of meat to entire slices of onion or Camembert cheese, the possibilities are nearly endless.
Depending on what is under the breading, the sauces or toppings can vary. There is usually a big bowl on the sauce at each table, but be sure not to double dip as that is a shared bowl for diners after you. There are signs all over reminding you just in case you forget.
Some of the best kushi-katsu places are in the Shin-Sekai district. You can find it served in a number of regular restaurants, but try one that specializes in just kushi-katsu as the experience is more enjoyable.
I introduced Okonomi-yaki in another post, but it bears mentioning here, as it’s one of Osaka’s iconic foods. If you are going to try it on Japan, Osaka is one of the best places as Okonomi-yaki restaurants are all over the city.
Okonomi means “as you like it” and with all the options available, you could eat this every day for weeks and never try the same combination. Dotonbori is one of the districts with countless options to try this Osaka specialty.
Sushi and Hakozushi
Trying sushi in Japan may be a no-brainer, but cities like Tokyo can feature some pretty expensive prices, especially since sushi is typically ordered per piece in Japan. The Shin-Sekai district in Osaka is filled with a number of sushi shops that feature incredibly fresh offerings for 1/3 the cost of most Tokyo joints.
One thing that Osaka is known for is hakozushi, which is basically a box sushi. Sushi rice is pressed into wood boxes and filled with a variety of ingredients, making colorful layers. Served in bite-sized pieces, hakozushi is another Osaka specialty worthy of seeking out.
After a day of trying Osaka’s local cuisine, it’s time for a drink and the cheapest and best places to do it are stand-and-drink “tachi-nomi” stands and stalls. Much like the stand-up noodle shops found in countless train stations and part of Tokyo, these stand-and-drink spots are the cheapest and usually fastest way to grab a beer.
This is just a small glimpse into Osaka’s cuisine. The city is known for a number of other culinary offerings as well, some that feature noodles or nabe (hot pot), and Shabu Shabu , which has its origins in Osaka as well. Whatever direction your tastes may wander, there’s sure to be something you’ll fall in love with in Osaka!