Despite being only a short Shinkansen ride from Tokyo, Osaka has an entirely different personality from Japan’s capital. Hop off the bullet train into an area with a reputation among locals for its commerce, entertainment and food.
Today, the city is known as ‘the nation’s kitchen’, and you’ll find in it everything from street food and family-owned restaurants to Michelin-starred fine dining. In Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori district, in particular, you’ll find some of the best eating Osaka has to offer.
“There’s nothing quite like the food in Osaka,” says Naoki Kitazawa, Executive Director of Japan National Tourism Organization’s Sydney office.
“Throughout the city, you will find endless stalls serving takoyaki, ramen and okonomiyaki, and the streets and alleys also have plenty of options for dining at izakayas, which are casual Japanese-style pubs, along with bars and restaurants.”
If you’re heading to Osaka and want to get a good feel for its foodie culture, ahead are some of the top dishes to try while you’re there. From octopus dumplings, to make-your-own ‘cupnoodles’, these are some of Osaka’s tastiest specialties.
Octopus dumplings, known as takoyaki, are a favourite on plates in Osaka. Bits of octopus are combined with pickled ginger and green onions, mixed in a batter and then grilled in a special mould. The resulting spheres are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, and are topped with Worcestershire sauce, ginger and seaweed flakes.
Takoyaki has become a beloved street food and a cultural icon associated with Osaka. The dish is often enjoyed at festivals, parties, and gatherings, and it has evolved over the years with various regional variations and creative toppings. You’ll find some of the best takoyaki at Takoyaki Wanaka, a local institution.
Ramen in Japan isn’t considered fast food. It takes many hours to produce and requires incredible culinary craftsmanship, so it’s not something to be taken lightly. The price of ramen is usually indicative of its quality. The more expensive a bowl of ramen, the better its quality.
For some of the best ramen in Osaka, don’t miss Ichiran in the Dotonbori district. The restaurant offers an entirely customisable experience that lets you choose your ramen’s additions, broth thickness, spice level and much more.
Seafood From Osaka’s Markets
For a traditional market experience, head to Kuromon Market in the Namba district and wander some 170 stalls selling fish, meat and produce. Serving the people of Osaka for more than 190 years, the 580m-long market is commonly referred to as ‘Osaka’s kitchen’ and is a great place to people-watch as you sample the seafood and local produce. Or if you want to dine where the locals do, a visit to Tenma is another must.
Osaka’s Ikeda City is the birthplace of instant noodles. In 1958, the world’s first instant noodle product was developed by local legend Momofuku Ando. The Cupnoodles Museum (Osaka Ikeda) was established in 1999 to share the history of instant noodles.
The museum is packed with hands-on experiences and is meant to be fun for all ages. Walk through the visually stunning Instant Noodles Tunnel, where around 800 products are on display. Head to the factory area for an opportunity to design your own ‘cupnoodles’, including creating your own packaging.
Okonomiyaki isn’t the most photogenic of dishes. It’s a savoury pancake with a bit of dashi broth. You can then top it with meat or seafood and a variety of other toppings to it.
Osaka-style okonomiyaki is the base on which other regional styles use. A simple combination of cabbage, flour and egg cooked on an iron griddle and then topped with sliced pork and savoury-sweet barbecue sauce, drizzled in Japanese mayonnaise and sprinkled with Aonori-powdered dried seaweed. One of the most famous okonomiyaki restaurants in Osaka is Okonomiyaki Kiji.
Hakozushi is a type of sushi that’s pressed into a box-shaped mould, hence the name “hako,” which means box in Japanese. Unlike traditional nigiri sushi, which is hand-pressed, hakozushi is assembled by layering ingredients in a wooden mould, compressing them, and then cutting the resulting block into bite-sized pieces.
Osaka-style hakozushi typically includes layers of vinegared rice, various ingredients such as fish, vegetables, and sometimes cooked eggs or shrimp, all pressed. Osaka’s Sushi Hayata is a popular spot, with a tasting platter on offer if you’re keen to sample a bit of everything. One piece of advice: turn the fish-side down when dipping it in soy, otherwise the rice absorbs too much salt.