Osaka, Japan is considered to be the city of gourmets. Bunny, eats and design can all be found all over this city. We also did a day trip to Kyoto.
Eating out can be a confusing experience for the uninitiated. Some restaurants have machines by the door. You are supposed to put money in the machine and push some buttons to receive a ticket of your order. You sit down at a table and hand the ticket to the person serving who takes it to the kitchen and later brings out your food.
We didn’t know this so when we sat down at a table without visiting the machine first, it became a very confusing situation for all involved. The server needed our ticket and we had no idea what she wanted, we just wanted menus so we could order or at least point to something randomly. After a bit of gesturing and watching other diners, we figured it out. Although the machines don’t have any English, they have photos of the dishes so it was a case of not being too fussy and ordering what looked good in the photo.
These machines streamline the whole ordering process since no one handles the cash but customers and there’s no chance that the person taking your order can write it down wrong. I guess cashing up at the end of the night is easy too.
We ate a lot of bento boxes. Bento are available everywhere and is a great way of sampling lots of tasty dishes. They are great value too. Bento are served in compartmented lacquered boxes and pretty bowls and plates. Like these bento we ate in Kyoto.
Or you can get them in takeaway type containers like this:
Takoyaki are Osaka’s iconic snack. They are octopus batter balls that are cheap and can be found everywhere for when you need a snack between snacks.
The most memorable takoyaki we had: a lady drives her van into the parking lot and sets up a few tables and chairs. She makes her own takoyaki and pickles from organic vegetables that she grows herself. She makes takoyaki and various other snacks to order and it’s not long before all the tables and chairs are filled – there are even people sitting on the ground in the parking lot. The mood is festive and the beers are being poured freely.
It’s not dinner time. It’s not a well advertised franchise. It’s 2am on a weeknight in a parking lot in a quiet neighborhood.
We adore unagi and we got to eat plenty of unagi in Osaka. Sorry for this half eaten picture but I tore into this like a crazy monkey before I realised that I should probably document it. In Osaka, a set meal like this will set you back about $10NZ. About the same as back home.
There are big clusters of vending machines everywhere.
We never saw the fabled underwear vending machines, just drinks, cigarettes and booze. One thing that is interesting is that they don’t sell snacks in vending machines. I suspect it has something to do with how it is rude to eat while walking. If you can’t eat while walking, it makes sense not to sell food in vending machines. Can someone clarify this?
Our friend C introduced us to takowasabi.
Small pieces of raw octopus marinated in wasabi. It was yummy. Slippery, a bit sweet, not chewy, but soft and yielding. If you love sashimi and wasabi, give takowasabi a try. Stay away from takowasabi if you don’t like sashimi, this one’s not for you.
Fake food displays
Fake food displays are huge in Japan. It’s a great way of working through the language barrier, but this plastic food can cost a restaurant mega bucks. I guess you also wouldn’t change a menu regularly either if you had to get all new plastic food made.
Fake eating, fake food.
We tried natto.
From Wiki: “is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis. It is popular especially as a breakfast food. As a rich source of protein, nattō and the soybean paste miso formed a vital source of nutritionin feudal Japan. Nattō can be an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and slippery texture.”
For the uninitiated, natto is one of those very polarising dishes. You either love it hate it. So far, I haven’t found anyone that loves it. But I was determined to give it a try while we were in Osaka. So we bought some, from a convenience store and took them up to our apartment.
Natto comes in little white plastic containers with a peel back lid. When you open it up, it looks awful. It smells awful. Stringy, slimy goo coats what can be described as beige brown spawn. It does not look like food. I expected it to have a strong salty taste but it wasn’t the case at all. I guess because the other polarising things I know of are blue cheese, anchovies, marmite, shrimp paste – all of which are savoury. K lickens the experience of natto to eating old chewing gum that’s been in someone’s armpit. Charming. Natto comes with a packet each of mustard and soy sauce so after our initial tentitive taste, we added all the mustard and all the soy sauce. It was barely edible when the condiments were added.
Photo of natto from wikipedia.org:
Osaka Food Highlights:
Takoyaki off the beaten track, unagi (grilled eel), takowasabi, all the bento you can eat.