Osaka was the first stop on our three week tour of Japan. Flying from London with a short transfer in Helsinki, it was our first time traveling with Finnair and we were impressed. We were visiting during the middle of April which meant we arrived during Cherry Blossom season, one of the best (and busiest) times to visit Japan and one of the reasons for our visit – that and the food.
Osaka is Japan’s third largest city and it’s slightly more relaxed than the rest – there’s definitely less bowing! Our foodie experience started with an okonomiyaki at Fukutaro where we put our names on the wait list, popped to the tiny beer bar opposite for our first of many standing beer experiences before returning 15 minutes later to sit around the hot plate and watch the okonomiyaki master frying up his special buta-tama pancakes with pork.
By fluke we happened to arrive in Osaka the exact weekend the city celebrated cherry blossom season with a huge street food festival in Kema Sakuranomiya Park which is lined with 5000 trees. It’s a site to behold, a bright pink passage of trees running along a river and under them hundreds of food stalls – we’d never seen a market like it! Here we sampled the Osaka staple, Takoyaki, balls made from batter, filled with octopus and coated in mayo and bonito flakes.
We’d read about Toyo in Rice Noodle Fish, a popular local spot which features a CRAY CRAY chef in a outdoor kitchen serving either raw or madly blow torched fish which is eaten standing up at plastic tables. There’s pretty big queues of Japanese workers so go early. The good news is even in the queue you can soak up the vibes and have a beer or two. We had plates full of sea urchin, tuna, salmon roe with yuzu and ponzu sauce on tap. Definitely an experience.
Kushikatsu – deep fried skewers of everything you could imagine – is another Osakan experience. Head to Shinsekai to try them – you’re spoilt for choice – but if in doubt Daruma is a small, reliable chain where you’ll find delicious deep fried sticks of everything from asparagus to chicken meatballs, tongue and quail eggs. Just no double dipping in the sauce, yeah?
There really is no better way than to get around Osaka by bike as it means you can tick A LOT off in one day including double dinners. Izakaya Kanno Miho is located down a quiet side street and the staff speak no English but will cook you up a surprise and serve you amazing sake.
A little further from the centre you’ll find Tenma, a maze of streets jam packed full of bars and restaurants. Keen to tick off a yakiniku horumon AKA offal BBQ we headed for Susumu, a standing room only joint where you choose any piece of the animal you wish to eat, before it’s served up raw for you to BBQ on your private mini charcoal pit. We didn’t manage to eat any of the offal but we did have some incredible cuts of beef, super juicy and tender, before hitting the surrounding bars with the locals to sample the plum wines…When in Osaka!