Oh wow, where to start? If you love food, Japan is definitely a place you should go. There is so much variety – you will never go hungry there, you can’t walk two steps without being assaulted with yet another ramen/yakiniku/shabu-shabu joint. Also, contrary to popular opinion, Japan is really reasonably priced – don’t go to touristy places or eat along main stretches, go a little further and seek out where the locals eat. It wasn’t often that we spent more than $20.00 a head, and we ate a lot.
We first arrived to Japan in Osaka, Japan’s third largest city, economic powerhouse of Kansai and for some, the culinary capital of Japan. When you come to Osaka, there are two street food you must try – takoyaki and okonomiyaki.
Takoyaki are the octopus balls you see below – you can’t miss them along Osaka’s main tourist stretch, Dotonbori, where you’ll see many skillful chefs flipping and rolling the balls in specialty pans for takoyaki. They are usually topped with bonito flakes, Japanese Okonomi BBQ sauce and mayonnaise, but some of the more creative cooks will scatter them with fried bacon, chopped ginger or garlic chips.
Okonomiyaki are savory Japanese pancakes made with a variety of ingredients – okonomi literally means “to one’s liking”. The main ingredient is usually cabbage, which is bound with batter and other goodies, and panfried pancake-style. You can get them from vendors along Dotonbori, but we loved going to Okonomiyaki restaurants where they would make the Okonomiyaki right in front of you. You usually have to wait an excrutiating 10 minutes for the pancake to cook, and we exercised as much willpower as we could muster to not dig in straight away. I’m ashamed to say that I can’t recall the name of this restaurant in Osaka, but we figured it must have been good because there was a huge line up of locals (always a good sign when trying food in a foreign place). We chose one traditional style okonomiyaki with cabbage and a healthy amount of spring onions, and the other was pork with cheese which was sensational. We also had a yakisoba omelette, washed down with Asahi beer and sake.
If you’re travelling to the Kansai region, you should definitely save your pennies for Kobe (about 45 minutes by shinkansen from Osaka) and its world-renowned beef. It’s not cheap by any standards but I bet it’ll be one of the best steaks you’ve ever had in your life.
On the recommendation of delicioux’s blog post, I booked Christmas Day lunch at Mouriya in Kobe. At around $100 per 130g piece, it wasn’t cheap but it was a delicious way to celebrate Christmas with family.
At Mouriya, the steak is served teppanyaki style, and we were lucky enough to be seated along the bar so we got a ringside view of the delicious things to come. After the chef takes your order (ie. you specify how you would like your steak cooked), he expertly dices each piece and sets it out in front of you. He then instructed us how to eat each piece – from what I gathered, the less marbled pieces were eaten with strong-flavoured condiments such as ponzu and garlic chips, but my absolute favourite was the heavily marbled pieces eaten simply with salt and wasabi.
We enjoyed this delicious steak with premium Kobe sake – Kobe is probably the best place in the world to enjoy sake as Kobe’s Nada district is the world’s top sake producing region. It comes cheaply too – at $3.00 per 270ml bottle, I can testify that we emerged from Mouriya slightly wasted, but on the biggest carnivore buzz-high ever.
If you go to Japan, definitely take stretchy-waistband pants – you won’t be able to stop yourself, and you won’t want to stop eating.