Perched at the base of Mount Rokko, the port city of Kobe is nestled right next to Osaka, looking out onto Osaka Bay. Far more subdued than its much more rambunctious no-rules neighbor, Kobe is a quaint yet proudly multicultural town, which can easily be explored by walking. Once serving as a major port for Kansai back in the day when foreign trade was finally opened, Kobe had a lot of contact with other cultures. Now Kobe is seen as one of the most multicultural cities in Japan with a big community of foreigners. Kobe is notably home to one of Japan’s three biggest Chinatowns, Nankinmachi, founded by Chinese merchants who settled in the city.
Kobe brings to mind just one thing: Kobe beef. While Kobe beef is, of course, world-class and undeniably delicious, the city of Kobe has much more to offer than simply just meat. Not sure what to eat in Kobe other than meat? Sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, the food in Kobe sees a lot of influence from these elements, as well as culinary input from the greater Hyogo Prefecture and neighboring Kansai region. A few hundred yen and a short train ride away, you can easily day trip from Osaka to Kobe to enjoy Kobe’s delicacies. Find out exactly what to eat in Kobe right here in our handy guide to Kobe food.
1. Kobe Beef
Other than an accidental association to basketball, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Kobe is Kobe Beef. The outstanding quality of this beef is world-famous, putting the humble name of Kobe one the map; it’s a must-try when you visit Kobe, and you can try it everywhere in the city. Kobe beef comes from the purebred black Japanese cattle from the Tajima breed, and has to pass a number of strict requirements to officially be bestowed with the label of Kobe beef. It’s a type of Japanese wagyu beef, from cattle that are native to Japan, where in particular, Kobe beef must be raised in the Hyogo Prefecture.
You’ve probably heard stories of the Kobe cattle being pampered with massages, beers, and classical music, and while this luxurious lifestyle can be neither confirmed nor denied, Kobe beef is absolutely worth eating. The catch is that it comes with a hefty price tag for its deliciousness. Full of flavor and tender when cooked, there’s a number of ways to have Kobe beef. As a steak or grilled on a teppanyaki hot plate are the most popular, Kobe beef is used in nabe hot pots and fried dishes too. Marbled and succulent, need we say more? Kobe beef is mouthwatering yet it might make your wallet cry, as it's up there as one of the most famous and best wagyu names in Japan, alongside the famed Matsusaka, Omi, and Hida beef wagyu.
2. Chuka Ryori (Chinese Food)
Kobe served as an essential port to the Kansai area once Japan opened up foreign trade, and gained access to foods of the world. Chinese food or chuka ryori in Kobe has since had a long legacy once Chinese merchants settled within the city, leaving Kobe now with one of the 3 biggest Chinatowns in Japan, Nankinmachi. Full of wondrous street food and chuka ryori restaurants, juicy Peking duck, crunchy fried dumplings and dense pork buns are just some of many Chinese foods that you must eat while in Kobe.
For those who are familiar with takoyaki, the famous octopus balls from Osaka and Kansai areas, akashiyaki might not be so much of a head-scratcher, as it’s a variation on a similar dish hailing from the Hyogo Prefecture. Akashiyaki is the long-lost cousin of takoyaki, similar in that they are individual dumplings made from a watery batter, each with octopus pieces inside. The main difference is that akashiyaki’s batter is eggier, and then the dumplings are dipped in a dashi fish soup stock and eaten. An akashiyaki restaurant in Kobe’s Harborland has over a 45-year legacy of making this local dish, continuing to sell this Kobe specialty dish.
4. Korokke (Croquette)
Korokke are simple yet delicious, derived from the French word, “croquette.” It’s a type of Western-style food (yoshoku), now a street food snack in Japan, consisting of a meat or vegetable mixture, panko-crumbed and deep-fried. Sure, they’re a common snack around Japan, typically with fillings mixed with mashed potato, but they’re particularly delicious in Kobe. There are a number of famous croquette shops throughout Kobe, with even some made with the famous Kobe beef, for a luxury snack.
So, we briefly touched on dumplings in the chuka ryori section, however gyoza dumplings in Kobe must get their own mention! Of course gyoza were introduced from China, but the presence of Nankinmachi Chinatown has assured a strong Chinese influence and hence, an enduring love of dumplings in Kobe. Not only a favorite street food snack, gyoza are pointedly delicious in Kobe due to the high-quality meats used in the area.
The portside location of Kobe means that there is amazing access to seafood in the city. It’s only natural that in Kobe sushi is especially fresh and tasty, with a wide variety of fishes and flavors available throughout the year. While it’s not strictly seafood, you can also get pieces of nigiri “sushi” topped with slices of Kobe beef in a delicious sushi fusion.
7. Cheesecake Soft Cream
Now, what to eat in Kobe for dessert, you’re obviously wondering? The Kitaro-cho area of Kobe is quaint to explore for an afternoon, full of well-preserved houses built by foreign residents in the wake of World War II. Kazamidori Honpo is the name of the shop where you can get the best dessert in Kobe: cheesecake soft cream! Complete with chunks of actual cheesecake, this Kobe specialty soft cream is an essential dessert to try when on a trip to Kobe. Although, if you’re not a cheese fan (no judgment) they also have other interesting and colorful soft cream flavors on offer too. Kazamidori serves as one of Kobe’s most popular souvenir shops, where you can also get cheesecake souffle, baked cheese tarts, and more!
Besides from Kobe beef, Kobe has a claim to fame in the sake game, with the resident Nada district being one of the top sake-producing areas in the country. Kobe’s Nada district ranks in the top 3 best sake-producing areas beside Fushimi in Kyoto and Saijo in Hiroshima, making some serious sake.
With a number of historical Nada breweries locally-producing some of the best sake in Japan, sake in Kobe is definitely something you’ve got to try. Sake from the Nada district is made from “brewer’s rice,” which is grown from the soil of Mount Rokko, the glorious hilly landscape which Kobe humbly backs onto. Rich in minerals from the fertile soil, the rice is ultra high-quality, resulting in sake that is also exceptionally delicious. The portside location of Kobe also meant that distribution of this long-standing high-quality sake was easy, in close proximity to a transport hub.
We’ve got you covered for what to eat in Kobe. Splash out on some Kobe beef or have a street food feast in Chinatown. Not only is the environment of the beautiful city of Kobe beautiful, but it’s also got amazing food to match it. Enjoy the landscape framed by Mount Rokko, or an outlook over the port, and eat some delicious food on your trip to Kobe.