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What to Eat in Osaka: The Kitchen of Japan

By Lucy Baker
June 14, 2019
Updated: July 22, 2019

Known as the younger, hipper, younger brother to Tokyo, Osaka has a reputation for futuristic architecture, wild nightlife, and of course, amazing street food. It’s a port city in the Kansai region of Japan, with an easy-going but fun and colorful vibe, and a distinct Osaka dialect. Osaka is said to be the birthplace of kuidaore, a word in Japanese that loosely translates to “ruin oneself by the extravagance of food,” meaning either financially or physically (it’s all-you-can-eat madness out there, guys).

It’s a lot of fun in Osaka, and easy to get on board with Osaka’s unique food culture, but be warned, a lot of it is cheap, fried, and absolutely delicious! With so many places to visit and things to eat along the way, you can easily stuff yourself with all kinds of weird and wonderful Japanese foods. Discover Kansai cuisine in this comprehensive Osaka food guide, and find out what to eat in Osaka right here.

Osaka is sometimes known as the food capital of Japan, supported by its endearing nickname, Tenka no Daidokoro, meaning “the nation’s kitchen.” With its place as a port city, this originally referenced Osaka’s important place as a trade hub in the Edo period of Japan. True for travelers and Japanese people alike, the name now refers to Osaka’s amazing food culture. A gourmet’s paradise, Osaka is considered one of the best cities in Japan for passionate foodies to come and worship Japanese food (and for drinkers, too).

1. Okonomiyaki

Osaka is the original home to the now-typical Japanese food, okonomiyaki, and remains the best place to eat it. This savory Japanese pancake was invented before World War II and grew to build a legacy, now continuing to have country-wide popularity. You’ll find plenty of yatai street food stalls selling Osaka-style okonomiyaki around the city, the absolute best in Japan! Most restaurants in Osaka are teppanyaki hot plate style, so you can try the full experience of grilling okonomiyaki for yourself. Eating okonomiyaki this way goes hand-in-hand with the casual eating and drinking culture in Osaka, as you can take your time drinking and chatting with friends as it grills away.

Okonomiyaki in Osaka is the counterpart to Hiroshima okonomiyaki, which has the ingredients layered. Osaka-style okonomiyaki is a kind of savory pancake made from a mixed batter of eggs and shredded cabbage, grilled and topped with a thick savory-sweet soy sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, and a sprinkle of seaweed, aonori. But, literally meaning “grilled as you like it,” you can grill it as you wish and put on whatever toppings you’d like. Try some okonomiyaki in its birthplace, one of the best foods in Osaka.

Cooking osaka style okonomiyaki

2. Takoyaki

Another amazing invention from the Kansai region, takoyaki should be right at the top of your list of what to eat in Osaka. These balls of batter-y goodness are quite similar to okonomiyaki, however, the bite-sized balls are made individually, each containing a piece of tako (octopus). Each ball is a bit crunchy on the outside but gooey on the inside, so it’s definitely food for the adventurous. Those dancing flakes sprinkled on top of the takoyaki are dried bonito flakes, or katsuobushi in Japanese, which are also used to garnish okonomiyaki. They are used to round out the dishes and give takoyaki its signature flavor. Osaka has more than 700 takoyaki stores in the city, a whopping amount of tako-love that shows it’s the best place to try this popular Kansai specialty. Enjoy the street food culture of takoyaki, with yatai street stalls throughout the city turning tako balls all day. Pick up some takoyaki en route to your next tourist stop; it’s an essential part of what to eat when you visit Osaka.

A full plate of takoyaki in Japan

3. Sushi & Sashimi

When you’re visiting Osaka, you’ve just got to try the local sushi and sashimi, simple but oh so delicious. As a port city, it’s unsurprising that Osaka has one of the biggest fish markets in Japan, Osaka Central Fish Market. With canals running throughout the city, Osaka has a laid-back kind of seaside vibe with fresh, high-quality seafood to match. From the finest sushi restaurants to local markets like Kuramon Ichiba, you can find freshly sliced sushi throughout the city. Even bento boxes of sushi sold at the supermarket are extra fresh and easy to grab when you’re on-the-go sightseeing. Conveyor belt sushi trains are a fun, easy going way to have sushi in Osaka, but sitting down to an omakase chef’s special sashimi menu in Osaka is a must-do, too.

4. Kushikatsu

Kushikatsu are an irresistible snack in Osaka, one of the city’s signature foods you should definitely try on your Osaka trip. The word broadly covers skewered meat or vegetables, kind of like a yakitori chicken stick, only it’s not just chicken, and it’s panko-crumbed and deep-fried. Now one of the city’s biggest and most famous kushikatsu restaurant chains, Daruma is said to have started selling kushikatsu in 1929, skewered meat as a quick fix lunch for laborers. Cheap, easy and of course delicious, kushikatsu continued to gain momentum throughout the war era for working class people. Fast-forward through to today, who doesn’t love bite-sized, deep-fried morsels on skewers? You can grab them either as local street food or order a la carte at specialty restaurants throughout Osaka. Head to the nostalgic Shinsekai if you want Osaka’s best kushikatsu, where many of the restaurants are open round the clock, or the Tsutenkaku area can also sort you out. And remember everyone, it’s a big no-no to double dip. Kushikatsu is an essential snack to accompany a sake or a beer, in Osaka’s friendly drinking culture.

Kushikatsu in Osaka

5. Yakiniku

Kind of like Korean barbeque, yakiniku means “grilled meat,” which is an extremely popular thing to eat in Osaka. You can, of course, get a grill’s worth of yakiniku anywhere in Japan, but Osaka gets away with stealing some glory from their neighboring city, Kobe. As in the name, Kobe is home to the world-famous Kobe beef, which is considered one of the highest quality wagyu (Japanese beef) produced in Japan. With such close access to such high-quality meat, not just limited to Kobe beef, Osaka serves some seriously delicious yakiniku. You can grill for yourself with friends at yakiniku restaurants all over Osaka (you can’t go wrong at the Koreatown in Tsuruhashi) or again grab some grilled wagyu meat sticks to-go from a street vendor.

6. Horumon

Following the philosophy of “waste not, want not” horumon or horumonyaki is like yakiniku, except you’re grilling the other random meat bits like organs, offal, giblets, and innards. Also referred to as motsu, it was introduced to Osaka by a yoshoku (Western-style cuisine) chef who swiftly had the term “horumonyaki” trademarked in 1940. Horumon comes from the word hormone, also doubling up as it sounds similar to the word for “discarded goods” in the Kansai-Osaka dialect, which aligns with the Japanese mentality of mottainai, to avoid being wasteful. Practical and delicious, horumonyaki has a reputation for being a “stamina-building” food and goes perfectly with a beer. Beef sinew broiled in sweet miso and mirin sugar marinade (doteyaki) is a tasty entry-level horumon. A dish designed for adventurous eaters, grilled livers, kidneys, intestines, hearts, try the works and grill your own horumonyaki in Osaka.

7. Kitsune Udon

Udon noodles are popular throughout all of Japan, but the kitsune variety was invented in Osaka. The local style is less intense than what’s eaten in Tokyo; the Osaka style soup comes with noodles in a light dashi fish stock broth, topped with a piece of deep-fried tofu skin (abura-age) that’s been stewed in sweet soy sauce. The name “kitsune” means fox, derived from the myth that abura-age is a fox’s favorite food, also used on the outside of an inarizushi (rice ball wrapped in tofu skin). It’s now eaten widely throughout Japan, although Osaka is the birthplace of this simple yet filling udon dish.

Kitsune udon bowl in Osaka

8. Butaman

The humble steamed pork bun, of course, originated in China, but is now widely sold throughout Japan and named butaman in Japanese. The delicious pork bun specialists at 551 Horai have brought Osaka some fame in the butaman game, with their headquarters proudly in the heart of Namba. It’s so popular that around a whopping 170,000 buns are sold each day! With juicy pork and spongy buns, the butaman are delicious every time, while their other dumplings, like gyoza, are also extremely tasty. Sold in sets of even numbers for good luck, it’s a must-try snack in Osaka. 

9. Negiyaki

Negiyaki is yet another dish that is grilled on a teppanyaki hot plate, and is loved by people from Osaka. Another pancake-style food, it is made of negi (green onions) between thin layers of grilled batter, without meat and more crunch. It’s a popular form of konamono, a flour-based food, much like takoyaki and okonomiyaki. Konamono is well-loved and consumed regularly by people in Osaka, either in restaurants or at home.

Negiyaki cooking in Osaka

10. Ehomaki

An ehomaki is a long tube of sushi, traditionally eaten during Setsubun (the bean-throwing festival) for good luck. Each year on February 3, you are meant to eat these “fortune rolls” all in one go while pointing in a particular direction (which changes each year) to ward off evil. Setsubun is celebrated throughout Japan, however, ehomaki originated in Osaka, made by street vendors in the mid-1800s. Bigger than your standard sushi roll, an ehomaki averages 6cm thick and 20cm long. These are filled with egg, fish, vegetables, or even pork cutlet.

11. Fugu (Pufferfish)

The giant fugu pufferfish decorations flying overhead throughout Osaka are impossible to miss. They’re calling for those who are feeling game (and rich) to try pufferfish in Osaka. Zuboraya is the biggest restaurant for fugu in Osaka, and among one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants throughout the city. You can have fugu in many different styles and dishes and don’t worry, they’re prepared carefully so you can dine death-free when tasting fugu in Osaka.

Fugu sashimi Japan

12. Kappo Cuisine

Kappo is the answer to fine dining in Osaka, the specialty meal that rivals elegant kaiseki in Kyoto. A kaiseki meal in Kyoto is typically a multi-course meal, combining craft with food. Kappo in Osaka is similar in that it’s high-end food, but with an emphasis on cutting, cooking, and preparing, without covering up what goes on behind the scenes. It's a little more rustic, but the result is always fresh and creative dishes that are presented beautifully every time. Kappo dining also is different as you are seated in bar-counter style, with an open kitchen and chefs working right in front of you. You watch the chefs cook and they watch you as you eat; its an immersive, interactive experience, only to be had in Osaka. Kigawa is the big name in kappo dining in Osaka, alongside other high-class establishments. When visiting Osaka you have to have a kappo experience, the Osaka version of kaiseki.

13. Jiggly Cheesecake

It was Rikuro Nishimura who founded the company in charge of making the fluffiest baked cheesecake in Japan: Rikuro-Ojiisan (or, Uncle Rikuro). As the story goes, Rikuro was once a humble pastry chef, and now widely known for developing the ever-popular Japanese cheesecake. Jiggly, wobbly, sweet and delicious, this cheesecake is incredibly popular for a reason and is a must-try dessert in Osaka. Their flagship store is located in Namba but also have 11 stores in the Kansai area. However, with the intention to keep it as an Osaka delicacy, Uncle Rikuro doesn’t plan to expand, so you’ll have to head to Osaka if you want to taste it! It’s definitely one of the best cheesecakes in Japan (and somehow always makes it onto your Instagram feed). 

Explore the different areas of Osaka, knowing exactly what to eat in Osaka with our helpful guide. Whether it’s casual street food or a fancy kappo meal, you can have it all with Osaka’s fun food culture quickly putting you cozily in a food-coma in no time. Discover your new favorite Osaka food and make sure you try okonomiyaki, takoyaki, sushi, and kushikatsu on your Osaka trip. As Osaka is sometimes regarded as the kitchen of Japan, you can always expect a guaranteed high standard of food quality in this food capital.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan’s food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Lucy Baker
Never not hungry, Lucy is an artist and foodie from Australia. You can find her hunting for the next delicious deal, documenting her food, or brunching. She lives firmly by the philosophy that food friends are the best of friends.
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