Osaka food crawl

Osaka is a foodie paradise. Our recent June 2018 trip was all about sampling this vibrant city’s gustatory delights.

We didn’t even have to venture far from our Namba airbnb rental.  The Dotonburi/Shinsaibashi area is dotted with a variety of culinary options.

Walkable eating places were a boon for our map-challenged group, intimidated as we were by Japan’s intersecting railway systems and pricey metered cab rides.

We tried a whole range of eats — from an upscale Matsusakagyu beef restaurant, to cheap convenience store finds, to an unforgettable ramen experience, to one of the freshest sashimi and best tempura we’ve ever had!

MATSUSAKAGYU YAKINIKU M

Our trip’s splurge meal was at Yakiniku M for marbled beef. Glowing online reviews and recommendations by friends made this a must-visit for our group.

Reservations are highly recommended as it gets busy. Scan the menu and book a table online here: http://www.matsusaka-projects.com/english/

Big thank you to my friend Alanna Yulde — she introduced me to Kuniyoshi Okamoto, the M restaurant group’s tireless manager, who did this selfie with us. Turns out Kuni-san and I have several common friends.

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Our party of four was there for Saturday lunch. We were quickly ushered upstairs into a small private area with a barbecue grill. There are hooks on the wall behind us to hang our bags.

We each ordered the special course set.

From the get-go we knew we would have a memorable meal, with the affable and efficient Katsunori “Kats” Mizuno on hand to welcome us. He speaks perfect English, too. He took time to explain the assortment of tidbits on our appetizer plates: sweet potato with miso sauce and okra on top, a silky egg tofu, charred chicken, candied walnuts and beef tender. The salad had fresh crisp greens, cucumber and tomato in a light sesame dressing.

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The lightly grilled beef sushi was divine. Ordered a la carte, one piece is 580 yen

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Next came a plate of short rib sliced thinly. Kats demonstrated how to grill the meat, and then deftly rolled each slice before placing on our plates.

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I had heard so many raves about Yakiniku M’s garlic rice, I was looking forward to finally trying it. It didn’t disappoint. Served on individual stone pots to keep it piping hot, the garlic rice is flavorful and flecked with bacon. The individual serving is generous, too.

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The main event was of course two trays, each with 4 kinds of marbled beef labeled ohtoro kerubi, matsusakagyu rib eye, kyukyoku and sirloin from different cow parts.

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Each beef slice was grilled for about 30 seconds each side and popped into our mouths, where the pieces of meat just mmmmm-melted. This was undoubtedly top-quality beef and the different parts had different textures and levels of fattiness.

If you are a true-blue carnivore, you simply have to try it.

There are different seasonings on the table, but the meat is already awesome-delicious, seasoned or not.

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We were given a refreshing citrusy ice cream for dessert, with hot tea. Sorry, coffee drinkers, the restaurant doesn’t serve coffee.

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My sister-in-law Nina was celebrating her birthday that week, so we also got to share a hefty slice of mille crepe cake topped with strawberry. It was so good! Nina was also presented with a beautifully wrapped gift box of cookies and tea. Nice touch.

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Yakiniku M is quite costly, but quality does come with a price.

Love steaks? You should not miss Yakiniku M when in Osaka.

HANAMARUKEN HAPPY NOODLE

Another Dotonburi restaurant that we heard so much about was Hanamaruken Happy Noodle so we sought it out at the end of a day spent at Universal Studios Japan.

This noodle place is open 24 hours yet there is usually a line of customers outside. The restaurant is a tiny affair with the narrow kitchen occupying maybe a third of the space. We patiently waited our turn and took our place at one end of the counter facing the busy cooking area.

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The must-have here and the most popular item in the menu is the pork rib noodle.

You can order it solo, or as part of a set that comes with yakimeshi fried rice and dumplings. Order the set if you are ravenously hungry, but really, the excellent pork rib ramen is filling enough, and all you need.

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This shoyu tonkotsu noodle bowl is out-of-this-world delicious, from the piping hot broth to the noodles, to the slab of dark, fall-of-the-bone slow-braised pork rib!

One of us ordered the double happiness ramen which comes with both pork and beef rib. Also very good!

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We also had a dish of braised pork topped with scallions, and dumplings — both good albeit dispensable complements to the stellar ramen.

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I honestly would pick this humble ramen restaurant over Universal Studios Japan as my happiest place in Osaka any day.

TEMPURA TAROJIRO

Just a few steps away from Hanamaruken Happy Noodle is Tempura Tarojiro, another place that came highly recommended for its fresh sashimi and tempura.

It is a small restaurant tucked on a side street and probably seats up to 20 people only. I imagine it gets full especially in the evenings so go at lunch time and go early, like we did. We actually camped outside and waited for the restaurant to open so we were the only customers there until two other guys came in, probably regulars.

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The oysters we ordered were top-quality: large and super-fresh, and came with a slice of lemon, chopped scallions and grated radish.

We also enjoyed the toro or fatty tuna sashimi and the salmon sashimi.

We ordered ebi and vegetable tempura sets which came with miso soup and gohan (steamed rice).  The tempura was freshly cooked in front of us, the shrimp and veggies were fresh and coated with a light, flaky tempura batter. They also offer tempura beef, tempura scallops, and even tempura cheese.

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CONVENIENCE STORE EATS

There is always a convenience store near you in Japan, open 24 hours a day. They have 7-Eleven, Lawson and FamilyMart, and all are fully stocked with inexpensive but good-quality prepackaged food.

Everything we tried got thumbs up, from the egg salad sandwiches, onigiri (stuffed rice balls with nori), and the yummo barbecue chicken skewers found at the hot food section near the cash registers.

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They also have bento meals, chicken karaage, pastries, filled buns, and the usual drinks, chips, candy and cup noodles. Warning: the breadth of choices can drive you bonkers.

STREET FOOD – TAKOYAKI

There is a lot of walking and shopping (or window shopping) to be done in Dotonburi and Shinsaibashi, which are lined with shops and places to eat. One of the most satisfying food to consume on the go is takoyaki and there are several takoyaki stalls in the area.IMG_4783

Takoyaki is a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and chopped octopus cooked in a special takoyaki grill pan. It is typically topped with takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, spring onions and my favorite bonito flakes.

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Of the three takoyaki stores we were able to sample, the one we liked best can be found on a side street near the Namba Oriental Hotel. It is the cheapest too, at 8 pieces for 450 yen! (The most expensive was 6 pieces for 650 yen.) There is a queue to get served but it moves fast. Served in an open boat-shaped cardboard box with pink paper, this takoyaki has the chunkiest octopus bits and is generously covered with bonito flakes.

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Takoyaki is served fresh from the hot pan so be careful not to burn your mouth!

STREET FOOD – SOFT SERVE ICE CREAM

Takoyaki covers the savory, while soft serve icecream gives you sweet and creamy.

Cremia is served in a cone on a metal holder at an Excelsior cafe across a busy shoe store in Shinsaibaishi. With 25% Hokkaido fresh cream, it was richly creamy and had just the right amount of sweetness. Even the crisp wafer cone was perfection. I loved it!

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I saw a video of Kris Aquino and sons making a trip to a Milky ice cream parlor in Tokyo which had unfortunately closed for the day.  I had to try Milky ice cream, too, and was happy to discover they have an outlet on the Shinsaibashi strip.  Signs are in Japanese but I was able to identify Milky through their logo of a lip-smacking girl wearing red. This outlet is a full-service family restaurant offering simple meals, banana splits, parfaits and cakes, but we just wanted to try their soft-serve, while we cooled our heels waiting for our shopper companions.  Milky’s soft-serve was also very creamy but a tad sweeter than Cremia’s. Cremia is still tops for me.

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A refreshments stall at Kansai International Airport offers soft serve icecream too, so I had a matcha cone just before departing Osaka for Manila. It was just okay. Well, I suppose you can’t expect much from a generic soft serve ice cream at the airport.

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JAPANESE MEALS ON PHILIPPINE AIRLINES

I might as well mention here the excellent Japanese hot meal attractively presented in colorful Japanese tableware, on Philippine Airlines business class flights.

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On Osaka-Manila PR flights, the business class Japanese meal set has sea bream sushi, steamed chicken, grilled squid, edamame and egg cake for appetizer (zensai), kobachi of cold soba noodles with dried seaweed, tsukemono of pickled vegetables, miso soup, dainomono of beef patty in ponzu sauce with mushroom & asparagus and steamed rice, and hot green tea. For dessert, there’s a pink wagashi flower made of azuki bean paste, almost too pretty to eat. Pair your meal with a selection of red and white wines and champagne.

The Manila-Osaka PR economy class Japanese meal is also outstanding, much better than I expected. My favorite item on the bountiful food tray is the Japanese cheesecake.

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COME TO OSAKA

If you love to eat, Osaka, Japan is a wonderful destination that offers a full range of food from bang-up to basic, from simple to sublime — all of which will give you a happy tummy.

Remembering the food we enjoyed in Osaka as I write this makes me hungry! No doubt I will be back for more.

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