Through the Shinsaibashi shopping arcade and under the flashes of neon lights, gigantic billboards and mechanical mascots lies the food mecca of Osaka, Dotombori located in the minami area of Osaka. Compared to the Kita Osaka, Minami Osaka is where you'll find the hustle and bustle with restaurants, bars, karaoke, clubs, pachinko parlours lining and squeezed in every nook and cranny of Dotombori.
Dotombori has a food culture and of course there is an abundance of food everywhere to satisfy any of your food cravings. There is saying in Osaka "kuidaore" which means to 'enjoy and eat food past your hearts content' until you ruin yourself and wallet – sort of like the food version of 'shop til you drop' 😛 So we did just that…gorging on Osaka's street food.
We enjoyed walked along Dotomborigawa (river) which is said to have inspired Bladerunner and watched the dazzling lights of the billboards (though not all of them were lit up to conserve energy and respect Northern Japan), listened to the buskers on Ebisubashi bridge and people watched the young fashionistas. I loved the liveliness and the fun atmosphere of Dotombori and it's vibrance where here the flashiest seems to mean the best.
Shinsaibashi the start of the 600m roofed shopping arcade Lotteria Ebi (prawn) Burger
Lotteria is a burger chain in Japan where I had an Ebi Burger (290Y) better than KFC Shanghai and Bill had a Cheeseburger set with melon soda and a juicy fried chicked for around 870Y and fought over a crispy sausage roll…in hindsight t was only 190Y so we probably should have gotten two… Overall Lotteria burgers are good but I still prefer the burgers at Freshness Burger which is another burger chain in Japan.
No they don't really sell takoyaki in Coke cups but in boat cups for only 300Y (not $8AUD like in Chinatown). Instead of takoyaki again we shared an ika-yaki which is a deliciously baked squid encased in a cracked egg.
Ika-yaki Glico Confectionary
Glico produces many of my childhoold favourites including Pocky, Caramel and Bisco which are bite size wheat germ crackers with a milky cream filling.
Coco-Rico crepes Banana Strawbery Chocolate Crepe Giant Takoyaki Pretz and Green Tea Pretz
You'll come to realise Japan loves limited editions and seasonal items so there are Pretz flavours you're only able to buy in certain areas like the takoyaki flavour and okonomiyaki flavours are only sold in the Kansai region.
Hurrah spring has finally arrived! It was only a few months ago when I was experiencing spring in Japan where we were blesssed as the sakura were still blooming when we arrived. It was quite unimaginable to think how tumltuous the month leading into spring was in Japan but the cherry blossoms in all it's breathtaking beauty brought a calm and sense of hope to the nation.
Our first leg of our Japan trip was in Osaka
having arrived at Kansai airport. Osaka is only three hours from Tokyo on the shinkansen and a mere 15mins from Kyoto. It is generally divided into Kita
(north) where the business district is as well as the bigger department stores and Minami
(south) is where Osaka through the hustle and bustle of the city comes to life.
On our first full day in Japan we decided to view Osaka castle and the surrounding park located in Kita Osaka. Osaka-jo (castle) was once built to signify unity in Japan however after several civil wars saw it subsequently destroyed, it is now a recontruction of the original castle. It's a beautiful and regal tower gilded in gold rising above Osaka and surrounded by a deep moat. Unfortunately it's not really a "castle" and inside it actually houses a museum documenting the history of Osaka castle.
From Osaka station we hopped on a train to Tenmabashi (a 10min walk from Osaka castle). However from the window of our train we saw a wide river lined with cherry blossoms and spontaneously got off the train without knowing where we were which is very unlike me and a result of Bill's influences. It happened to be Sakuranomiya station and we followed the crowds to Sakuranomiya park which is know for it's 4700 cherry blossom trees. We took a casual stroll along Ogawa (literally big river) under the very impressive sakura trees and headed towards Osaka castle which we could see in the distance. It turned out to be a fairly long walk but we were mesmerised by the blue sky lined with pink clouds and from watching petals gently flutter to the ground in front of our paths. I think our walk took two hours to eventually reach the castle but we had so much fun people watching on our way as groups camped along the river with their grills and booze, and checked out small food stalls along the way (mostly selling takoyaki).
The view from the train
Osaka castle in the distance
After two hours…Osaka-jo
Our morning "stroll" over we headed back to Osaka station which just so happens to be really close to all the luxury stores and big department stores such as Daimaru, Yodobashi Camera, Hankyu department store and Hep Five where a huge ferris wheel sits atop it. Being the main transport hub in Osaka we did get a little lost but found an awesome "water" clock on the south side of the building which we watched in awe with a couple of younger kids.
Before intensely hitting the shopping strips we take a break at Starbucks and we were presented and overwhelmed by the "sakura" options they had on offer – I went a little crazy and we shared a sakura macaron, sakura latte, sakura frappuccino and sakura chiffon cake… they also had sakura scones and sakura cake pops. Unfortunately the sakura macaron was pretty but had no substance, but on the other hand the sakura chiffon cake was fluffy and surprisingly I even enjoyed the icing on top. We weren't sure what to expect from the sakura frappuccino but it was quite refreshing with a hint of sourness but the sakura latte was too milky to be able to anjoy the flavours.
With our sugar levels back up it was time to hit Shinsaibashi a 600m shopping arcade 😀
Osaka South Side Building
Yes, we're easily amused and that is another minute of our life gonee Starbucks Sakura Latte, Sakura Macaron and Sakura Chiffon Cake
We arrived in Osaka late at night and after checking into our hotel we were in desperate need of a feed and lucky for us there in the basement floor of our building was filled with restaurants. Since we are in the birth place of takoyaki no trip to Osaka is complete with having a takoyaki feast so we found ourselves walking into Takonotetsu Pizza Ball House. I'm not really sure why they're called "pizza ball house" when it's not really a pizza at all… Takoyaki literally means grilled octopus and is a perfect ball of pan-fried batter encasing small pieces of octopus with spring onions, tenkasu (tempura flakes), pickled ginger and topped off with Japanese mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce and katsuobushi (bonito flakes).
The restaurant walls are lined with retired takoyaki grill plates and had an izakaya atmosphere to it – rowdy, full and abuzz. They had so many different types of takoyaki so it was hard to choose, even harder as I had to explain each type to Bill but eventually we decided to order takoyaki (580yen) and curry takoyaki (680yen) and also a modern okonomiyaki (800yen). Our drink of choice for the night was lime chuhai – chuhai is a cocktail with soda and lemon mixed with shochu a vodka-like distilled liquor. With our drinks in tow we start to tackle cooking our own takoyaki – our table even comes with instructions!
1. Grease our takoyaki grill plates and our waitress places a couple of dices of octopus into each well.
2. Pour in the takoyaki batter.
3. Add whatever we want – some shallots, benishoga (pickled ginger) and lots and lots of tenkasu.
4. Ready to turn our ingredients into perfect takoyaki balls.
The guys at Golo Tako at the Friday night markets make it look so easy but we were having trouble turning the batter into balls so Bill bravely asked the manager to help us. The manager was a colourful character and with his limited english taught us how to twirl the batter really fast and once he finished his demo he yelled out "CHALLENGE!" and so we went right ahead trying. Eventually we kind of mastered the art of shaping the batter into a perfect ball – the secret is it's all in the wrist 😉
Once they resemble small golf balls drizzle okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise on top and sprinkle with some katsuobushi and aonori and we're done. Ours turned out quite good the exterior was crunchy and the batter was soft and was piping hot as it oozed out. I think it was more delicious because we made it ourselves!
We were keen to go to a few more of these DIY takoyaki houses to try again and master the art of twirling perfectly shaped takoyaki balls but sadly we didn't have enough time. Fully satisfied we retired to our small and cosy hotel room to watch some crazy Japanese game shows one of which involved a competition of whose dog can wag their tail the most within a minute….