If Tokyo, Vegas, and Hot Topic had a baby, you’d end up with the neighborhood in Osaka that is Shinsaibashi, an area flooded with small restaurants all cooking up their own versions of the same, traditional Japanese foods (sushi included).
As you could probably guess, my days in Osaka revolved more around my meals and food in general. There is no shortage of delicious cuisine and sweets to be consumed which seems to be the case in all of Japan. That said, using a combination of broken English and Japanese, I felt the need to try everything I could get my hands on.
I walked up and down every street in new neighborhoods in search for my next treat, working up my appetite along the way, and smiling at people in transit between the office and a quick lunch.
To buy TV dinners at 7/11 or settle for McDonalds would be an injustice to all the great foods that Japan has to offer. Not to mention that I’d be missing out on a significant slice of their culture by doing so.
Other than water, I’m 90% certain that green tea is key to survival in Japan. Not just tea (hot or iced), but green tea based everything. Sweets, in particular. Ice cream, cream puffs, spongecake, mochi, kit kats, lattes, you name it, they have it in green tea flavor. As a green tea addict myself, you can imagine my surprise and overwhelming glee at what can be done with just one simple ingredient.
Pancakes & Crepe Stalls
Ok so even though pancakes and crepes are Western creations, they sure do decorate them in different ways than we’re used to. You all remember my green butter pancake from Tokyo, right? Well it doesn’t stop there. Perhaps you’d like a spaghetti crepe or one with burrito fixens? Maybe try a crepe stuffed with every fruit under the sun. Want to add some chocolate, whipped cream, or butter to that? WHY NOT? You’re on vacation! While on a snacking binge, try the frozen cream puffs or waffle ice cream sandwiches.
Crepe and waffle stands/shops are creeping around every corner, and since things get weird when traveling around the world on a budget, it’s not uncommon to have one or more “dessert breakfasts.”
Udon, Soba, and Ramen (Oh my!)
Noodles, noodles, and more noodles. Curry over udon noodles is just about my favorite noodle dish. Anything over udon, really. I am not lying to you when I say that 95% of my meals in Japan were noodle based. The story on my relationship with noodles is coming to your computer screen very soon. It was like being back in my freshman year of college again surviving on 10 cent ramen packages only now I’ve upgraded to thicker, tastier noodles in a ceramic bowl instead of a foam cup that deteriorated at the touch of hot water.
Dumplings & Dim Sum
Dumplings and dim sum were something I took more advantage of while I was in Hong Kong, and quite honestly, I’m not a dim sum fan like many Asians are expected to be. While I didn’t get sick from anything I tried, some tastes just didn’t resonate with me. With a mesh of gooey and crunchy in one compact bun, I have to wonder what it contains. I’m all about strange foods as long as you don’t tell me the name or what’s in it. Love the steamed pork dumplings though.
Who knew that a dish that took me 3 days to pronounce correctly would end up being my favorite food from Japan? The minute you cross the border, the people impress upon you the importance of trying Okonomiyaki before leaving the country. Well, it’s for a good reason because it’s absolutely fricken delicious. Your choice of soba or udon noodles topped with cabbage, a variety of vegetables, meat options, and egg. Often described as a cabbage pancake, don’t let that description deter you. My recommendation would be to either skip breakfast, go hungry, and eat one for lunch or take a friend with you to split one as they can be too large of a portion for one person.
The best part is that it is cooked in front of you at the restaurant, kind of like Benihana for those of you who are familiar with that chain, and they leave it on the stovetop so it stays warm as you chow down.
Sweet & Sour
When it comes to eating meat, sweet & sour is one of my favorites. Soup, chicken, pork, beef, it’s all so delectable. I’m not a big meat eater, to begin with, but throw some sweet & sour sauce into the mix, and I’m in. It’s that easy.
Especially during the Winter, soup is what hits the spot. Aside from simple soups, many dishes come soaked in a broth so it’s like a 2-for-1. Like I mentioned before, 95% of the food I ate was noodle based so I didn’t get to sample many soups, but I’ll always advocate for the classics like miso or chicken soup.
“Oh yeah, that’s right. You guys die if you don’t eat your recommended daily servings of rice.” I wish I was kidding when I say those are the words that came out of the mouth of one of my new friends in Russia. Asians don’t die if they go a day without rice, but it is common for rice to accompany nearly every dish because it’s the base that provides balance to every present flavor. Much like green tea, rice is a staple food, and thankfully so because without it, it wouldn’t feel like a proper meal.
Whether trying to decipher what exactly the plastic food displays consist of or choosing something at random from a menu in Japanese, taking the bold move of trying something new will never disappoint. Even a queasy stomach or food poisoning comes with a good story to tell the kids.