Getting to Know the Unique Food Culture in Osaka
Osaka is best known for its bustling streets, grand Osaka Castle, cheerful and energetic people, and, among all, the delicious food! This article explores and dissects the food culture of Osaka, the city filled with unique specialties that can be enjoyed only there.
Kombu dashi and wheat flourWith the Seto Inland Sea, an ideal location for catching fresh fish and seafood, the Osaka Plain, an ideal place for growing all kinds of vegetables, and the surrounding mountains, the topography of Osaka is a natural treasure house of abundant food resources. Osaka was already developed as a hub of both water traffic and land traffic more than 400 years ago. With that, it gathered various food items from all over Japan and as well as from foreign countries, making itself into “Tenka no daidokoro” (the nation’s kitchen). The food culture of Osaka has kept evolving up to the present day.
Did you know that there are two important keywords when you talk about the food culture of Osaka? The keywords are “kombu dashi” and “wheat flour.” One of the foundations of Osaka’s food is “umami,” the sixth taste in addition to spiciness, sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, and sourness. Kombu dashi adds umami to Osaka dishes.
To many people, Osaka’s representative dishes are takoyaki and okonomiyaki. These dishes are based on wheat flour and called “konamon” (flour dishes). Konamon dishes are unique specialties of Osaka. In the past, lots of wheat flour came from Europe to Osaka.
Wheat flour was relatively affordable, so people created negi-yaki (popular leek pancake snack), okonomiyaki, and various other konamon dishes, which people still enjoy eating nowadays. As a result, these dishes put down roots and settled in Osaka’s food culture.
Must-eat unique dishes of OsakaUdon noodles
Enjoy udon noodles in Kansai-style dashi soup!
Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki
Sashimi and sushi
Basashi (horse sashimi) and torisashi (chicken sashimi)
Motsu-nabe (a hot pot with beef or pork giblets)
Kushi-ryori (skewered dishes)
Osaka food culture with tradition and innovationPeople in Osaka are keen to preserve their own food culture, but they also never hesitate to adopt humor and the latest trends to create new culture. Osakans have also pioneered instant noodles and retort curry. Ezaki Glico Co. Ltd., a food company that is best known for its electric signboard ad in Dotombori, was also born in Osaka.
At some convenience stores in Osaka, you may come across “kombu-dashi”-based food items that are limited to the Osaka area. So if you move to another area, you may well be disappointed by their absence.
The large variety of Osaka-born food items shows you Osaka people’s passion for and obsession with food, you will surely agree.
Most households in Osaka have a takoyaki grill and a hot plate.
The “konamon” culture in Osaka was born from the common people’s everyday food life. In Osaka, practically every household has one takoyaki grill and one hot plate for okonomiyaki.
Takoyaki is soul food for Osakans. It is easy to cook and enjoy with family and friends. Students get together to have “takoyaki parties” (so-called tako-pa). Okonomiyaki can be enjoyed in various ways, as the name suggests, with a variety of ingredients and toppings, such as shrimp, cheese, and chikuwa (fish surimi shaped into a tube). Takoyaki also can be enjoyed in various ways, including dessert takoyaki with chocolate inside!
The food culture of Osaka is not supported by professional chefs only, but also by everyday people!
Culture of enjoying food holisticallyAnother aspect of Osaka’s unique food culture is counter seats. At counter seats, you can enjoy food while watching chefs cook for you. Counter seats, which give people a premium feeling, are common everywhere now in Japan, but they were born in Osaka. They came into existence based on the unique attitude of Osakans towards food, i.e., that fully enjoying food involves everything in the restaurant, including cooking scenes, conversation with chefs, and atmosphere.
Although there are different stories about the origin of the name “okonomiyaki,” some say that the name comes from the fact that customers and chefs cook their favorite (okonomi) ingredients coated with batter. Kaiten-zushi (conveyor-belt sushi) is also considered to have gotten its start in Osaka.
*The information herein is as of August 2017.