When people back home in America think of Japanese food they usually say – sushi and ramen. Don’t get me wrong, sushi and ramen are delicious but they make up a very small portion of what Japanese food or 和食 washoku is. But the pendulum swings both ways. My Japanese friends think American food essentially consists of hamburgers, fried chicken (karaage chicken), and french fries (which they usually call fried potato). Of course, American food is much more diverse than this, even within different regions of the same state in some case. Japan is similar. Different regions, even prefectures usually have a local specialty, and if you visit that area it’s almost expected that you’ll try that food (if you haven’t before). It’s easy to make these generalizations about food from another country, especially if you’ve never been there before, so I’d like to share a little about Osaka specialties with you.
I asked my Japanese friends, some from Osaka and some from other parts of Japan what they consider Osaka’s specialty food. I usually got the same two answers: takoyaki and okonomiyaki.
Takoyaki is a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special molded pan. It is typically filled with minced or diced octopus (tako), tempura scraps (tenkasu), pickled ginger, and green onion. Takoyaki are brushed with takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise, and then sprinkled with green laver (aonori) and shavings of dried bonito. There are many different variations to takoyaki – including variants in protein (i.e. shrimp instead of octopus), sauce, and toppings. In Osaka you can find takoyaki being served from a food cart almost anywhere. You’ll see stands on the streets of Osaka, in train stations, malls, and sometimes in convenience stores like 7-11, though I would recommend you try one that’s fresh made in front of you. One order usually comes with six balls, for around 300-600yen per order.
okonomiyaki (お好み焼き )
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning “how you like” or “what you like”, and yaki meaning “grill” [the same “yaki” as in yakoyaki]. Most restaurants will either cook it for you and distribute it onto a hot plate for you to eat (and share with friends), or even more fun is to get a place where they cook it in front of you. Okonomiyaki is usually a mix of eggs, cabbage, and meat/seafood of your choice. Variants will have different vegetables or one of my favorites, includes yakisoba (fried noodles) inside it. Usually these ingredients will mostly be mixed together in a bowl before placed to cook on a hot plate. It can be topped with an “okonomiyaki sauce” and mayonaise, though the waiter will usually ask you if you want it, I recommend you try it in full force.
Now, please note there are other regionally specific versions of okonomiyaki (i.e. Hiroshima style okonomiyaki is usually built in layers and including noodles). But okonomiyaki is widely associated with the Kansai and hiroshima areas, especially Osaka.