Hajime opened in 2008 and within 18 months, received its three Michelin-star rating in 2010. The restaurant, which serves French cuisine, also ranks in the Foodie Top 100 Restaurants Worldwide, as well as Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. Chef Hajime Yoneda was a former design engineer at an electronics firm, before switching careers to open Hajime in 2008. His food and the whole dining experience is an active art piece. The 35,640 yen tasting menu (US$313 per person) gets you approximately 17 dishes and lasts about four hours.
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Hakozushi is a boxed style of sushi unique to the Osaka area. The ingredients vary and could include sliced fish, prawns and tamago (omelette) layered on top of sumeshi (vinegared rice). This is pressed neatly into a box to make a delicious and beautiful parcel of goodness. Yoshino Sushi has been in business since 1841 and is one of the most well-known hakozushi restaurants in Osaka. They now have three restaurants in operation but the flagship store near Osaka Station is probably the best place to try this food, even though they removed the traditional zashiki (floor seating) a few years ago in favour of a modern seating arrangement with tables and chairs.
Kushikatsu, skewers of battered and deep-fried, bite-sized pieces of meat, seafood or vegetables, is one of Osaka’s signature dishes. It may seem similar to tempura, but differs in that breadcrumbs are added to kushikatsu batter. Yaekatsu (3-4-13 Ebisuhigashi, Naniwa-ku), located in the Shinsekai region of Osaka, is a famous kushikatsu restaurant that is more than 50 years old. The kushikatsu here is light and crispy because of a secret recipe, and is so popular that it’s likely you have to stand in long queues to get your order in. As a matter of etiquette, it is very important to only dip your kushikatsu once, as a container of the dipping sauce is generally shared between customers at the counter.
You can’t meet a geisha easily in Japan, but Maikoya Osaka has changed this by offering a dining experience where you are served by a geisha in training. You can chat with the geisha to find out more about the culture, and take photos with her. Visitors can also learn to cook traditional Japanese dishes ranging from sushi and okonomiyaki to desserts, or take part in a Japanese tea ceremony.
5. Naniwa Kappo Kigawa
In a historic cobblestone area of Osaka, you’ll find the Michelin-star Naniwa Kappo Kigawa restaurant (1-7-7 Dotombori, Chuo-ku). This restaurant offers authentic, traditional Japanese meals like cuttlefish sashimi, abalone, shiitake mushrooms and pike eel wrapped in soybean milk skin. Sit at the sushi counter to see the chefs preparing your food, or opt for the private tatami room if you’re in a group. A 10-course lunch will cost you around US$70.
Okonomiyaki, a pan-fried savoury pancake filled with vegetables and meat or seafood, is famous in the Kansai region of Japan. There is no better place to get your fill of these delectable treats than at Mizuno. This well-known restaurant is very small, seating 38 people at capacity, so you can expect a queue – but it is well worth it. The chef’s recommendation is the yam pancake.
Another of Osaka’s most famed dishes is takoyaki – wheat flour balls with octopus filling, cooked on a griddle. It is served mostly with mayonnaise or a brown takoyaki sauce. You will find different variations of this dish in the eateries around Osaka, but the one at Kougaryu (2-18-4 Nishishinsaibashi, Chuo-ku) is one of the most famous. You will usually pay 350-600 yen for 10 depending on the variety and added sauces. This dish is best enjoyed hot and fresh so don’t wander off too far before tucking in.
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A Korean-style food that is widely enjoyed in Osaka is yakiniku (below), or barbecued meat. Tsuruichi (3-3 Shimoajiharacho, Tennoji-ku) is one of the oldest and most established yakiniku restaurants in Osaka. They have a famous sauce that has not changed since the restaurant opened in the 1940s. Their barbecued meat is also way more authentic in taste because they cook the meat over a charcoal fire rather than the more popular gas grilling that occurs in many of the other yakiniku restaurants in the area.
9. Usami-tei Matsubaya
If you only have time to taste one bowl of udon in Osaka, make it the kitsune udon (below). Originating from Osaka, this noodle dish is topped with a piece of dried tofu that has been simmered in a sweet sauce. Try it at Usamitei Matsubaya (3-8-1 Minamisemba, Chuo-ku), a family-run shop that was established in 1893 by the Usami family, who still run the business now, three generations later.
– TEXT BY JESSICA FARAH
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This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.