Unless you’re one of those tourists who choose where to eat “just to be seen” there as evidenced by social media photos, in Osaka, street food and Kuromon Market eats will give you a better gustatory experience. The food is creative, the price is friendlier and the variety is staggering. These are among our favorites.
My daughters’ favorite takoyaki stall in Dotonbori
We went to Dotonbori on several occasions during our stay in Osaka. For different reasons. The first time to bring the girls to Don Quijote (they weren’t exactly impressed). Another time, just to buy boxes of chocolate that Alex had been unable to find in other stores in Osaka. Speedy went there another time to buy Hav-A-Tampa which, according to him, was cheaper in Osaka than in Manila. There was that time when we discovered Salon de The Alcyon.
And then, there was that night when, still dinnerless, we decided to just eat whatever looked good as we trawled the length of Dotonbori. That was when my daughters discovered a takoyaki stall that they still pine for to this day. Yes, it was that good.
That’s a baby octopus. Each takoyaki ball had a whole baby octopus in it.
The very skilled cook did not flip the takoyaki on all sides as is traditional when cooking this snack so that the tentacles of the octopus don’t get covered by the batter. He was quite a showman, this cook, as he did the flipping artfully. He was okay with customers taking videos and photos.
When the takoyaki is served, you know you get a whole octopus in each piece because all the tentacles are visible. And the octopus is super tender because it is not overcooked. The girls loved it!
This is the facade of the stall where the girls ordered the takoyaki. You have to place your order, and pay for it, using an automatic ticket machine.
There’s the automatic ticket machine in case you’re curious about the price of the takoyaki.
Grilled beef tongue
While the girls were busy with their takoyaki, I was eyeing something else. Grilled beef tongue.
In the Philippines, we simmer beef tongue for long hours until it’s melt-in-the-mouth tender. So, when I first read about grilled beef tongue, I was intrigued. How could beef tongue be edible if it were cooked directly on the grill for a short time? Wouldn’t it be tough and rubbery as hell? So I promised myself I was going to try it in Japan.
We did that in Dotonbori. I watched slices of beef tongue, skewered alternatingly with wedges of onion, go on a very hot grill and brushed with tare. Cooking time was short. The beef tongue was served medium rare with a wedge of lemon on the side.
I squeezed lemon juice over the beef tongue slices and shared the skewered meet with Speedy. Surprisingly, the grilled tongue was neither tough nor rubbery. It was chewy, yes, which was a new textural experience for me. The tart lemon juice mixed with the sweetish tare and gave the meat a wonderfully balanced flavor. Combine that with the smokiness from the grill and… It was good.
Okay, moving on to our Kuromon Market experience.
Our favorite Kuromon Market eats
The apartment where we stayed in Osaka was within walking distance of Kuromon Market. Well, Dotonbori was walkable too but farther by about 10 minutes. Kuromon Market was a five-minute walk.
I wanted to go to Kuromon on our first morning in Osaka. Just to experience it, really. After Nishiki Market in Kyoto which we found too touristy, I had already lowered my expectations of Kuromon Market.
Fortunately, we found Kuromon to be ten times better than Nishiki, if not more. We were there almost every day that we were in Osaka. We ate there (yes, on our feet) and, on other occasions, we bought cooked food that we brought back to the apartment.
Ever had tempura for breakfast? Well, if you decide to go to Kuromon Market in the morning, you can have tempura for breastfast. On a plate, of you want to have it the usual way, or on a stick if you want a new experience.
And when I say tempura, there’s really a lot more than ebi tempura sold at the market stalls. They cook almost anything tempura style there. The girls had crab stick tempura; I had unagi (freshwater eel) tempura; and I forget now what Speedy had.
On another day, we went katsu crazy. We discovered the stall because Speedy went to the convenience store across the aisle where there was an automatic foreign exchange machine. While waiting for him, we saw the plastic replica of the various fried food sold at a food stall. We had already eaten breakfast but we couldn’t resist.
Sam ordered cheese which was served with a strip of mayo.
Imagine a thick stick of cheese tossed in flour, coated with egg then dredged in bread crumbs before going into a pot of very hot oil. The short cooking time, over intense heat, browns the bread crumbs to a crisp and turns the cheese into a beautiful gooey mess. Spices are sprinkled on it before it is served.
Speedy had the cheese pork which he split with Alex. I chose a stick of cheese chicken which I also split with Alex. I wouldn’t have been able to finish a whole one by myself because, like I said, we already had breakfast when we discovered the stall. But Alex, well, she has a healthy appetite especially when we’re abroad and on a food adventure.
Then, there’s the soft ice cream. Every time we were at Kuromon, one or more of us always ordered a cone.
The award-winning soft ice cream at Kuromon is never without customers. You can order ice cream cone or you can choose the larger servings with fresh fruit.
We also bought ready-to-eat food from various stalls at Kuromon.
There was a place at Kuromon, a mini-grocery with a mini-food court where we bought grilled unagi at such a good price.
Sam, who was always pining for sashimi, bought sashimi more times than I can remember at Kuromon. Sashimi in Japan is simply superb, and Sam especially liked an assortment. Several varieties of fish and octopus in one tray. Common market fare, imagine that.
There was one sashimi though that was truly unforgettable.
Sashimi served over rice. A rice bowl meal. Think of it as deconstructed sushi. You have Japanese rice in a bowl, slices of raw fish are arranged on top and, the crowning glory, heaps of fish roe.
The first time we saw the stall selling it, we immediately wanted to try it. But it was always crowded. Apparently, it is very popular among the locals.
Then, one late afternoon, less than an hour before Kuromon closed at 6.00 p.m. when there weren’t so many people anymore, we finally got the chance. There are about a dozen ways to order this fish-and-rice meal and it took us a long time to decide which ones we wanted.
Speedy chose all-tuna, Sam had all-salmon, Alex and I both had the tuna and salmon combination. We brought the bowls back to the apartment and feasted. And we understood why the stall always had so many customers. The fish and rice bowl meal was divine.
The best chicken karaage we had is Osaka was from a food truck
One morning, we were walking towards Dotonbori planning on having late breakfast there. We diverted from our usual path and discovered a food truck parked in front of a hostel called NanNan Stay.
We stopped, just curious at first, but the curiosity grew because the signage was in Korean.
Korean chicken karaage? Yes, the food truck owner said. We set aside the initial plan to have breakfast in Dotonbori and ordered. Chicken karaage and the spiral potato for Sam.
While the food was in the fryer, Speedy and the food truck owner started chatting about the previous night’s boxing match which, of course, I couldn’t follow. What the heck, there was a boxing match?
Chicken karaage is just fried chicken fillet. But there’s so-so chicken karaage, good chicken karaage and great chicken karaage. And we had a lot of chicken karaage in Japan. But what this food truck sells was the best of all.
What set it apart from the rest? The light but ultra crisp coating, the spices and the perfect frying. With the wrong kind of oil and cooking temperature, chicken karaage, as simple as it may be, will never be a good experience. The food truck owner knew how to cook and season chicken karaage correctly.
Same thing with Sam’s spiral potato. No thin slices here like potatp chips. The potato, cut into a spiral, had slices as thick as fries. And it wasn’t just skewered and fried. It was seasoned (the potato was seasoned all the way to the core) and coated lightly with flour before frying.
What a lovely discovery that food truck was. We were already planning our next street food experience there so we asked about its operating hours. 9.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m., the genial owner said and only on weekdays. If you’re in Osaka and you want to try the chicken karaage and fried potato, locate NanNan Stay on Google maps. The truck is parked right in front.