The famous French food writer François Simon once publicly claimed Osaka had outstripped Paris as the world’s culinary capital, and it’s easy to see why. Where Paris has become too exclusive for its own good, Osaka retains an inclusive vibrancy unimaginable in most other culinary cities. Side by side, the rich, the critics, the workers and the tourists chow down on some of the greatest food found anywhere on Earth. No wonder the place is regarded as a modern foodie Mecca.
But it’s not just all open dining and accomplished treats. Like its rival Tokyo, Osaka prides itself on being unusual, with some of its restaurants being deliciously strange.
Fishing at Zauo
Freshly caught fish is a big deal in Japan, and the idea of eating something that was caught last night and shipped in from elsewhere would be anathema to most Osaka residents. All of which may go some way towards explaining Zauo. A sort of underwater restaurant, Zauo allows you to sit at the table, fishing line in hand and catch one of the many specimens they have swimming around. Once caught, you tell your waiter how you want the fish done; it’s whisked off to the kitchen and quickly returned to be chowed down on. Although there is a set menu, it’s much more entertaining to fish yourself – although you may have to be prepared to wait.
See the Masters Work at Minami Teppanyaki
Minami Teppanyaki is where people who appreciate skill go to dine. As is the case in much of Japan, the food is prepared out in the open; only in this case it means right in front of you. The specially-trained world class chefs will take your order and construct it right under your very nose, allowing you to admire their handiwork and the effort that goes into their craft. And a craft it certainly is: it can take up to 10 years to become a fully-qualified sushi chef. At Minami Teppanyaki is where you can see all that hard work pay off.
Mingle at Dotombori Arcade
New York chef Anthony Bourdain has long been a fan of Osaka’s casual snack food, and the Dōtombori Arcade is where you’ll experience it at its finest. A collection of bustling and busy food stalls crammed together along a single walkway, the Arcade is nobody’s idea of a formal dining experience. But the mouth-watering selection of food on offer is hands-down some of the best in Japan. For less than ten dollars you can pick up specialties which would break the wallet in New York, all while sharing eating space with diners from all strata of Osaka society. If you want to experience a delicious slice of real Japan, the Arcade is the place to go.
Visit Wonderland at Alice’s Fantasy Restaurant
Part of a small chain (there are two identical versions in Tokyo) Alice’s Fantasy Restaurant does exactly what it says on the tin. Based on a gaudy reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s novels, the restaurant invites visitors to take tea with the Queen of Hearts, navigate gigantic bookcases and tuck into fine food served by a group of costumed characters. Simultaneously tacky and brilliantly good fun, this collision of fairground experience with world-class food is Osaka dining at its most-inspired fun.
Dice with Death over Fugu
Many, many establishments in Osaka serve fugu, but only a few brave tourists ever try it. Sublimely delicious, it is made by slicing the deadly Japanese blowfish in a very particular way. One false move on the chef’s part and your body will be flooded with toxins capable of killing you.
All of which may sound terrifying, until you realise only 40-odd people die from eating fugu every year, in a country where everyone tucks in. The odds of getting a deadly dish are around 1 in 3 million, but the frisson of suspense as you take your first bite is a thrill that doesn’t fade no matter how often you go back.
Did we leave your favorite Osaka dining experience out? Let us know in the comments below.