Osaka is known for its sights to tourists, but locals know it for its millions of tastes. The birthplace of ramen has become food central with an “eat ’till you drop” culture. Vending machine restaurants, food stalls, and conveyor belt sushi make it easy to happily stuff yourself without shame.
The lack of English in restaurant signage makes it a bit of a challenge to know what’s on the menu, but hyper realistic plastic models, and menus with gratuitous amounts of pictures make dining fairly simple, even if you don’t know Japanese: just pick something that looks good and it’s highly likely that it will be great.
When you find yourself in a place known for food, what else is there to do but gorge? It’s a red carpet invitation to taste your heart out that you’d be crazy to deny. I decided to focus my feasting and embark on a quest for the Holy Grail of conveyor belt sushi and the ultimate udon noodles.
The simplicity of these dishes actually makes them quite complex for chefs to perfect their subtle tastes and textures. Science, secrets, history, and technique are employed behind the scenes in the kitchen.
I had udon in the park near Osaka castle, in a business center with suits and ties on their lunch break, and wherever else I could get some noodles in my belly. My favorite udon place happened to be a little mom and pop spot in the scenic Shinsekai area near the Osaka Clock Tower. We entered and had the whole place to ourselves for an early lunch. A set lunch landed us 5 pieces of sushi, a large bowl of noodles, and green tea. The broth was miso perfection complimented by fresh green onions, and the noodles were delicately chewy. A dash of chili spice rounded out all the layers of flavor. It was the absolute best lunch we had in Osaka and came to about $5 per person.
The quest for conveyor belt sushi brought us to a few duds on the really popular streets. I would recommend strolling on Donotombouri street, but not sushi-ing there. The best sushi that I’ve eaten in all of Japan so far was Kura Sushi on Toyosaki street (and I’ve been around the belt a few times).
When you enter, it’s very apparent that this is the place to be for dinner, as it’s packed with locals. Everything is digitized from the moment you enter and take a number for your seat at the conveyor belt. The counters are situated around a sushi train of space capsules that open at a touch to yield delicious morsels of tender fish on perfectly molded rice.
The restaurant is the ultimate in self service: unlimited green tea is available via a hot water pump and powder, and if you don’t see your favorite dish, you can order it on the fully illustrated screen above your seat and it will alert you at the most opportune moment when your dish is nearly in front of you.
We seemed to grab almost one of everything and tasted a rainbow of mouth watering sushi. Most of which were mystery fish to us, but there was not one dish that wasn’t totally tasty and completely impressive.
Osaka definitely lived up to its reputation of being a foodie paradise and didn’t disappoint in my favorite dishes. I’m sure the tastes of the perfect sushi and udon from food city will haunt my feasting dreams for a while.