When I first visited Dotonbori in Osaka in 2014, I was just overwhelmed by how abuzz and alive it was. Two years later, the iconic food and shopping street is busy as ever. This time round though, I realised how much more the stores were catering to Chinese tourists, having staff members call out discounts in Mandarin to get Chinese speakers’ attention.
The entrance to Shinsaibashi Suji in the distance
Osaka was experiencing a pleasantly windy 27 degrees. Nothing like Singapore at 27 degrees (it’s been so long since it’s been 27 degrees here anyway). It felt much cooler and a lot less humid, making it perfect weather to take a stroll and go on a food hunt.
The iconic giant crab from one of the Kani Doraku (crab restaurants)
We had time for one meal in Osaka before moving on and back to Tokyo, so all we needed to do was get some stomach space ready for the onslaught of everything we could stuff into our bodies for lunch. #ChallengeAccepted
I have to say though that it was super hard to really gobble down everything because prior to flying to Japan, I was really cutting down on my food intake every day, so I already had a smaller appetite compared to say a few months ago before I really dropped my daily intake.
Dotonbori Honke Ootako is a takeout Takoyaki stall at Dotonbori street
I’m very sure Dotonbori Nippon Ichi Honke Ootako has seen better days. It was quiet when we were there. There were no large crowds or long queues, but then again, that was the case for most of the takoyaki stalls when we were there during lunch hour on a Tuesday. You know what had a massive queue? Starbucks. I guess the allure of the almighty coffee chain doesn’t escape even Osaka.
At its peak, there were huge crowds around waiting to get their hands on takoyaki; These days, things are quieter
Anyhow, we weren’t gonna complain that there wasn’t a queue. A young friendly chap was eagerly inviting us over, encouraging us to try it and we knew this was the place we were looking for. We pulled out ¥380 and got ourselves six balls of takoyaki.
The highlight of the takoyaki are the generous large chunks of octopus (tako) enveloped by fluffy dough
For the uninitiated, takoyaki (たこ焼き) are these delicious ball-shaped Japanese snacks. The balls are made of a wheat-flour based batter and typically contain either small cubes or large chunks of octopus. These tasty balls are usually topped with bonito flakes and brushed with a savoury sauce (similar to Worcester sauce) and dollops of mayonnaise and are thought to have originated from Osaka – making it a must eat when you visit this merchant city.
Six Takoyaki balls go for ¥380
We had some pretty disappointing takoyaki a day before, so this really hit the spot. The takoyaki were soft and doughy on the inside, wonderfully crisp on the outside. The octopus weren’t chopped into oblivion and were instead large generous chunks. What a treat!
You can opt to takeaway or enjoy it in the eat-in area behind the stall. There’s also kushiyaki available if takoyaki just ain’t enough and you’re hoping for more skewered grilled meats!
道頓堀 本家 大たこ Dontonbori Honke Ootako
1-4-16 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka
The oldest okonomiyaki restaurant in Dotonbori is Mizuno
Time for something more substantial, and what better to fill our tummies with than with one of Osaka’s most famous street food, okonomiyaki (お好み焼き). These are savoury Japanese pancakes that come chock full of a variety of ingredients.
I grew up eating the “Singaporean version” of these that were sold at Pasar Malam or night markets and loved them. Needless to say, being able to eat the real deal in Japan was just way too awesome.
Modan-yaki (モダン焼) is a noodle version of the Japanese pancake
We visited Mizuno, a family-run restaurant (now into its third generation) that is known to be the first okonomiyaki restaurant in Dotonbori and has been in operation for over seventy years. It’s claim to fame is being listed in the Michelin Guide Kyoto Osaka 2016.
I’m always wary about the “Michelin Guide” restaurants because I know how it could very well be a marketing stunt, but The F Man said we should give it a go. Mizuno very obviously caters to tourists (complete with English menus and sky high prices, but we spotted some Japanese diners as well during our visit.
Each dish was cooked before our very eyes by the chefs
We waited in line for about ten to fifteen minutes before we were ushered in to wait inside for another five to ten minutes. We got ourselves seated at the bar table in front of the teppan (鉄板) or iron plate where the okonomiyaki would be cooked and served.
It was pretty cool to be able to have our meal always hot on the teppan and it was great to see our food being cooked for us. Staff were polite, but I wouldn’t say friendly.
The reviews by tourists we read made it sound like the restaurant compromised quality for efficiency with “pre-made” okonomiyaki that was just heated on the grill. Whatever it was, it seemed when we went, everything was as it should be. Ingredients were poured onto the teppan after being mixed together, we watched the chefs prepare everything a la minute.
Yamaimo-yaki (山芋焼) made of 100% mountain yam instead of flour
The must try at Mizuno is the Yamaimo-yaki which is made completely from mountain yam instead of the flour batter. We could also choose two ingredients (we chose prawns and pork). This cost a whopping ¥1,620, but since it was a signature and I’m quite the fan of yam, we ordered this without having to think about it much. We were not disappointed. It was sweet, tasty and also had that unique “slippery” texture thanks to the yam.
We also ordered the modan-yaki which was ¥1,135. Hard to go wrong with okonomiyaki and it was a pretty good experience overall while on the pricey side.
1-4-15, Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka, 542-0071
Ultra-fresh scallops grilled by the street
This is just a random bite we had while strolling down Dotonbori. We noticed this guy grilling these large shells of fresh scallops. They looked so juicy and large that I couldn’t resist buying one to munch on.
Large juicy and cooked in its natural juices
These scallops are grilled with butter, natural jus and soya sauce and go for ¥500 yen a piece.
Only ¥500 for this sweet and large hunk of scallop
Totally worth it. They were so sweet and remarkably fresh. The best part is it wasn’t even chewy! Anyway, no address for this one. You’ll probably find it as you walk down Dotonbori.
Who needs to queue for Cheese tarts in Singapore when I can have them in Japan? We popped by Pablo, which is famous for their freshly baked cheese tarts and ordered us one! The cheese tarts come with some vanilla ice cream and an apricot sauce.
The puff pastry is flakey and crumbly and the cheese dough filling is just such fluffy, soft, creamy goodness. I actually enjoyed the tart a lot more when it was drizzled with the apricot jam-like sauce.
They also have this bizarre ad that was playing on a screen in the cafe that’s about How to Make the BEST Tart. It’s really a little strange, but well… Japan!
焼きたてチーズタルト専門店 PABLO 道頓堀店
2-3-15 Shinsaibashisuji, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, 542−0085
Carrie and The F Man take on Dotonbori
Anyway, that’s the four things to eat at Dotonbori and that was as much as we could manage. Were we disappointed? A little. I was like, “I’m gonna force myself to eat Ichiran Ramen after all this!” I failed of course.
Even The F Man was tapping out by our fourth stop. I guess the rest of the yummy food will have to wait until we return again.