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Osaka - Bankrupted by Gluttony

No, I'm not bankrupt yet. Apparently the Japanese refer to Osaka residents as those who would go bankrupt for the love of food - or something like that. The term is kuiadore. I think it can also sometimes mean "all-ru you can eat-u". But the way the lady at the hotel described it, it can also be like a restaurant crawl - going from place to place, sorta like a tapas evening.

Anyway, here's where she sent me - the Namba area of Osaka.


It's pretty obsessive and decadent. This was a Sunday night before a regular workday. About half of the places are open to midnight, a quarter are open until 3am, and the last quarter are open from 5pm to 5am or 24hours a day. And there are hundreds of restaurants. Doesn't hurt that the girlie bars are right nearby, too.


For you cat people out there, a completely out of context and inexplicable display of cat figurines in a restaurant window.


But back to food: supposedly one of the specialties attributed to the Kansai region is tofu and related products. This restaurant is called Toromuro or something like that. I'll check and correct the name later. It's a very simple but stylish restaurant on the second floor. In the US, being on the second floor is often thought to be bad for business, but in many areas, restaurants are located in less than ideal spots and seem to do just fine. They have a 12 taste lunch special which I wanted, but they wouldn't do at night, so I asked the waitress to choose three of their best dishes. This is an excellent rendition of buta kakuni, pork belly braised in soy and mirin. And you know me and the pork...especially pork belly.


Housemade soft tofu with sea salt and ponzu. Creamy and mild. Served warm.


This is a modern play on a classic Japanese comfort food called ochazuke. It's normally steamed rice, with tea added to it, and you might have some pickles or something. Superbasic. Say if you're sick, or you have grumbly tummy, you might just have this instead of a full meal. Here they've used superpremium rice, cooked it over a burner rather than an electric rice cooker so that it has the roasty flavor, added some yuba strips (tofu "skin") for texture, hidden away in there are some Sichuan peppercorns, aka huajiao, added the tea, with mitsuba (Japanese crunchy parsley) and nori garnish. Sichuan peppers are related to Japanese sanshou peppercorns, but are stronger and have a very particular citrusy flavor and cause a numbing sensation. The Chinese refer to it as "ma" or numbing hot, rather than "la" which is spicy hot. In any event, I thought it was a pretty clever interpretation (in that the huajiao are way outside the box for something that is supposed to be mild, bland, and settling) and tasty to boot.


This is the next restaurant, which showed some promise due to their sake selection. It was called something close to Dynamic Meda. Also on the second floor of a different building.


Sichuan style tebasaki (chicken wings) weren't very spicy, but had good flavor.


This looked good in the picture book, and the waiter recommended it. Crab is one of the specialties of the area, so I thought it would be like crab dynamite with the tomalley and whatnot. Nope. Bummer. It tasted like cream sauce out of an envelope, with elbow macaroni and corn in it, some crab mixed in, and browned on top. Or I imagine what Stouffer's Low Cal Alfredo sauce would taste like. Ungood. Ill conceived.


And some fried smelt, full of roe. Good, but I had hit the wall.


This little stand was doing steady business all night, crushing the competitor right next to it, so I had to get an order of takoyaki. It's a dish originally from this region, but now available in most parts of Japan, as I understand it. They use these dimpled pans (like aebleskiver pans), and use a thin, savory pancake type batter, then bits of octopus are put in each one, and they either flip the whole line into a new set of dimples, or they manually flip them with these tiny icepicks. Same method as making mooncakes with the azuki beans inside.


Topped with a sweet soy-based glaze and shaved bonito. It's not really my thing, but about as good as sweet and savory octopus pancake balls are gonna get, I guess...


I'm not holding this up as the pinnacle of Kansai food, but it's defintely worth seeing and trying a few places. Scenes like this are supposedly what inspired the look of the movie Bladerunner.


Finally, this one's for the ladies - a subway train car for women only. Don't wanna be in the same car with drunk leches late at night? This car is all estrogen, all the time. I only saw this in Osaka.


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