Asia Report #8 - Good Taste Osaka
After a glorious business class ride to Tokyo, Dan and I got our Japan Rail Passes validated at Narita and headed to Osaka. The trip was in two parts, the first being about an hour trip from the airport to Tokyo Station in the city. The second would be a 3 hour or so ride on a shinkansen, a super high speed train that would make me feel nauseous throughout the ride. Before getting on our bullet train, we hit one of the many food stands in the terminal to pick up a couple bento boxes for the ride. I would offer you photos, but this is when my camera was failing me. Dan got an unagi don box and I went with the pork katsu. Everything was laid out so meticulously in the box, even down to the little packets of Japanese black pepper and shoyu (for Dan) and the katsu sauce and mustard for me. We also shared an iced green tea from the food and beverage cart that would make its way up and down the aisle every so often.
Finally Osaka! We had to transfer a bunch of times and then walk with our luggage to where we were staying, the Comfort Hotel in the Shinsaibashi neighborhood. It was very easy to find once we were properly orientated. Once we were properly checked into our very tiny hotel room, we decided to get some food. We kept passing places that I knew would serve delicious food, but also places where I knew no one would speak English and ordering such deliciousness would be difficult. We also passed tons of young men that looked like Rod Stewart. Chemically treated teased hair on top, white oxfords and tight black pants below. The number of men dressed like this was comical. There was also a female version with the same bad orange hair accented by the copper glow of fake tans.
We eventually wound up in Dotonbori, this completely packed and insane area with a canal slashing through it. This place is so alive and everyone's m.o. is kuidaore, which loosely translates to "eat til you drop dead with a smile on your face and can't eat anymore." I want that on my gravestone.
Dotonbori used to be a red light district and has been this sort of entertainment district for like 400 years! By this time, I was growing weak with hunger. The crankies were starting up too. Finally, in the midst of a town known for okonomiyaki, we found okonomiyaki paradise, a place called Chibo Okonomiyaki. We were a bit hesitant at first because there were a lot of people waiting before us and we both had on our cranky pants. There was also an elevator, which confused us until we realized there was 5 floors of okonomiyaki paradise. That certainly helped shorten our waiting time. The elevator opened up and a waiter took us to the third floor, where we were seated by the grill. The menus we were handed were all in Japanese and I also began sweating because of the grill heat. Luckily they had an English language menu (although much smaller and without offering any of the deliciousness that the people next to us were eating). We wound up ordering a couple of beers (beeru), a mixed yakisoba and a mixed okonomiyaki. Included in the mix were big chunks of squid, shrimp, and pork (buta). I loved our front row seat to the cooking action. The camera lost all the action shots, but I managed to salvage one shot of the pancake.
The pan it was served on was so hot the sauce was sizzling. In fact if you look closely at the bottom right of the photo, you can see some of the bubbles. I also love the way the thin slices of bonito wave around due to the heat, like amber waves of grain, like as if they were alive! The sprinkle of jullienned nori was a great touch. Usually you just get a shake of pulverized nori on top.
I was insanely jealous of the couple sitting next to us. I'm convinced they knew how to speak a little English and just felt lazy when I tried talking to them. They had a plate of these fantastic looking dumplings. Translucent squares of rice paper wrappers with a nubbin of mystery filling. What could it be? Halfway through their meal, the dumplings were still on their plate and I promised myself that if they got up without finishing the dish, I would make up for the meatball caper and skewer up that gyoza. There was no way I was going to let it go to waste. Much to my chagrin, they totally rallied at the end and wound up finishing everything. Other tables were ordering up cheese or kimchi in their okonomiyaki. Why didn't I think of that?
Here's Dan, looking fetchingly gaijin in his Ted Drewes shirt posing in front of the famous Tzubora-ya restaurant, known for serving fugu (that's blowfish for all you other gaijin). And giving the victory/peace sign, of course.