Just south of the JR Osaka station is a lively, vibrant and very contemporary area that now rivals the popularity of Tokyo's Ginza.
Kitashinchi is known as the nightclub and entertainment capital of Osaka but it is also a food destination. There are many restaurants that range from those that are top quality, expense-account-worthy to those that are more affordable and salaryman friendly to even brightly lit kiosks and holes-in-the-wall where take out takoyaki is the main menu item.
Arriving way past dinner time at Kansai International Airport a couple of weeks ago, and finding ourselves craving for a late night supper, we headed to Kitashinchi to forage for food.
After peering into the restaurant windows (at least at those we thought we could afford), we decided on this restaurant that had displays of okonomiyaki in its brightly lit front window. Okonomiyaki is an everyday Osaka specialty so it was just the thing for the late night hunger pangs.
Since none of us could read Japanese, we didn't even know the restaurant name ... we just pushed the door open and walked right in.
The interiors were not intimidating and neither was the late night dinner crowd, most of whom seemed to be office workers who were having a last bite to eat before going home from the usual evening drinking session. As in most Japanese restaurants like these, specials and menu items are tacked up on signs along the walls but the smiling waitress assured us they had an english menu.
All the tables had hot grills laid into them -- oh no, I briefly panicked. I love okonomiyaki but not to the extent of cooking it myself. A glass of cold beer was just the thing to calm my nerves.
The name of the restaurant, I would find out later from a Japanese colleague, is Tanaka and it is widely regarded by locals as a top okonomiyaki restaurant in the area.
What luck to have walked into it on our first night back in Osaka!
Thank heavens for an english menu! At least I wouldn't have to stand up and look at what other diners were eating to communicate what I wanted to order.
Of course okonomiyaki was a must-have. Often referred to as a Japanese pancake, I find that quite misleading since instead of being fluffy and spongy as a pancake is, okonomiyaki is actually a compact, savoury mound of batter, vegetables, squid, octopus bits, shrimp and even meat.
The top is glazed with some kind of sweetish brown gravy and you can add japanese mayonnaise for a more creamy taste, if you so desire.
A small dish of bonito shavings are on hand for sprinkling on top of your okonomiyaki.
Cooked in the kitchen, it is placed on top of the hot grill for diners to mix and cook a bit more. Tanaka's yakisoba was excellent! We ordered the "everything on it" version and it was probably the best yakisoba I had ever tried. Crunchy strips of red ginger on top add tartness and spice to each bite.
We must have been really hungry because after the okonomiyaki and the yakisoba, we still ordered beef teppanyaki which came with slightly caramelised sweet white onions. I don't eat meat but the carnivores in the group pronounced it very tasty as well.
I cannot resist fried food on a stick. Kushiage, also known as kushikatsu, is deep fried, slightly battered anything-you-want on small bamboo skewers.
Along with okonomiyaki and takoyaki, kushiage is considered an Osaka "soul food" and a must try when in the city.
Tanaka's kushiage comes in orders of 6, 8 or 14 sticks. We got an assortment that included crunchy asparagus, mushroom, shrimp, chicken, green pepper, fish, squid and beef. There is a small dish of sweetish sauce -- but remember the number one kushiage etiquette -- no double dipping please!
Finally sated with this last order, we walked out of Tanaka and back towards the hotel ...
satisfied, happy and full of more than just okonomiyaki. It was an auspicious start to another Osaka eating adventure.