Osaka: a city of healthy culinary wonders

Osaka, one of Japan’s most vibrant cities, is the third largest after Tokyo and Yokohama. One of the top three culinary centers of Japan, most locals will also argue that it’s the birthplace of instant ramen (1958). No wonders as Osakans eat out about six times a week. Local favorites include oshizushi, in which sushi is placed in wooden molds and sliced; udon suki, buckwheat noodles and meat in a rich broth served in ceramic stew pot; and okonomiyaki, a batter and cabbage pancake-type dish in which you choose ingredients such as seafood or pork.

Osaka is not a glamorous place, and there is no coherent aesthetic. Often regarded as an unsentimental city driven by commerce; not as traditional as Kyoto or vibrant as Tokyo, often skipped by tourists who are actually missing out. Osakans (locals from Osaka) are noisy, warm and entertaining unless Tokyoites who mind their own business. Unlike Tokyo, which frequently looks at America (or South Korea) for inspiration, Osaka is becoming a world player in a distinctively Japanese way. Local designers have more freedom to play than their counterparts in Tokyo. A hotbed of young talents are being promoted in cafes and bookshops, street fashion remains homegrown, and design ventures that began here have tended to stay. Tadao Ando grew up in Osaka and he has had a say in how the city looks now.

The nondescript skyline is being replaced with galleries, international hotels, futuristic living spaces, and exciting postmodernist architecture. The city’s extravagant nightlife and culinary delicacies are famous worldwide.

Many cafes, studios, and galleries are filled with a new generation of Osakans, who are quietly shaping the future of their city.

To start with a guide full of useful information and detailed map, grab a free copy of Explorer Osaka

Central Osaka is split into two main districts, which meet at Chuo-odori. Kita-ku in the North around the main Osaka and Umeda stations is where many of the city big hotels, restaurants, and underground shopping can be found. Minami in the South, includes the lively downtown area called Namba, the core of the old merchant city where you will find Osaka’s best eating and drinking options including Dotonbori. This famous lane, running alongside the canal, is crammed with karaoke bars, brothels, and pachinkos parlors. It is also a mecca of cheap restaurants and bars. Namba’s many pedestrian shopping zones include America Mura and Europe-dori, with their imported goods. Den Den Town is Osaka’s premier electronic district.

Chuo-ku, the old central ward and historic center of the city is to the east. The city center is served by a user-friendly loop system called the JR Kanjo Line. Lots of sightseeing can be covered economically with a one-day pass that offers a day’s unlimited travel to subways, trams, and local train lines.

Let us take you on a healthy culinary tour around the city!

Start by dropping your suitcases and check in at the affordable and centrally located New Osaka hotel near Shinsaibashi station, in the heart of America Mura. A favorite amongst ladies who appreciate the safety of their ladies-only floors filled with amenities such as makeup removers and facial toners. The exclusive perks for ladies include POLA Kalahari skincare set and POLA aroma essences with Roman Chamomile extracts (shampoo, conditioner and body soap) provided in each of the ladies floor room.

Each floor of the hotel is set up with a wide selection of themes to help guests enjoy colorful travels in comfortable and relaxing rooms. Beds are from France with low rebound pillows to provide comfortable sleep. Smoke-free floors are also available. Free coffee and tea are provided in each room of any category.

A good start for your culinary and healthy journey is to visit Kuromon Ichiba Market, easily accessible by walk from Nippombashi station, this lively market is packed with more than 150 shops selling and serving fresh fish, meat and vegetables. With a tradition and history dating back to over 190 years old, Kuromon Ichiba Market became quickly a very well known and popular stop for ‘Gastronome’, often nicknamed ‘Osaka’s Open Kitchen’. All kinds of fresh food items are available and with the increasing number of international tourists, more and more restaurants are serving lunch or ready-to-go sushi, fresh seafood over rice, grilled fish, shellfish, meat (famous Kobe beef), pickled vegetables and other locally made dishes; a real feast for the eyes and the palates while offering a taste of several local specialties at affordable prices.

Unagi Okayama fresh eels on top of rice

For a healthy and earthy lunch, head to Unagi Okayama serving fresh eels, where the Japanese chef uses traditional preservation method to marinate the eels before grilling them in front of you. The Japanese tavern-like entrance is a little bit hidden on a side street off Nihonbashi station (exit 9). Best is to check the website for an accurate map:

The freshly grilled eels (unagi) are tender and juicy. It is commonly known that eels have lots of health benefits; nutritionally speaking, unagi contains vitamins A, B1, B2, D, and E, which are effective agents for rejuvenating the body in summer. Unsaturated fatty acids like DHA and EPA are more abundant in unagi than in other seafood. The benefits of these unsaturated fatty acids are: decreases cholesterol – lowers blood pressure – prevents vascular diseases – reduces the risk of developing arthritis – promotes normal brain development and nervous system function – promotes good eyesight.

To help digestion, walk down South towards Mido-Suji. Running from north of Kita area to as far as Namba in the Minami area and often referred to as the “Champs Elysee of the Orient”, the avenue is lined with a fabulous border of gingko trees, which cast lovely shade in the summer. Must visit are the touristic streets of Dotonbori-dori, with its landmark known all over the world with the 20m-tall Glico Man, who appears over a street-side canal. At its base, the Ebisubashi Bridge is a popular meeting spot and inevitable ‘selfies’.

The narrow stone-paved lane next to Dotonbori Street, Hozenji Yokocho feels like the Osaka of old days. Cozy and quaint, lined on both sides with small food shops and cafes, it earned instant fame with Sakunosuke Oda’s novel “Meoto Zenzai”. It is also famous for its moss-covered Fudo-myo statue, known as Mizukake Fudo. The beautiful stone-paved pathways here, and the moss-covered Buddhist figure represent the cultured aspects of Osaka.

a shop at Sennichimae Doguya-suji

Further afield is Sennichimae Doguya-suji, a shopping arcade located in Namba. Many stores specialized in cooking utensils and tableware, mainly for professional use, an indispensable shopping area for Osaka, which is renown as a city of gourmets or “the Kitchen of the Nation” where “Kuidaore” philosophy prevails.

A trip to Osaka would not be completed before eating dinner at one of the best beef restaurants: Nikusho Nakata, a yakiniku specialist, where the chef selects the highest quality beef from different parts of Japan. Additionally, each kind of beef is matched with a different kind of salt that accentuates the natural flavor of the meat. The chic, stylish atmosphere is great for business entertaining or sampling different kinds of yakiniku with friends.

Text by Vincent Sung – Supported by Explorer Osaka (Teiji TAKESHITA)


New Osaka Hotel ニューオーサカホテル心斎橋

うなぎ おかやま Unagi Okayama

肉匠 なか田 Nikusho Nakata 

Explorer Osaka and Explorer Kyoto