When travelling in Japan, the one place people will always tell you to go is Osaka. Look up what Osaka is famous for and you will see everyone say the food, even the slogan of Osaka is even ‘eat until you drop’.
If you think like me you may be thinking this is just tourist hype. When I first walked down Dotonbori, the main strip of Osaka I did think it was a little touristy, as there were more English signs that other places I had been. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you want to get out of the touristy area, just turn some corners, find some smaller streets, and you’ll see just how many amazing little places there are to eat!
My favourite experience in Osaka was doing exactly this. I was strolling through the little alley ways; as my belly started to grumble I remembered that someone couple days ago had told me to make sure that I try an izakaya. He told that this is the type of restaurant where there are 4-8 seats around the chefs’ area and they grill all the food in front of you. It is almost similar to an tapas where you drink and order very small dishes as you go along. This place had a fixed price of 200 yen per plate.
Eat With the locals at a izakaya
While in Osaka I found myself in my first izakaya. I found this place by going down some dark alley away from all the neon lights (which you’ll see a lot of around Japan’s major cities). I went in very cautious, not knowing if I had stepped into a restaurant or a bar, as there were no English signs and the windows had been blacked out.
As I walked through the door my eyes lit up. The grill was right in front of me and I could see the amazing food being cooked. I had entered this restaurant with a Canadian traveller, and immediately we were intrigued. The chef shouted across to us “No English menus!”
We both looked at each other and nodded as we both knew that this would be a great place to eat. The restaurant was filled with locals who looked very comfortable. Once we sat down a very well dressed Japanese man started to talk to us. He had heard us deciding which sake to have and as he spoke English he offered to help.
Now I must say he was not just listening to us this is very common in any izakaya as you sit so close together that you will bump elbows with someone all the time. Or you will practically taste the cigarette the person next to you is smoking (yes you read that right, in Japan smoking is allowed in restaurants). To help us chose he even let us taste some of his sake that he had ordered as he had a whole bottle. He shouted to the chef to pass two more glasses over. We had no idea who he was but when ever new people came in and saw him they all treated him with so much respect, bowing and talking to him. After awhile of talking to him, which was about 8 plates of amazing grilled food and many many sake he told us: “never ever go get kobe beef, it is not what Japanese eat it is to expensive and for one 8 ounce steak would cost more than all the plates of food we had (which was only 200 yen per plate.) This was great to here, as before this experience I wasn’t sure if kobe beef was something I had to try and was missing out on if I didn’t.
I wish in England we had izakaya because this is such a welcoming experience and I can image every izakaya will be the same. Sitting so close and enjoying the company of whoever you end up sitting next to that night is an experience we don’t get much in England, but was a great part of my trip. I also can not believe that it was 200 yen per plate for this amazing food!
In Part 2 you will read the story of how I wandered the neon light filled street of Dotonbori (which may have made me add in a belt hole!) because I could not contain myself from trying so much amazing street food.