19 January 2016
Not Food Blogging in Japan ~ Osaka and Kyoto
The thing about being travelling food nerds is that we're forever tossing up whether to feast on those old favourites or find new things weird and wonderful. There's never enough time or stomach space to fit everything in, there is always compromise.
So on this short trip we dedicate our precious bellies to our old favourite dishes, which means a lot of plain noodle soups and chain store food, which doesn't make for compelling reportage. So we decide not to blog the holiday. And man, it's a nice change to be in a restaurant and not be THAT weirdo\geek\arsehole with a camera. Well, for a while.
We thought being camera-free might make for better interactions with restaurant folks. But it was quite the opposite, much to our surprise. The camera worked as an icebreaker, made us look like harmless idiots and helped us get chatty with restaurant staff and fellow drinkers/diners. We figure people like to see a pair of grinning buffoons so excited by an everyday meal that they take twenty shots of it. As Yumi Stynes said on Agony of Life, taking a photo of your food is showing respect for it, giving thanks, it's the modern way of saying grace. Or words to that effect.
So we take photos we never intended to put on the blog, but we can't help post them, for our sake more than yours. We almost had a blog-free holiday. Though we did kind of miss it. When we're travelling the blog gives us an inflated sense of purpose, something to do. We get a bunch of mini-missions happening and find ourselves in places we would never have ended up in otherwise and eat things we may have overlooked. Beats looking at temples.
We had around ten days up our sleeve and chose to spend a week in Osaka. Most travellers' hearts go out to Tokyo or Kyoto. But there's something about Osaka that really grabs us by the boo-boo. Tokyo has more neon thrills and Kyoto has the postcard culture, but Osaka is a city we find easier to sink our teeth into. We always make some beer friends in Osaka, folks are amazingly friendly outside of the main tourist zones, and the layout suits our urban walking obsession.
In Osaka we always stay in Fukishima. It's about ten minutes walk from Osaka station and well away from all the tourist hullabaloo. It attracts a nice mix of local residents and commuters having and feed and a drinky-poo on their way home from work. Fukishima is becoming a bit of a food destination these days, we could spend a lifetime exploring the food in this one small neighbourhood.
We love to stay at J-Hoppers Hostel because it's right on this little street chockers with bars and restaurants. There's a couple of hotels nearby but we just love our J-Hoppers, it feels so uniquely Japanese.
Despite there being a hostel in the midst of all this the bars and restaurant folks around here are often surprised to see a couple of daggy grinning Western tourists in there midst, people are far from jaded about tourists in these parts and are often very friendly. We think that's what makes Fukushima kind of special.
Our first morning-tea was that other old favourite of ours, a beef bowl at Yoshinoya. Breakfast was at our favourite old lady noodle bar where we feel it is sacrilege to take photos. The noodle lady must be well into her seventies but works like a graceful demon, and looks like an old time movie star with her fine high cheekbones and quiffed up 1950's hair.
There's something about the beautifully mundane world of a Japanese chain store in the suburbs at 11.30 in the morning, it has a diner-in-nowhereville USA vibe to it.
For lunch we pick anywhere suitably daggy and convenient around the city office area... Not a pretty picture but it's a memory jogger for us, it's all about us.
Even a daggy, convenient lunch can turn out to be a little bit of wonderful in Japan.
Sure we can get a lunch like back in Sydney, but we have to spend an hour crossing town to get over to Komaru.
They say in Kyoto they spend all their money on clothes. In Osaka they spend all their money on food. We know where we'd rather be. There's a certain dagginess here that makes us feel at home....
When in Japan, at least one breakfast at Choco-Cro is a must for us. We fell in love with Choco Cro on our first trip when we were quite cash strapped - an Americano coffee and little cheese 'n' bacon pastry is a fine breakfast for under a fiver.
We stumble upon a craft beer truck in Amerikamura. It's an impressive rig and the beer lady is super friendly. We learn that Japanese craft beer is just like Australian craft beer: crap, Well, mostly. The beer had that super sweet generic craft beer flavour that most Australian craft beer has, we suspect they just pour a few bottles of Passion Pop into a keg of VB, and call it art. Still, it was mighty pleasant sinking a cheeky sidewalk schooner as the Saturday morning fashion parade marched by.
We take walk down the Dotonbori, which reminds us how much we hate to take a walk down the Dotonbori. It's sardine packed with package tourists armed with selfie sticks and no sense of direction.
Matsuyamachi Suji Shopping Street is more our style. Old school and daggy. Next time we're in Osaka we will wander around this area some more, there's some groovy old houses and lovely streets.
We take a punt on the Okonomiyaki Fusaya for lunch, enjoying a bit of music nerdism with the chef.
A good okonomiyaki is a thing of wonder. A okonomiyaki is drabsville. These ones are beauties. No wonder there was a whole busload of aunties in here before us.
A patch of beauty in a drab urban area.
For dinner cocktail hour we scope out the range of restaurants underneath the railway bridge near Fukushima station. Settling on some Japanese Mexican out of curiosity, we dine al fresco with a romantic view of the carpark. We grab a couple of beer snacks: some chili salsa squid and some pickled veg'n'cheese. Nothing like a bit of Japmex.
For main course we go to a noodle bar that is no longer a noodle bar, now more of a booze bar that hasn't got around to changing their signage. They don't speak English and we speak less Japanese, and there's no picture menu but we manage to order using pointing, exaggerated nodding and some interpretive dance. It's a good meal in a non-descript, no name joint.
We never realised how extensive the walkways are underneath Osaka city, man we got lost in these suckers. Time for a subterranean breakfast after almost failing to find something as huge as Osaka station. Next visit we'll explore these tunnels more. We found one passage lined with lovely dodgey old bars, if only we could find it again.
One of our all time favourite things about Japan are the noodle bars open for breakfast, there's nothing like a soup and fixings to start the day. That magic combo hot fluid, salt, carbs and googie just works. Especially if you've had a couple to many lemon chuhais the night before.
For nerdy kicks we get a train and jump off way in the non-descript, outer burbs of Kyoto, then walk for a couple of hours until we hit central Kyoto. It was a weird walk through suburbia, heavy industry, light industry, wholesale districts, riverside and more suburbs.
Along the way we poke our nose in this little sweety shop in the burbs and the nice lady pours us some tea. We bought some stuff of course.
Some crazy cats were making sculpture by balancing rocks on the river bank in Kyoto. Looks easy...
For lunch we run around trying to find something super special and don't quite find it, but we have a good 'ol diner lunch.
Sometimes those magic food nerd moments sneak up you. This roasted tea soft serve ice cream in Nishiki Market was mind blowing, possibly our favourite morsel of the whole trip. Nishiki Market on a Sunday is a sardine packed hell. Despite the super terrific ice cream we still didn't gel with Kyoto, after several visits it looks like we never will.
Back in Osaka we hit a ramen joint we've been to on another trip. The ramen was great as expected but the surprise hit was a side bowl of chahan, fried rice. It was amazing to watch one guy run the ramen bar on his own: he was flat out yet appeared totally calm, never rushed but not a movement was wasted, and he had a magic sense timing born of doing the same job for many years, probably decades.
Afterwards we scour the vicinity for our favourite Osaka drinking hole, we've never found it sober before. But The Nomen Bar has gone. Dangnabbit we loved that place.
We have a chainstore breakfast, a little mince on rice and what is kind of like fishy rice bubble on rice.
One thing we failed to notice on previous trips to Osaka are the wonderful little old school coffee shops everywhere, such as the Toni Coffee House, somewhere in central Osaka. Inside seemed unchanged since the early 1980s and it had the vibe of an old folks social club. Old uncles and aunties sat around drinking tea, reading the paper, smoking. We wish we took some interior shots but it just didn't feel like the right place to be shoving a camera in folks' faces.
But we got a shot of our morning tea: a setto with coffee, a boiled egg and slice of white buttered toast. Class.
It's raining so we loiter Osaka's many covered walking streets. Lunch is at chain store we went to once in Tokyo. We get some some sashimi dons and beers and dream of chain store food being this good back home in Australia. We don't know the English name for this chain but it's a rippa, they are always, always busy, and we've always had to queue.
For dinner we revisit our favourite little izakaya in Osaka. It so friendly and the food is so good, the chef seems to have and endless repertoire. This joint recently popped up on tv along with our blog on the Ainslie Herriot Street Food series, as we rambled about in another post.
Clockwise.... We started with the house stew, which we always must do in an izakaya. We order some sizzling beef which is pretty good. But some rugby mad bloke orders another beef dish for us, possibly paying for it, who knows, saying that his beef dish crapped all over our beef dish. And man, it did. It wasn't the famous Kobe beef but it was insane meat all the same. We follow it up with some Kingfish (we think) sashimi and a bunch of fried stuff on sticks. The punk rock grrls to our left insist we try some chicken teriyaki, which tasted like chicken teriyaki.
Farewell Osaka, we love you, snooty pussycats'n'all. Next stop, Kobe, which we also won't blog about.