17 November 2010

Japanese Street Food Tour Day 3.2 ~ Takoyaki, Izakaya & McDonalds

We explode with delight on day 3 of our Osaka food-fest with mobile takoyaki, fresh seafood izakaya and, ahem, Japanese McDonalds.

We head over to Umeda, which is kind of an upmarket\town centre area next to the central Osaka Station, in search of somewhere interesting for dinner. But nowhere tickles our fancy.

This looks fun but we're after something to linger over.

And this looks ok but, I don't know, it just ain't right.

This looks perfectly low rent but it's kinda empty...

Now this screams perfect to us! It ticks all the right boxes: it's low rent; it hasn't changed since 1952; and it's run by tops old folks. But alas this little gem is closing for the night.

Such are the dramas of food travelling. It can be so tricky to find what you want, when you want it. Particularly when you don't know what you want until you eat it.

Japanese gimp.

Sidewalk diva and devoted fan.There's a lot of sidewalk busking, even complete bands with expensive special purpose mini busking kits. They are all slick and polished, right down to their stage moves, and facial expressions, and have a swag of  promo material and cds.

We walk back from Umeda without finding the right place to eat. We are getting a little shirty. That is until we are saved  by the mobile takoyaki man.

This fella made wonderful takoyaki, octopus balls, in the back of his tiny van. He was cramped and his van was covered in gunk, but he was the happiest fella in the world, chatting and laughing as he made fine takoyaki. He only knew a few words of English, we knew less of Japanese, but somehow we had a conversation, even sober. He hooked us with a sample and sold us a six pack. He's parked right next to a five star hotel, the Ritz Carlton I think.

The octopus ball production line... we scoffed our half dozen steaming hot and super tasty morsels sitting on a fence outside a five star hotel. Who was living the good life, hmmm?

But a boy and his chicken cannot survive on octopus balls alone, so we take a punt on this izakaya bar close to home in Fukushima. It looks busy and the prices on the signage aren't too high.

It's another tiny bar with room for twenty folks at the most. There's a bunch of pre-cooked dishes on the counter, which makes it easy to choose, and the rest we order by pointing at what other folks are eating, while smiling like idiots. There's two fine chefs in charge and a couple of very friendly aunties doing the leg work.

Once again, everybody is extremely friendly, too amazingly heart warmingly incredibly friendly to be able to put into words. I think it helped that we were so excited to be there, taking photos of the food, oohing and aahing at each mouthful. Pretty much the whole bar would wait for our reactions when we tried each dish. "Oishi" we would say with mad grins and thumbs up, delicious!

The boss lady noticed us admiring the cute bunny rabbit plate. She then gives us the three white plates above as gifts. "Presento" she says with a huge smile. How nice is that? We got the plates home in one piece and use them whenever we cook Japanese. Straight to the poolroom...

And there was more presento. The sashimi master showed us his hobby of polishing these shells for hours on end with specialist tools until they are smooth and glossy. We are gobsmacked when he offers us one as a gift. We were so honoured but we'd been watching too much Border Patrol, and thought we'd never get it through customs. With lots of bowing, smiling and clutching of hearts we had to refuse the gift, refusing gifts is not the done thing around here, we're pretty sure he understood.

But this we didn't refuse. A dish of squid\baby octopus for starters, in a light sauce of it's own juices with a little soy and mirin most likely. On this trip we've learnt to appreciate the rustic side of Japanese cuisine. In the West we equate Japanese food with high art, yet so much Japanese food is from and for the heart.

Then a piece of mystery fish in sauce, probably soy and mirin once again. This simple dish became one of my favourites.

We wisely took our seats at the bar right in front of the sashimi master. Can't resist octopus sashimi. They love the tentacles here, so tasty.

If only I could read Japanese, I shudder to think of what goodies we missed out on. I'll have all of it.

And all of that too.

I spot two fellas at the end of the bar eating some mystery soup. Two of those please!

It turned out to be fresh bugs, ie the Morton Bay/Balmain kind of bugs, in miso soup. Food porn. Half the bug flavoured the soup.

The other half of the bug was served as sashimi. One of those wonderful, unexpected foodie life moments. Not bad for a cheap, little, work-a-day bar eh?

The proud sashimi master. He is from Okinawa down the south end of Japan, he grew up living the island life. We were struck by his generousity, friendliness and the pride he takes in his work.

Sadly the bar closed at 11pm, we think they offered to let us stay for lockins, sneaky beers after closing time, but we weren't really sure what was going on. So we moved to the next pub.

After a few more pints of beer, like a sailor swilling rum before an amputation, I felt brave enough to tackle the evil McDonalds iCon Chicken Cheese Fondue Burger.

In real life the Cheese Fondue Burger was not so threatening. I expected huge globs of gluggly artificial cheese sauce to clog up my veins and kill me on the spot.

In reality it was a big chicken nugget with a a scraping of cheezwiz on top. It was dry and incredibly salty, so salty I could barely eat it. I love my Maccas, but I have to say, this was barely edible.

Miss Chicken went the pork burger. We've had Thailand's Samurai Pork Burger before and it wasn't too shabby. But this was a pile of salt and a dried up pork sausage between buns. Yech.

Miss Chicken was obsessed with the Shaka Shaka chicken. Put your chook in a bag with some flavour powder, and shake.

End result: more dried up incredibly salty chicken. Junk food has to be pretty shabby to taste this awful at 2am after a few hours in the pub. Ronald-san, you stink.


  1. Wow...the food (except for Macs) looks amazing. I must make my way to Japan....need to brush up my Japanese. To think I used to be able to do translation of Banana Yoshimoto's books to English and now...I am soooo rusty. Sigh...
    Did you guys try Omakase? I think it roughly translates to "in your hands I trust" or something. It's one of the most amazing meal experience.

  2. Or should that be "I'm Lovin' It" ?

  3. Ah omakase - I had to look it up on wikipedia - that's what I wanted but didn't know what the name was - I read about an amazing omakase feast in an Anthony Bourdain book - there's always next time...

  4. I desperately want a mobile takoyaki man to come via my office every day. How awesome would that be (rhetoric question as we both know it would rock)! The food looks so good - glad you finally found somewhere yummy.

  5. All those izakaya places in Japan look so wonderful and cheap. I think that is the best way to eat, small portions of different types of food.

  6. i LOVED shaka shaka chicken and McPork when I lived in Osaka. Wow, that guy with the takoyaki van is awesome. Great pics.

  7. Maybe we were a bit harsh on the poor old shaka shaka and mcpork - sorry ronald!

  8. I think Hamburgler is just upset he wasn't invited. These burgers really were way too salty for my taste. We were upset they didn't have the cinnamon scroll dessert anymore. I wish maccas in Australia did taro pies.

    Omakase - thanks Eve - I wish I'd known that phrase. Might have been out of pocket for $1000 if we'd picked the wrong place though!

  9. Hey Miss Chicken, they have the hot cinnamon buns with icing sugar at Macs in Singapore!!! Yummy indeed. We have Taro pies but not at Macs at an amazing francise that does awesome chicken curry puffs, Old Chang Kee. Drool......

    Omakase need not be expensive. You set the budget. They usu do have a minimum though. The one I tried was in Singapore, a small hole in the wall Jap restaurant that is a hidden gem called Nagomi. It is a chefs' place..ie most of the cooks eat there after they finish their hard work. Here is a blog write up of the place.
    The food was divine, esply the wagyu beef.


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).