Exploring Osaka’s Japanese Street Food down Dotonbori and More – Osaka, Japan
If Tokyo is the pulse of Japan and Kyoto is the heart, Osaka is the stomach. Osaka is “Japan’s Kitchen” and is home to some incredible Japanese street food. The term “kuidaore” originates here meaning “eat till you drop” or “eat until you bankrupt yourself”. I knew we had to dedicate one meal and several hours to explore this area – for foodies like us, this was a must stop on our two week adventure. Since we made the spontaneous decision to visit Kobe in the morning, stopping at Osaka on the way back to Kyoto for dinner was the perfect way to not only experience this vibrant city but also see it at night with all the neon lights.
The train from Kobe was just as easy to Osaka as the train from Kyoto to Osaka – it is amazing how connected everything in Japan is and how easy it is to get around to major destinations. We arrived in Osaka around 3PM and it was a short walk from the train station to the main area of Dotonbori. There are several areas in Osaka to explore the markets and street food but the most famous is Dotonbori, Since our time was limited, we decided to go directly there and see what we found.
Dotonbori dates back to 1612 when Yasui Doton attempted to develop this area with the addition of a canal – war stalled the project and killed Yasui, so family completed the project in 1615 naming the canal Dotonbori or Doton Canal. This canal opened the flood gates for trade and the food followed – restaurants, teahouses, and entertainment made residence along the canal to cater to the merchants and sailors.
The experience of walking through Dotonori for the first time has to be the closest thing to seeing Times Square for the first time – everything was oversized, bright, and colorful. The scale was comical – the tall buildings had the first floor for food and then the other ten floors were fully decorated with signs, billboards, and lights to draw you in and advertise what food they sold. It reminded me a bit of Vegas but more a cartoon or amusement park flare. Giant sushi chef, enormous crab with moving legs, dragons, fish, octupus – the variety was extensive for these statement signs. Each shop specialized in one thing, claiming theirs was the best you will find – the problem is there are hundreds of stalls to choose from.
It was definitely overwhelming to try and find a place to start but once we were on the Ebisubashi bridge overlooking the Dotonbori Canal, the excitement started to set in. We spotted the iconic “running Man” billboard and the queue of people to take their selfie. I was not sure why this was so iconic but upon review, Glico running man above Ebisubashi Bridge is an advertisement for candy and has been a staple here since 1935.
After getting our bearings, the first thing I wanted us to do was hop on the boat down the canal to see everything from the water. River tours are an excellent way to get to know an area before wandering around on foot. We located the Tombori River Cruise ticket stand at Tazaemonbashi Pier and were able to purchase tickets (1200 yen each) for the next departure which occurs from 11:00 to 21:00 departs at 00 and 30 minutes every hour so we did not have to wait long. Do not be fooled by the long line – that is for a food vendor on the far side of the ticket booth. The nearby Ebisu Tower Ferris Wheel was also done operating for the day so if you want to ride the ferris wheel, do so earlier in the day as the hours of operation are short. While we waited, we jumped into the Don Quijote Dotonbori and explored the multiple floors of merchandise – these stores are truly epic.
The boat tour is 20 minutes long and goes under the 9 bridges along the canal and while the tour is exclusively in Japanese, the guides do add some English where they can. Even in Japanese, it is easy to understand some of the concepts being spoken about.
We absolutely loved this boat ride and the views it afforded – we sat in the last row and it worked wonderfully for photos – no one was behind us so simply turning around made a picture perfect shot. And similar to our theme park experience, there was plenty of waving to be had.
It was now time to dive into all the street food and we were ready to try as much as we could. There are countless food options available but here are some to look out for when visiting Dotonbori:
- Okonomiyaki – savory pancake
- Mitarashi-Dango – rice balls with a sweet soy sauce
- Daifuku Mochi – strawberry red bean mochi
- Takoyaki – octopus batter balls topped with banito flakes
- Taiyaki – fish shaped pastry filled with custard
- Yakitori – grilled meat on a stick
- Kushikatsu – fried food on a stick
We decided to do a lap down Dotonburi and evaluate all of our options and wow this area is just unbelievable. Everything was just as described but does not prepare you for actually seeing it for yourself – it is still way bigger than life.
Ok, now it’s time to eat!
First up, Mitarashi-Dango. These are rice balls with a sweet soy sauce served warm. They are different from mochi as this is made with rice flour. The rice balls were a soft glutinous consistency, almost like marshmallows but a bit denser. The sweet soy sauce was a bit too much for us – it was very sweet and after one, we were good. A skewer comes with five so if you do enjoy them, its a good deal.
I was looking forward to this snack the most! Okonomiyaki is a savory Japanese pancake that is made of flour, cabbage, seafood, and pork belly slices like bacon topped with okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, dried seaweed, and a heaping portion of bonito flakes. Sometimes, there are some noodles in there as well. Chibo is one of THE okonomiyaki establishments in Osaka and is very popular. We had a short wait to go inside where we were seated at the grill for a hibachi styled view where the chefs make the okonomiyaki orders right in front of you. Since we already had a traditional one at Teppan Tavern Tenamonya, we decided to try something new and ordered the Seafood Yakisoba Noodles with onion and sunny-side-up topping with shrimp, octopus, and squid. We also got the Japanese mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce with a generous portion of bonito flakes on top. We enjoyed this so much, I just love the flavors and concept around okonomiyaki and hope I can replicate it back home.
10 Yen Cheese Coin
We saw these everywhere and it was one of those things we had to give a try. While named the 10 yen cheese coin, it is 500 yen to purchase one of these. It is basically a pancake or waffle batter and a wad of cheese inside. They are made fresh so when we got ours it was extremely hot and the cheese was super melty. It was a bit underwhelming – it was good but not sure what all the hype is about around this item.
Takoyaki are one of my favorites! And now that I think about it, these remind me of mini okonomiyaki. Takoyaki are fried batter balls stuffed with a octopus then served with Japanese mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauces, and bonito flakes on top. There is a special mold that is used on a grill to make hundreds at a time. These are freshly prepared so they are pipping hot – poke some holes in them with chop sticks to help cool them off. While there are a bunch of spots to pick up this snack, we got ours at Takoyaki Wanaka and we were not disappointed. Make sure to go upstairs for a great view of the canal.
Completely stuffed, we walked down some of the other streets around Dotonbori and one led us to Hozenji Temple. Built in 1637, this small temple is dedicated to Fudo Myoo, one of five guardians of Buddhism. Nearby is Hozenji Yococho which is an alleyway full of bars, cafes, and restaurants – there are over 60! In the evening is when this alley comes alive so we missed the action but if we were staying for dinner, this feels like a great spot to get lost and find an incredible meal.
We had such an incredible afternoon in Osaka and exploring Japan’s Kitchen. From the delicious food to the boat tour and all the signs and lights, we really loved our time here.I only wish we had more time and more stomach space! If you do not have a full day or overnight available in your itinerary to explore Osaka, you should still squeeze in this half day since there is nothing in Japan like it. If you have more time in Osaka, you can complete all the attractions and activities Osaka has to offer.