Namba – Osaka’s famed nightlife district.
This isn’t nightlife in the traditional sense of the bar and club scene. No, when you walk down the strip, you get a rather different experience. In place of thumping club music is the distinct shouting of street food chefs and restaurant workers. Flashy club signs are replaced with oversized animal replicas complete with mechanical moving parts. And instead of seeing lines of people on display, you are greeted by row upon row of colorful food options, peering behind restaurant windows or steaming from a street cart, all telepathically screaming at you with the same message: “Eat me…”
Being in Namba makes you wish you had the stomach capacity of a small bear. With restaurants lined up side by side, the sheer number of food choices was staggering. Knowing that we only had one shot at this, we had to plan strategically. In the end we opted for variety, and decided the best way to ride this culinary train was to cover all the local specialties in small, quick meals.
Food Stop #1: Yakitori, or meat on a stick – the quintessential street food. With the help of a guide, we had found a small eatery obscured in the shadow of bigger restaurants. Entering through a curtain, we seated ourselves at the intimate 8 person bar. A quick glance at the menu showed all Japanese characters. Not to worry. Animals are the easiest thing to sign language.
This was probably the best meal of our night. Nothing can compare to the simple, primal experience of eating grilled meat. Our order covered all the major animal groups: chicken, beef, pork, fish, and shrimp. We sat patiently as each skewer was delivered to our plate and began the repetitive process of: meat => sauce => mouth.
Food Stop #2: Takoyaki. Enthused about tackling our next local specialty, our resolve faltered a step when we realized what takoyaki actually was. Standing in front of the street vendor, we watched as the cook poured batter over what looked like small purple cones. With an unwelcomed sense of realization, we rationalized that it could only be one thing: squid.
Yes. Takoyaki = squid dumplings. Now, normally squid is no big deal… in the form of fried calamari. But this was a bit of a different monster (take away the salty crispiness and accentuate the rubbery consistency).
“I’m allergic to squid”, Anton said.
“I’ll try one”, offered Chevelle.
Great. That meant I had 5 balls of this stuff all to myself. More. Squid. Dumplings. For me.
Food Stop #3: Okonomiyaki. Eager to put the experience of creamy squid balls behind me, we moved on to our final meal of the night. A short walk led us to a restaurant that seemingly offered every variety of this okonomiyaki specialty. Looking at the pictures, however, we still had no clue what this food really was.
We sat down at our table, which was actually more of a grill. A large metallic heating surface spanned almost the full width of our eating area. When the food came, it was placed on the grill where it began to sizzle.
“What is this?”
Egg, batter, cabbage, scallions, pork, and sauce… from what we could see. I guess you could call it a pancake of sorts. Whatever it was, it was savory and delicious. With our last food item checked off, we were content to get off the culinary train here. Now to walk off this food…