Food in the category of “Western cuisine” refers interestingly to dishes that are Western-derived but that have been developed in uniquely Japanese ways. In the mid-1800s, shortly after Japan ended its period of historical isolation, dishes served at Western-style restaurants included deep-fried shrimp, deep-fried pork cutlets, curry and rice, and deep-fried croquettes.
One item on Western-style menus was omu-rice (rice omelettes)—a dish that became well-known in Japan for its golden yellow egg wrap and bright red ketchup or tomato sauce.
According to one story, omu-rice was a dish born in Osaka in 1925.
A restaurant customer ordered the same thing daily: an omelette with rice. The cook decided to enliven the dish accenting the rice with ketchup and wrapping it in a thinly fried omelette. The delighted customer asked what the dish was, to which the chef apparently replied: “It’s an omelette with rice… omu-rice!”
The episode in question took place at Hokkyokusei, a pioneering Western-style restaurant that opened in 1922. Today, the establishment maintains the calm atmosphere of an upper-scale Japanese restaurant, even as it stands in the midst of Osaka’s boisterous Minami shopping district. It includes floor seating on tatami (straw mats) overlooking a Japanese garden, and offers a chance to experience the oft-romanticized Taisho-era atmosphere blending East and West that flourished when the omu-rice dish was first created.
In addition to the main restaurant, there are numerous additional Hokkyokusei branches throughout Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures in locations including department stores and other commercial establishments—and customers may enjoy the coveted original omu-rice dish at any one of them.
Udon & Udonsuki
In Osaka, udon noodles are famed for the way that their softness harmonizes gently with the kombu and skipjack-accented broth. One age-old favorite is salty-sweet kitsune udon, where the noodles are topped with fried tofu boiled to plump perfection.
The style of accenting it with condiments such as takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, aonori (green laver, or edible seaweed) and skipjack flakes are said to be an influence from okonomiyaki following the end of the Second World War.
Sushi in Tokyo is known as Edomae, and is pressed by hand. Osaka’s famous style of sushi, meanwhile, is pressed sushi. “Box sushi” is one example: the toppings and vinegared rice are placed into a square wooden mold and pressed to fit. Watching the process of pressing box sushi is mesmeric.
Along with takoyaki, this dish may rightly be described as Osaka soul food. While both dishes involve dissolving flour in dashi, okonomiyaki includes cabbage—a non-negotiable ingredient—usually along with pork, as well as whichever additional ingredients you like.
Kushikatsu eateries are found not only in the Shinsekai district, but all over Osaka . In addition to the lively, bar-like establishments, there are also fancy kushikatsu specialty restaurants with a unique creative menus.
Kappo, which became an established style of Japanese cuisine in the late 1910s, is said to have originated in Osaka.
Japan’s various regions are home to local hot pots, and Osaka is no exception. Local versions include udonsuki and sakanasuki (wheat flour noodles and fish flavored hot pot, respectively), whale meat hot pot, and the much-loved wintry special, tecchiri, or fugu hot pot. Also popular are chiritori (“dustpan”) nabe and motsu nabe, both featuring beef intestines and vegetables.
Conveyor belt sushi
Popular not only throughout Japan, but also now overseas, kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) allows patrons to select their sushi of choice by taking plates off the revolving belt as they pass by.
These soft buns are made by fermenting a flour and water-based batter that is then stuffed with fillings and steamed.