Japan is quite renowned throughout the world for its delicious and varied cuisine. You will find anybody from the most amateur foodies to the most hard-core gastronomic aficionados coming to this land to sample its edible treasures. As a current resident of Japan, and before that a frequent traveller throughout Asia, one thing I found surprising about this country was a lack of street food, outside of the ‘Matsuri’ (festival) seasons. I also found it surprising that the culture here seemed to either not encourage or implicitly discourage walking on the street while eating.
Kuromon Ichiba Market
As a big fan of countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, where one can quite easily pick up something quick and cheap to eat while walking around, I will admit that I was a little disappointed when I found out that it was not common here. However, upon my most recent trip to Osaka, I was delighted to experience what I had for so long been craving; the “tabearuki tengoku” that is the Kuromon Ichiba Market!
“Tabearuki Tengoku” literally translates into English as “Eat & Walk Heaven”, which is a description that fits Kuromon Ichiba Market perfectly. Having a history that spans nearly 200 years, Kuromon Ichiba Market has a special place in the hearts of Osaka locals. It is a covered street market in Osaka’s Chuo ward, and the market itself stretches just under 600 metres in length. A great variety of merchants have set up shop in the market, with visitors able to purchase groceries, clothing and other consumables, and most importantly, cooked-to-order street food. The market itself is only a 3-minute walk away from Nippombashi Station’s number 10 exit.
With around 150 stores in the market, any visitor, no matter how discerning their taste may be, should be able to find something to satisfy their hunger. In saying that, make sure if you visit that you come with an appetite; this is a perfect place to grab lunch and the food is actually quite affordable, provide you avoid going overboard! It is entirely possible to come to this market with only 1000 yen to spend and leave satisfied after eating a decent selection – which is exactly what I did on my visit. For the more budget-conscious of travellers, street food has always been a great way to get a good meal for a good price, and Kuromon Ichiba Market is no different.
The market looks like many other covered shopping streets that you might find in Osaka or the outer suburbs of Tokyo, but the big difference here are the hordes of customers shuffling their way up and down the strip. Along the main strip are a number of short streets that shoot off, with even more stores to check out. Like anything in Japan, visually this place is very interesting, with many different decorations adorning the ceiling above the market.
I do not exactly call myself a picky eater, and while I have personally never been a fan of oysters, I was rather tempted to try it as many stores were selling freshly grilled oysters that looked quite appetising. However, as there are so many different stores selling a variety of dishes, it was not long until I found something that better suited my palate. My first stop was a small store run by a lovely older lady that sold a good selection of tempura-battered foods. The portions were great and the price was even better – I ordered a fried prawn and a crab leg, both being delicious and quite cheap!
The helpful thing about this store and many others was that while the main signs were in Japanese, they supplied smaller English signs to help foreign tourists order correctly. I am of the opinion that it often helps to at least learn a little Japanese for situations like these though, as it makes the experience not only feel more authentic, but the shop owners might surprise you – after conducting the whole transaction in Japanese, the lady running the shop threw in a freebie (a deep fried piece of pickled ginger). Altogether for three pieces of delicious local cuisine I spent under 600 yen. Well worth it!
Afterwards I was craving something a little sweeter, and while walking through the bustling crowds I came across a stall selling ‘dango’, which is a sweet dumpling made from mochiko and covered in a sweet soy sauce. At around 130 yen it was a steal and something to follow up quite nicely after the salty tempura-battered lunch I had just eaten.
At that point I was about ready to finish up my lunchtime adventure, until I spotted possibly the most delicious-looking sweet I had ever laid my eyes on in Japan. Nearby to where I had just purchased the dango was a store that sold fresh strawberries covered in mochi. Not only that, but there were different types of fillings available, including chocolate, custard and red bean paste. Not being able to choose between either custard or chocolate, the shop staff recommended the custard filling, and I was extremely satisfied with their judgement. Juicy and sweet but with a little bit of savoury coming from the mochi, this was the highlight of my visit to the market, and back in Tokyo my mouth still salivates while thinking about this dessert.
Kuromon Ichiba Market was absolutely a delightfully surprising experience, in that I had no expectations going in, but left with satisfied tastebuds and a full stomach. I urge anybody making the trip to Osaka to make time for this amazing place. Being able to spend under $10USD for a bunch of different sweet and savoury local delicacies is, in my books, a no-brainer. Put it near the top of your list and you will not regret it!
MATT DE SOUSA
Originally from Melbourne, Australia, I am a freelance filmmaker based in Tokyo. I moved here to study Japanese language and like many others fell in love with Japan and decided to stay. In my rare moments of spare time you can find me reading Dragon Ball manga or having a beer at an izakaya.