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Eating Osaka: Okonomiyaki, the pain of finding it and the joy of eating it

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I have mentioned my lack of a sense of direction, coupled with no knowledge of the language and being thrown into what feels like a maze, finding my first meal was difficult.

I thought I should start with okonomiyaki. I knew where I wanted to go, Mizuno. I was told it was one of the best and research supported this. I bounded out of the underground full of enthusiasm, spent a few minutes under my plastic clear umbrella in the rain turning my map around and then asked for help and followed it.

Lost again.

I saw two girls and asked them. They were Japanese tourists and effectively, I thought ran away, but they came back two minutes later with a girl from a sock shop nearby (who still had a lot of socks in her hand) who spoke a little English. More map twirling. Then she brought me to the shop and 3 of her colleagues helped us twirl the map. One wanted to send me one way, another the other. In the end they all agreed on a direction and I shot off.

Lost again. I asked some people at a candied potato counter. One ran way, I was getting anxious, but came back with a map. They approved of my choice of Mizuno! Go down two blocks (the opposite direction to which I had been travelling) and go left for 3 blocks and then – did a complicated gesture with her finger on her palm, I had no idea – but I followed as much as I could.

I got there. It must be here! Where is it? I couldn’t find it.

I wandered some more and asked a girl for help. Bear in mind it was pouring down and the streets were empty. She spoke no english but I had the restaurant details and by now FIVE maps. She called the restaurant and gave me directions, again with a complicated palm gesture. I followed, I couldn’t find it, I was so hungry.

I gave up. I know I shouldn’t have but I was ground down by now two hours in. I thought, I will just follow my nose, and if I find it I will.

I wandered aimlessly in the back streets for a further fifteen minutes trying to find somewhere I recognised. I turned a corner and realised that I had been walking in an enormous circle. Super.

I crossed the road into Dotonburi again and within ten minutes had found the kushikatsu that I wanted to try at Daruma, easily recognisable by the giant head outside. A big bowl of sauce sat at each seat with a sign in english “DON’T DOUBLE DIPPING”. It was good, very good. I had quail egg, oyster, Welsh leek, chicken meatball and the original beef with an iced oolong tea. Come to London, Daruma!

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As I left I spotted the takoyaki stand that had had such a long queue across the road, and only one person there so I had some of that. Little balls of batter / pancake with octopus inside. The best I have had yet.

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I went into the seating area behind and rejuvenated by such delicious food, I thought to myself, isn’t life so much easier with just the right amount of delicious food (too much is like cotton wool for the brain, I find myself there too often). So I asked a guy there, who had little english, where is the very best okonomiyaki near here?

Oh! Yes, Mizuno!

I was startled. Am I near Mizuno? Yes, it around the corner. And sure enough it was. With a huge queue that I joyfully joined.

Mizuno. Finally, some really good Osaka okonomiyaki. What I have been looking for. I celebrated with some warm sake and had a bowl of warm tofu with sauce to start. Gorgeous. Mizuno is tiny, only eight or ten sit at the counter where they cook.

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I got the special with lots of seafood and pork, bonito, an egg on top, it broke my heart a touch to see him break the yolk, but that is how they do it. I waited 20 minutes, sipping my sake, watching, smelling and then I had a taste.

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Worth it, so worth it. I am almost glad it worked out this way.

Time to go to Tokyo.

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I like food. I like to make food. Eat food. Photograph food. Write about food. Mainly in London but when I am lucky or organised further afield.

31 Comments

  1. I am Taiwanese living in Yokohama, food is my life, I cannot speak Japanese so I totally understand how difficult to find a restaurant in the huge city here.
    Wish you have a lovely trip in Nippon.
    It’s definitely foodie’s paradise, let me know if you have questions to ask : )

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  2. Niamh, I’ve been following you for probably a little more than a year but have never posted before. Love your writing and photography. Anyway, as a former non-Japanese speaking (or reading) wanderer around Japan, this one drew me out. You capture it beautifully and you brought back some great memories.

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    • How lovely to hear from you! Thanks so much for the kind words – really appreciate it. I am pleased I brought back some good memories.

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  3. Those are delicious food! Planning to visit Tokyo this year after my flights to morocco. I want to try those yummy food and visit all the restaurant there.

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  4. On my first night in Tokyo I was booked into a tempura restaurant in Roppongi. I set out from the hotel with a map, precise directions from the nearest tube station and the name of the place.

    After discovering the restaurant had no sign, the roads were unmarked and my map essentially useless, I ended up calling the uk to get a Japanese speaker to ring the restaurant to get the chef to come and find me. A few minutes later, a plain wooden door about 6ft to my left opened and I was ushered inside. It looks like my experience wasn’t unique!

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    • Crazy! It is a much repeated experience for me now, and on my last trip too. You know Mizuno was right where I was looking for it, tucked behind some scaffolding.

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  5. Niamh – I left this comment earlier but for some reason it didn’t work but have you tried Everplaces. Charmaine got me onto it and it is a life saver.

    So you can find most addresses in Japan if you put their phone nos. into Google. Then you can add that address to your Gmap or put it into Everplaces. Everplaces caches which means you don’t need a GPS connection. You can then follow the blue dot right to where you want to go.

    I use it regularly in Japan and find it a freaking life saver.

    Good luck :)

    Tom

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  6. Okonomiyaki and takoyaki! It seems we have similar taste! You will not believe me but I have been having okonomiyaki at least once a week (for long months now). I change some ingredients from time to time (once puts whatever once wants ;-) ). Of course this one looks quite different from mine and I’m sure was much more delicious!
    Takoyaki was one of the most extraordinary things I have tasted in Japan. I loved it too and promised myself to bring a takoyaki pan next time. What an amazing trip you have had! (By the way, I know very well the “I’m completely lost for hours but the place is around the corner” experience ;-) Japanese tell me they are often lost too unless they already know the place from a previous visit.

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  7. Loved your story reminded me of desperately trying to find a slow food restaurant in Mexico City took two hours but worth it. C from Here There Every Fare

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  8. You did far better than I would have with finding a place – I ask for directions all the time, however I am only capable of listening to and remember the first instruction. My brain shuts down after I’ve received the first instruction and they rattle on, and I smile and thank them, follow that first instruction and stop to ask someone else for the next instruction. It is not very effective. I usually leave other people in charge of it!

    The food looks like it was totally worth the effort though!

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  9. i’ll try this when i visit Osaka :).
    what an experience. i know that “i-need-to-find-and-try-this” feeling. LOL.

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  10. We had a few problems finding places, but we had rented a wifi thing that meant we could get internet on phones etc which meant we could use Google Maps when we got lost. We only did so a few times on the trip, but when we did get lost it was invaluable!

    I had some lovely snacks in a Daruma in one of the stations, I can’t recall which now… I have a small pile of stickers with his face somewhere on my desk, in the mess… must stick them to random things, that face makes me smile.

    We did have okomiyaki in Osaka but not at Mizuno, shall try in October.

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  11. Just found your blog in my own quest for Best Osaka Food in Osaka. I’m on holiday in Japan right now and OH MY GOD, it has been SUCH a huge pain trying to find places. Thank god that Japanese people seem to be happy to help people staring at multiple maps with that sad, pathetic “WHERE AM I” look. Will take your notes with me for tomorrow’s Quest for Mizuno!

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  12. Oh my god this was literally us last night!!!!!!!!!
    I really thought there would be more English in japan. I’m kind of lead there’s not since I just came from Italy where everyone sprouts english lines to try and trick you into their rubbish touristy restaurants, but man, it makes finding dinner hard. Such a dilemma – do you take a cop out and go for the one that advertises their English menu which probably means more expensive and less authentic, or do you roll the dice on the authentic locals places where you have no idea what’s on the menu or how much it’ll cost. We usuallu lean towards the latter but have had mixed success with both options.
    Anyway, great writeup!

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