While Japan is one of the best places for solo travel, a trip to Osaka – the country’s food capital – will make you wish for a companion to share meals with. The temptation of kuidaore (食い倒れ) – eating yourself into total ruin – is real. With so much to choose from, eating alone without discipline can translate into an empty wallet and an enlarged waist.
Fortunately for budget conscious travellers, it is hard to find bad food in Osaka. No matter the price point of food, it is entirely possible to find authentic Japanese fare that is cheap and tasty. Here are some of my food picks in Osaka, all priced under ¥1000.
Kyabetsu-yaki is the no-frills cousin of Okonomiyaki. It’s basically a grilled cabbage pancake, mixed with other ingredients such as: eggs, pickled ginger, chives, dried squid, red shrimp, dried bonito flakes and tenkasu (crunchy bits of deep fried flour batter). The batter is made of wheat flour and dashi stock.
The meatless version of Kyabetsu-yaki is only ¥140, making it one of the most affordable street foods to try in Osaka. Top up an additional ¥70 for slices of pork, if you want extra protein.
For a lone traveller, this is the perfect substitute for Okonomiyaki – a dish that’s meant for sharing – and leaves plenty of room in your stomach for other street snacks.
The popular Kyabetuyaki brand (although its name in katakana reads as “kyabetsuyaki”) operates a number of stores in the Greater Osaka area. I visited the Namba branch, about 5 minutes walk from Nankai-Namba station.
Address: 1-18-18 Namba-naka, Naniwa Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture
Opening hours: 10am to 1am
Takoyaki is synonymous with Osaka. The origins of this fried octopus ball began in 1935, popularised by a man named Tomekichi Endo. The inspiration for Takoyaki came from Akashiyaki, a similar dumpling dish made from egg batter and octopus.
Osaka’s quintessential street snack is typically sold in quantities of 6, 8 or 12. Although I’m a fan, downing eight pieces at a go is enough to ruin my appetite for more food. So, I was relieved to see Wanaka offer a sampler option called Takosen (¥200) – three takoyaki balls sandwiched with two pieces of wafer. You can opt for a version with Japanese leeks (negi) and tempura bits at ¥250.
Nothing is more satisfying than chomping down on a crispy senbei wafer, then hitting a freshly grilled Takoyaki ball and risk burning your tongue in the process. The challenging part of eating this is keeping the remaining Takoyaki sandwiched between wafers, and not making a mess.
Wanaka operates several stores in Osaka, Kyoto and Kyushu. I visited the Namba branch, located within Namba hon-dori, 2 minutes on foot from the Namba subway station.
Address: 3-7-24 Namba, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture
Opening hours: 10am to 10pm
Melonpan Ice-cream (メロンパンイス)
Melonpan is a Japanese sweet bun that has a thin layer of crispy cookie dough, which makes it look like the exterior of a rock melon.
My other half is especially fond of Melonpan, so whenever we travel to Japan, we make it a point to eat this at least once. We first chanced upon this in Kanazawa, our first thought was that: whoever decided to sell ice cream sandwiched with Melonpan must have been a GENIUS.
I got the Original Melonpan Ice-cream (¥400). The exterior has a nice crunch, while the interior is warm and fluffy. Paired with vanilla ice cream, this is definitely a divine treat.
Sold by the World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melonpan Ice Cream (Yes, that’s the actual name of the store), this delectable dessert can be found in several places across Japan, and even in Taipei and Hong Kong.
There are two stores in Osaka. The first store is located at Amerika Mura, but if you happen to be strolling in Dotonburi, do check out the food truck parked outside Kadoza Square.
World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melonpan Ice Cream 世界で２番めにおいしい焼きたてメロンパンアイス
Address: Kadoza Square, 1-4-20 Dotonburi, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture
Opening hours: 1pm to 10pm
Another famous food to try in Osaka is Kushikatsu or Kushiage, deep fried meat or vegetables on skewers, served with a dipping sauce. Its batter is similar to tempura, with a key ingredient – panko breadcrumbs – for that added crunch. One key rule for eating Kushikatsu is the no double-dipping rule, as the sauce container is communal.
Head down to Shinsekai and you’ll find a concentration of restaurants specialising in Kushikatsu. The most popular of them is Kushikatsu Daruma, which first opened its doors in 1929, and now has at least 13 stores in Osaka. However, a standard sampler set at Daruma costs ¥2000, a little too pricy for deep fried snacks.
Instead of that, I opted for Yamatoya, just a short walk away from Tsutenkaku Tower. It has a menu in English, Chinese and Korean, so the process of ordering is a breeze for most tourists.
Working within the constraints of my tight budget and small stomach, I chose an assorted vegetable skewer set (¥450) – comprising lotus root, pumpkin, potato, onion and shiitake mushroom, one salmon skewer (¥100), one chicken skewer (¥100), and a bowl of steamed clams in sake (¥300).
The vegetable skewers were crunchy, with the dipping sauce giving that umami kick. These definitely go well with an ice cold beer. I would give thumbs-up to the steamed clams in saké: the sweetness of the clams is neatly balanced with the tanginess of the lemon. The chicken skewer was not too bad, but the stale and fishy taste of the salmon skewer disappointed me the most. (If you’re planning to visit a cheaper kushikatsu joint, it’s probably best to lay off the seafood skewers.)
Address: 2-4-3 Ebisuhigashi, Naniwa Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture
Opening hours: Weekdays: 11am to 10pm, Saturdays: 10am to 10pm, Sundays and Public Holidays: 9.30am to 9pm.
Website: NIL, but you can check out its listing on tabelog: https://tabelog.com/en/osaka/A2701/A270206/27052819/
Chūka is Japanese style Chinese food. You may find familiar dishes such as Gyoza (dumplings), Chahan (fried rice), Ramen (noodles), Mābō-dōfu (mapo tofu), and even Karaage (fried pieces of chicken thigh).
Chūka tastes remarkably different from your standard Chinese fare, so it’s important to find an authentic Japanese Chinese restaurant. (On my first trip to Japan, I ended up dining at a Chinese restaurant operated by a Shanghainese. No wonder the food tasted just like the one in China.)
Osaka Ohsho was a splendid choice for a single diner like myself. I ordered its signature Gyoza (¥240) and Chahan (¥490), which was served with a small bowl of soup. The Gyoza was not bad, but the Chahan was surprisingly scrumptious. I particularly liked how the Japanese rice grains were neither sticky nor too oily; each mouthful of rice had a nice bite. It’s probably the Japanese seasoning (it definitely has MSG) used in the dish that makes it so flavourful, despite the dish not having a pronounced charred or wok-hei taste, like your standard Chinese fried rice.
None of the items on the menu exceeded ¥1000. Compared to the prices you find in Singapore, this was definitely a steal. If you are dining as a group, Osaka Ohsho is great for sharing several dishes.
Osaka Ohsho is pretty much everywhere in Japan. If you are planning to visit Tsutenkaku Tower, check out the branch located at the start of the Shinsekai shopping street.
Address: 1-13-19 Ebisuhigashi, Naniwa Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture
Opening hours: 11am to 3.30am
Udon is touted as one of the must-eats in Osaka. This thick and chewy Japanese noodle is served in a variety of ways, but the local favourite that originated from Osaka is called the Kitsune Udon. Udon is served in a light dashi stock broth, topped with a piece of sweetened fried tofu skin called Aburaage (or better known as “taupok” by Singaporeans), and thin slices of leek.
Udon shops typically serve soba as well. So, if you prefer a little bit of buckwheat in your diet, you can order a soba version instead. Not surprisingly, I managed to enjoy udon at Miyako Soba, a small diner located near the JR Tennoji and Tennoji (Tanimachi line) subway stations.
I ordered the standard Kitsune Udon (¥320), and added Shrimp Tempura (¥140) for extra indulgence. Unlike ramen, udon and soba are usually more affordable. They also fill up your tummy without compromising on taste. If you’re looking to enjoy a simple lunch just like the locals, then look around for these small shops near the train stations, away from the shopping malls.
Miyako Soba 都そば
Address: 15-8 Horikoshicho, Tennoji-ku, Osaka 543-0056, Osaka Prefecture
Opening hours: 6.30am to 10pm
Website: NIL, but you can check out the listing on Tabelog here: https://tabelog.com/en/osaka/A2701/A270203/27027742/
Considered the national dish of Japan, Ramen is well loved across Japan and overseas, despite its Chinese origins. These chewy wheat noodles sit in a flavourful broth typically topped with an almost hard-boiled egg, vegetables and slices of Chashu pork. The warmth of the broth and its hearty ingredients have turned Ramen into the quintessential comfort food on a cold rainy day.
While Ramen can be found everywhere in Osaka, one Ramen house that stood out for me was Sakunosaku, a 5-minute walk from Namba (Midosuji line) subway station.
Instead of the standard Chashu pork, they used thin slices of pork thigh – similar to the ones used for sukiyaki. I opted for the Yuzu Shio Tonkatsu Ramen (¥750) that was popular with ladies. The portion was just right for ladies, and its broth was delicately balanced with a hint of yuzu that cut through the greasiness of the pork.
My partner chose the signature Naniwa Tonkotsu Ramen with an extra topping of pork slices (¥1080). The tonkotsu broth had more depth, and there was so much pork that it covered the entire ramen bowl! According to the restaurant, the broth was the result of 19 hours of simmering carefully selected pork bones, with the chefs repeatedly sieving out the unwanted excess to produce a refreshing, yet rich taste.
Address: 1-1-1 Namba, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture
Opening hours: 11am to 8pm
The British introduced curry to Japan during the Meiji era, at a time when India was still under the colonial rule of the British Raj. Since then, curry has been adapted for the Japanese palate, and has evolved into something truly unique. Curry is so ubiquitous in Japan that some consider it a national dish.
I’ve visited a number of curry houses in Japan, but one that has left an indelible impression has to be Moja Curry. Tucked in an unassuming part of JR Shin-Osaka Station, it is easy to miss this small eatery, if it weren’t for a large sign board that featured a South Asian cook with a plate of curry.
The face of Moja Curry is its creator, a Bangladeshi cook who found the perfect combination of 20 spices for Japanese curry. It is so popular with the locals that the store introduced its own packaged curry (¥480), which you can prepare at home.
I chose Pork Katsu Curry (¥800), while my partner opted for Negi Beef Curry (¥850). This curry was unlike any Japanese curry that I have ever eaten. It tasted so good that it could be eaten on its own with rice. The pork Katsu was crispy yet tender, so I could enjoy the dish with just a spoon. The Negi beef curry was excellent too, as the sweet taste of Negi (Japanese leek) complemented the soft beef slices that melted in my mouth.
Moja Curry gives you the option to “level up” the spiciness of your curry. Starting at 10x (additional ¥50), you can go all the way to 1000x (additional ¥500), which is insane and may warrant a trip to the hospital.
While the eatery at JR Shin-Osaka can only seat 7 diners at a time, you’d be pleased to know that there’s another branch in Osaka at Shinsaibashi, one in Kobe and a fourth at Himeji.
Address: 5-16-1 Nishinakajima, Yodogawa-ku, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture (at the JR Shin-Osaka station, Level 1 of the food hall)
Opening hours: 11am to 8pm
About Wai See
Wai See posts pictures of her travels and perspectives of the world via @teetravelogue. An avid lover of Japanese food and culture, she is currently studying Japanese again so that she’s better prepared for her next adventure to the land of the rising sun. Wai See is also a self-confessed coffee addict and alcoholic, with a strong preference for sake and Japanese whisky. She is working on her cooking skills, so that she can finally make a Totoro bento for her family. You can contact her directly at email@example.com.