Osaka is often dubbed the kitchen of Japan. Unfortunately, our stay in Osaka last year was brief and hectic so we couldn’t explore the kitchen properly. The only food we have lingering memories of is the Okonomiyaki – savory pancake stuffed with vegetables, meat, egg and sometimes noodles, eaten straight from a hotplate.
We managed to snag a few good finds in Kyoto though – all through sheer serendipity. Here’s a list of the more memorable food we had in Kansai.
I hardly eat Okonomiyaki at home but in Osaka, we had it twice. once at Chibo 千房 in Dotonbori and once at Fukutaro 福太郎 in Takashimaya (Namba station). The Fukutaro main shop was just a few streets down but it was closed then. Both Chibo and Fukutaro were good.
In an Okonomiyaki house, the Okonomiyaki was cooked by the chef, then dished up to your table which had a big hotplate fitted in the centre so your Okonomiyaki continued to sizzle as you eat away. The perfect way to eat that Okonomiyaki.
Chibo: 1-5-5 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Fukutaro main shop: 3-17 Sen-nichi-mae 2 Chome, Chuo-ku, Osaka, 542-0074
Fukutaro Takashimaya: 8f 1-18 Namba 5, Chuo-ku Osaka, 542-0076
We had just finished touring Nishiki market and were wandering along Teramachidori. I didn’t know what made us decide to stray into a side lane 花遊小路商店街 but we did and saw this little unassuming ramen shop. Because we were starting to feel hungry, we went in.
花遊小路商店街 was adjacent to Kyoto Central Inn.
We weren’t expecting much but when the bowls were dished up before us, we were completely bowled over. The succulent ‘char siew’ pork was one of the best I’d ever eaten anywhere.
I didn’t keep track of the name until i checked up on it back home: Nandattei なんだっ亭. But that didn’t stop me from going back to the shop 2 days later (I remembered the way to go there). Had another full meal there and even got a takeaway – mum’s request.
nandattei: 565-18 nakanocho (ogawadori) nakagyo-ku kyoto
earlier this year when i visited kyoto again, i was determined to eat it. alas, the shop was closed that day.
but because of that, we discovered another gem – touyoutei 東洋亭- on the 7th floor food hall in takashimaya just across the road.
it was almost 2pm and there was still a long queue outside this shop. so we assumed it must be pretty good. ‘pretty good’ turned out to be a very conservative hunch. i had the best hamburg steak i’d ever eaten, here.
We ordered its signature hamburg steak and a stewed hamburg in tomato sauce. Each main course came with a whole cold tomato and salad appetiser. I avoid tomatoes if I can but this tomato was so sweet and tasty I surprised myself eating it all up straight away.
The signature hamburg steak came encased in an aluminium jacket resting on a hotplate. Make a hole in the aluminium then tear it open to reveal the succulent steak inside.
Good thing the wait staff advised against ordering dessert, because she felt we would be too stuffed after the main course. She was right.
All in, we spent 4300 yen for 2 person, including drinks (beer and wine). Super value-for-money.
Touyoutei: 7F Takashimaya Kyoto 52 Nishiiru Shincho, Shijo Dori, Kawaramachi Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto city
Dinner was Mizutaki (a chicken hot pot made popular in kyushu) at Hachikian八起庵. Hachikian specialised in chicken-based cuisine and had its own poultry farm. The honten (main shop) was where locals head to for elaborate, multi-course Mizutaki dinners.
We mistakenly went to the branch shop at Takashimaya (it had a different menu), the poor staff (obasans) tried to show us how to take the metro to the honten and even enlisted the chef’s help. Chef advised it might be easier to take a taxi (eventually we did 750 yen). As we left, the obasans kept asking us to take care. We must had been a handful.
The course started with various bite-size chicken dishes from cold dishes to chicken sashimi and tsukune and grilled wings. By the time we got to the main course – the Mizutaki – we were already quite stuffed. To enjoy it properly, go there very very hungry.
The best part of dinner was having the opportunity to chat with the affable founder Mr Kawanishi. Eeven though we could hardly speak Japanese and he spoke little English, we were able to carry on a conversation!
We noticed too that all the staff were quite senior (even the ones at the branch shop) – it seemed they had worked at the Hachikian for many years. The boss must be doing things right if he could keep staff that long.
How not to be overwhelmed by such hospitality?
Hachikian: 8 Higashimarutacho Sakyo-ku Kyoto
We were still early after visiting the bamboo forest so we took our second breakfast at Yojiya cafe – since most others shops were still closed. Even though Yojiya was more famed for its Kyoto-styled cosmetics, its cafe menu was pleasantly delectable.
Yojiya: Nonomiya-Toge, Saga Tenryu-ji Tateishi-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Lunch was at Saganoyu嵯峨野湯, a bathhouse turned restaurant that was run by ladies. It’s famed for its desserts but the lunch selections were equally scrumptious. Saganoyu was very near to the Randen-saga 嵐電嵯峨 train station but was also not too far from the main street at Tenryuji天龍寺.
Head there for the lovely ambience and just soak in the relaxed vibes while you enjoy your food.
The tofu pasta came with home-made tofu, freshly-baked bread, green tea sea salt, soy sauce powder and yuzu pepper. The al dente pasta was tossed in soy milk cream – but you wouldn’t know. Healthy and absolutely delicious.
Saganoyu: 4-3 Sagatenryuji Imahoricho Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Rest of Kansai
We read about this udon place along the route to Himeji castle – Sanuki Udon Menme 讃岐うどん めんめ. We stopped by for lunch and weren’t disappointed. The fresh, handmade udon made difference in the taste indeed. The restaurant was family-run and the udon was made only when it was ordered.
There were soup and dry udon – the dry udon was a refreshing change for us. After eating udon here, I don’t think I’d Iook at udon the same again.
Sanuki Udonmenme: 68 Honmachi Himeji Hyogo
Ise was also well-known for udon, particularly their Ise style udon which was udon braised in a dark sauce. But unfortunately I had no photos of it because between Matsuzaka beef and udon, I chose to try Matsuzaka beef 松阪牛.
Was Matsuzaka beef superior to Kobe beef? That was what I needed to find out but I still couldn’t tell. I had good Kobe beef steak but had no chance to try similar cuts for the Matsuzaka (the one at Ise station didn’t quite make it). Although the simple beef skewer that I had on the way to Ise shrine (800 yen) made a greater impact – really tasty and worth every yen.
In Nara, we wanted a change from the usual Japanese fare and decided to go Italian. Trattoria Piano was conveniently located along Sanjo Dori 三条通, the shopping alley tucked next to Nara train station. Its first floor was for casual dining while the second floor was for more formal fare. It was crowded that evening so they seated us upstairs but allowed us to order from the casual menu. Their wood-fired pizzas was absolutely mama mia as expected.
Piano: 15-1 Hashimotocho, Nara 630-8217, Nara
If you are ever in Kobe, you must head up to Mount Rokko 六甲 – for the superb night view and delicious pancake at Tenran Cafe. Tenran 天覧 refers to the observatory platform on Mount Rokko, which the cafe sits atop.
To make the trip up worthwhile, consider staying for dinner. The food looked good; the view was even better.
Tenran: Ichigatani-1-32 Rokkosancho, Nada ward, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture 657-0101
Nothing can be more satisfying than filling the belly with good food made with care. We definitely missed these carefree days in Kansai.