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Osaka Insider Featured in Kansai Scene (and Minor Guidebook Update)

November 5, 2012 2 comments

Although I have officially retired from writing for the Osaka Insider blog (currently writing for Finding Fukuoka), I was recently featured in Kansai Scene, the major English-language publication for the Osaka area. They talked to me about my ramen in Osaka as well as my favorite ramen shops in the city. Take a look at the article online or pick up a copy of the November issue if you are currently in the Kansai area.

Another small update regarding the guidebook: Due to conversion problems (from paperback to the Kindle edition), I have temporarily removed the Kindle version from Amazon. I hope to put it up for sale again once I work out the relevant issues, and I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Print copies of the guidebook can still be ordered as usual from Amazon in Europe and the United States, or you can contact me via the Finding Fukuoka contact form if you want to order a copy in Japan. I hope to make the Osaka Insider guidebook as well as the upcoming Finding Fukuoka guidebook more readily available in Japan through an online store once the latter has been published.

Pepsi Mont Blanc

October 27, 2010 18 comments

Pepsi Mont BlancIt’s that time again. Yes, it’s time for another fabulous new flavor of Pepsi in Japan: Pepsi Mont Blanc. For those of you who don’t know what Mont Blanc is (besides the name of a mountain in the Alps), it is a sweet popular in Japan, often in tart, cupcake or roll cake form, with a chestnut flavor. And while Mont Blanc doesn’t taste bad on its own, when mixed with Pepsi, it creates the next limited-time-flavor Japanese Pepsi disaster. Just in case you missed them, previous incarnations included Pepsi Ice Cucumber, as well as the one that still gives me nightmares, Pepsi Azuki.

How to describe Pepsi Mont Blanc? Well, the bottle’s label describes it as follows: 「マロンのやさしい香りが漂う爽やかな刺激のコーラ。デザート感覚でお楽しみください。」 This means (my translation, 意訳 style): “A refreshing cola, from which wafts the gentle aroma of chestnuts. You can enjoy it the same way you enjoy dessert.”

In other words, a dessert cola with a hint of chestnuts. There’s a reason nobody has ever thought of this flavor until now. While it doesn’t reach the level of horribleness that some past Pepsi flavors have (most notably Pepsi Azuki, which may as well have been called Pepsi Upchuck), it sure doesn’t taste good. In fact, I’m trying to choke down a bottle of it while writing this post, so I don’t feel like I just threw away 147 yen.

On the positive side, I’ve got to hand it to PepsiCo for coming up with original, imaginative flavors that match the seasonal cuisine and atmosphere in Japan. And the label design is elegant, too. But I really do wonder what will be next: Pepsi Turkey and Gravy? Pepsi Snow Crab? Pepsi Christmas Cake?

 

t’s that time again. Yes, it’s time for another fabulous new flavor of Pepsi in Japan. This time around it’s Pepsi Mont Blanc. For those of you who don’t know what Mont Blanc is (besides the name of a mountain in the Alps), it is a sweet popular in Japan, often in tart, cupcake or roll cake form, with a chestnut flavor. And while Mont Blanc doesn’t taste bad on its own, when mixed with Pepsi, it has created the next limited-time-flavor Japanese Pepsi disaster. Just in case you missed it, previous incarnations included Pepsi Shiso—shiso meaning “perilla,” a kind of herb eaten in leaf form—as well as the one that still gives me nightmares, Pepsi Azuki.

How to describe Pepsi Mont Blanc? Well, the bottle describes it as follows: 「マロンのやさしい香りが漂う爽やかな刺激のコーラ。デザート間隔でお楽しみください。」 This means (my translation, 意訳 style): “A refreshing cola, from which wafts the gentle aroma of chestnuts. You can enjoy it the same way you enjoy dessert.”

In other words, a dessert cola with a hint of chestnuts. There’s a reason nobody has ever thought of this flavor until now. While it doesn’t reach the level of horribleness that some past Pepsi flavors have (most notably Pepsi Azuki, which may as well have been called Pepsi Upchuck), it sure doesn’t taste good. In fact, I’m trying to choke down a bottle of it while writing this post, so I don’t feel like I just threw away 147 yen.

On the positive side, I’ve got to hand it to PepsiCo for coming up with original, imaginative flavors that match the seasonal foods and atmosphere in Japan. And the label design is pretty elegant. But I really do wonder what will be next: Pepsi Turkey and Gravy? Pepsi Snow Crab? Pepsi Christmas Cake?

The Ramen Guide is Online!

June 24, 2010 4 comments

Yes, I know it’s been awhile. Osaka Insider has been swamped. But since you were all so patient, I have decided to debut my Ramen Guide a bit earlier than planned. The Ramen Guide is a new, permanent page on this site (you can see it in the menu bar above and to the right), featuring Osaka Insider’s recommended ramen in Osaka. As always, my advice is based on experience and research–I have personally eaten at all of the ramen shops listed. I have kept the list moderate because, let’s be realistic, how many bowls of ramen can one person really eat? And because I never get tired of trying new things and seeing new places, you can be sure new shops will make the list as I discover them.

Take a look at the new guide now!

Pepsi Baobab

May 25, 2010 3 comments

It’s the time again. Yes, it’s time for another strange Pepsi flavor to be released in Japan. Previous incarnations have often been downright disgusting, but this time around it’s a bit different.

Pepsi Baobab.

What in the name of Amaterasu is a “baobab”? That’s the same thing I asked myself when I saw it in the Family Mart today.

The bottle has a little description written in Japanese: 「アフリカの大地にそびえるバオバブの木をモチーフにした開放感あふれる爽やかなコーラ!」, which means “a cola with a liberating and refreshing flavor, taking as its motif the baobab tree that towers over the vast African continent.”  So, as you can see, that doesn’t help us at all to understand anything except that baobab is the name for a big tree. And it’s hard to imagine “tree” being a flavor of soft drink.

Wikipedia’s entry on the Adansonia, also known as the baobab and many other names, confirmed that it is in fact a type of African tree native to Madagascar. Further reading informed me that its leaves are often eaten as vegetables, and the fruit and seeds are used in various sweets and dishes. Apparently Baobab is eaten in Europe, and also by the natives of Australia.

Oh, and Rafiki, that crazy old monkey in the Lion King, lived in a baobab tree.

Honestly, I don’t know if this Pepsi is supposed to taste like the leaves, the seeds, or the fruit. Or just a tree. This writer seems to think it’s the fruit, and I would have to agree because of its faintly sweet taste. Either way, it’s not too bad, especially when compared to such past monstrosities as Pepsi Shiso and Pepsi Azuki. So for those of you living in Japan, pick up some Pepsi Baobab today and tell me what you think!

Genji — Premium Soba in Namba

May 19, 2010 Leave a comment

This lovely little soba shop, crammed into the back streets in the heart of Namba, serves a variety of delicious, natural dishes, including some of the best soba you will find in Osaka. The shop is called Genji (源氏), and their goal is to provide customers with trustworthy ingredients that will contribute to their current and future health. Genji’s management personally selects only the finest suppliers of raw ingredients: soba noodles from Fukui, Ibaraki and Nagano Prefectures, rice and daikon giant radish from Okayama Prefecture (grown using little or no pesticide), and fresh spring water, a vital ingredient in good soba dishes, from Fushimi in Kyoto Prefecture. This blend of quality ingredients, consideration toward customers, a unique shop design with a rustic feel, and a wide variety of traditional and original dishes make Genji a must-try in the Minami district.

Genji is just a 3 min. walk or so from Namba Station on pretty much any line except JR–a map to can be seen here. Tabelog’s page in Japanese can be found here, and they can be contacted at 06-6633-5402. Store hours are from noon until 3 pm, and 6 pm to 11 pm (last order at 10 pm). They are closed on Sundays (except during holiday weekends).

Nakanoshima Club

March 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Nakanoshima Club is inside the Chuo Kokaido

Nakanoshima Club (中之島倶楽部) is a Western cuisine restaurant located in the Chuo Kokaido building, which was built in 1918 in the elegant yet flamboyant European-influenced style that became popular in the early part of Japan’s modern period. The building is one of the most beautiful of the historic buildings in the Nakanoshima/Kitahama area, and it has been designated as an Important Cultural Property by the government. While dinners here average out to around 3,500 yen per person, which is a little more than the average diner may want to pay, lunch is an easily-affordable 680 yen (average) per person. Although the lunch menu is more limited, the low price gives you a chance to experience the tasty food and Showa-Period atmosphere of Nakanoshima Club without emptying your wallet. Plus, if you’ve never had a chance to walk around Nakanoshima Island, you make an afternoon out of it!

It is only a few steps to Nakanoshima Club from Naniwabashi Station (Keihan Nakanoshima Line), and only 3 min. on foot from Yodoyabashi Station (Midosuji Subway Line and Keihan Main Line). Simply walk around the side of the Chuo Kokaido building and go in through the basement-level entryway. Restaurant hours are 9:30 am to 9:30 pm (closed on the 4th Tue. of the month and during the New Year’s holiday period). English menus are available for those who don’t read Japanese—menu and further information are also available here. Nomihodai is also available. You can contact them at 06-6233-3580.

A Google Maps access map can be viewed here.

Hard Rock Cafe

January 12, 2010 1 comment

Hard Rock Cafes are found in most major cities of the world, and Osaka is no exception. You can get a delicious burger with fries for around 2,000, yen which is a little spendy but worth it considering Japanese burger joints consider a hamburger to be what is essentially cheap meatloaf placed between bread (e.g., Mos Burger).

The HRC in Hommachi, near many of the city’s large offices and the laid-back Utsubo Park, is located in what was once a bank. Besides retaining the feel of Hard Rock Cafes worldwide with its slick interior design and blaring music, this shop hosts DJ events, New Year’s and Halloween parties, and more.

The shop in Universal Studios Japan’s Universal Citywalk shopping complex is the newer of the two, and in my opinion has a far better interior design and atmosphere. As with all Hard Rock Cafes, rare collector’s items are on display inside. This is the perfect way to finish of a day of rides and shopping at Universal Studios.

Both HRCs have gift shops, of course. And incredibly hot waitresses.

The Hommachi branch is located directly outside of exits 9 and 10 of Hommachi Station on the Midosuji, Chuo, and Yotsubashi Subway Lines. The USJ branch is a 3-5 min. walk from Universal City Station on the JR Yumesaki Line (some trains branch off the JR Osaka Loop Line onto this line; you can also transfer from regular JR Loop Line trains, or from the Hanshin Namba Line, at Nishikujo Station).

Horai

December 6, 2009 2 comments

Horai (蓬莱), just one of the many successful businesses born in Osaka, is a popular Chinese food chain. Most visitors will notice the 551 Horai booths set up in stations, which sell Horai’s most popular product, butaman–a steamed pork bun, a food made from dough filled with pork and other ingredients. The Horai name has become known all over Japan since the company’s founding in 1945, and many visitors from outside the Kansai area will buy Horai’s butaman as omiyage (souvenirs/gifts) to take home to their families and coworkers. It is said the “551 Horai” name comes from the original phone number of the company, which was also 551. Outside of its restaurants, Horai’s products are not only sold at numerous major and minor train stations, but in supermarkets and department stores all over Japan, and they can be bought fresh or as frozen foods. Horai also sell ice candy, which is popular during Kansai’s humid summers.

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Recommended Ramen in Osaka

November 3, 2009 3 comments

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Here are a few of my favorite ramen shops* in Osaka. It is very hard to make recommendations for this sort of food in Osaka, as the city seems to be overflowing with mind-blowingly delicious options, but here’s what I’ve come up with. Some of them are chain stores, and some are small family businesses, but all are delicious in that, greasy, meaty, rameny sort of way.

Shitenno (四天王)

You can find Shitenno in many spots throughout Osaka, and it’s one of the better chain restaurants in the area. While some may criticize Shitenno (and other chains) for not using fresh noodles or providing good-quality chashu (pork), the shio (salt) broth chashumen is quite tasty and makes up for other shortcomings. Broth is the vital factor, after all.

Sodaisho (総大将)

Sodaisho is a famous little place with lines that stretch out the door. It has an incredibly rich, flavorful shoyu (soy sauce) broth as its specialty. Television stars and celebrities come here to eat often, and for good reason. The chashu-don, which is a donburi-style dish with rice, mayonnaise, nori and chashu, looks strange but tastes wonderful.

Hokkaido Nagurikomi Ramen Betsubara (北海道なぐりこみラーメン 米通腹)

This is a small, family-run shop in a quiet residential neighborhood near Nishinagahori Subway Station. It serves Hokkaido-style ramen with thick, filling noodles, using konbu and tonkotsu as the broth base. The amount of bowls served is limited to a mere 100 per day.

Men’ya Eguchi (麺屋えぐち)

Another small (and this time, I mean SMALL) shop that is a favorite among locals working and living near Esaka in Suita City, you will be waiting around the corner in line to get a bowl but be glad you did. The basic tsukemen at Men’ya Eguchi makes your taste buds dance and comes with enough noodles to make your belly burst.

Kio (亀王)

Kio (lit. turtle king)  is a chain store that you can find almost as easily as Shitenno. It’s main attraction is the chashumen, which features absolutely huge, savory pieces of pork. I also recommend the reimen (cold ramen) during Osaka’s hot summers.

Hakata Ippudo (博多一風堂)

Ippudo ramen, originally from Hakata, is popular nationwide, and I have personally been in love with it since my days as a student in Tokyo. It has two unique tonkotsu broths–“red” and “white”–both of which are just amazing (although I prefer “white” just a little more). The lunch set during the afternoon is a great deal and comes with ramen, gyoza, and rice (piss-poor students take note: this is cheap and will fill you up for an entire day).

Kinryu Ramen (金龍ラーメン)

What kind of Osakan would I be if I didn’t mention Kinryu? This is the iconic ramen shop of Dotombori, and you can find shops running all throughout the district. If you have been in Osaka for any length of time but haven’t visited Kinryu, don’t worry, I won’t tell…just get there before somebody finds out! This simple ramen costs almost nothing and is available at any time of the day or night in order to meet the lifestyle of  the denizens of Namba. You can recognize this shop by the freaking-giant dragon on top.

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Kinryu Ramen

*I have included the Japanese-language names as well as roman-letter transcriptions–Japanese fonts may not display properly in all browsers. The links provided are to Japanese pages.

Pepsi Azuki

October 30, 2009 12 comments
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Pepsi Azuki

Pepsi of Japan is trying to make us all sick to our stomachs. The newest tool for accomplishing that task is Pepsi Azuki. Yes, azuki.

Sure, Coke has come up with some oddballs, but nothing compared to this. For example, the new Coca-Cola no calorie plus fiber. Not too appetizing. However, Pepsi’s new azuki­-flavored monstrosity is more of a shock. For those fortunate enough not to know, azuki is a type of red bean typically served as a paste inside rice balls and other snacks in Japan, and while there is probably not one Japanese person in existence who doesn’t love it, I cannot stand the stuff. Imagine the taste of somebody barfing directly into your mouth, and you are imagining the taste of azuki. Now, even if you do like azuki, which many people do, you have to admit that the thought of mixing it with Pepsi is just repulsive.

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Pepsi Ice Cucumber

But this may not be the worst idea Pepsi has had. What about their bright-green Pepsi Shiso, featuring the combination of Pepsi and the shiso beefsteak plant leaf? Or possibly worst of all, the bright-blue summer special of 2008, Pepsi Ice Cucumber. Mmmmmmm. Cold cucumber and sugary soda in a plastic bottle.

I really hope they don’t push it further and try Pepsi Natto.