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).
I am often asked what I like about living in Osaka. And because I have also lived in Tokyo, I am also asked whether I prefer Osaka or Tokyo. Besides the fact that my job and life are here, there are four primary reasons I prefer to live in Osaka over any other place in Japan:
1. The People
This is the number one reason Osaka is the most livable place I have found in Japan. People here are the most open-minded (including their attitudes toward foreign residents), are willing to help out strangers, and are basically warm and approachable. It is easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger almost anywhere you go, and if you need help because you are lost or unsure of something, just ask someone nearby and you will almost never be ignored. The “people” factor is not only my top reason for staying here; ask anyone here and you will likely hear the same thing.
With a metropolitan population of approximately 3 million, Osaka City is big but not too big, and despite the tri-city metro area population of approximately 20 million, it does not (for the most part) have the hellish commutes, snail-like traffic and infuriating crowds of cities like Tokyo or Seoul. There are many of small shops and businesses mixed in with department stores and chain stores, so you can easily find something that suites your tastes — the inexhaustible number of hidden places to explore is one of the city’s best features. Unlike its historical rival, Tokyo, Osaka is planned well, so you won’t get lost wondering the streets (I dare you to try explaining the order behind the urban planning and subway system of the capital). The cost of living is also more than reasonable in comparison. Finally, Osaka has many well-designed parks and waterfront spots, making for a pleasant urban environment. Despite its past reputation as a dirty, industrial city, Osaka has become a massive commercial center and one of the cleanest and most livable cities you will find.
3. Rich Culture and History
Osaka has played many roles throughout its history, including that of the imperial capital (as Naniwa-kyo), an important trade port and point for importing cultural innovations, a diplomatic host for Chinese and Korean visitors when the capital moved first to Nara and then Kyoto, the base of Toyotomi military power, the prime economic center and site of the world’s first futures market during the Edo Period, a major manufacturing center during the early modern period and period of high-speed growth, a temporary capital when Tokyo was burned to the ground in the fires of the 1923 earthquake, a primary commercial and trade center since the postwar period, and now an increasingly international city and central hub for Japan and East Asia. This rich history has given rise to a unique culture and a number of rich, deep-rooted traditions. Osaka is also the transportation hub of Kansai, the cultural center and birthplace of Japanese civilization, so you can reach places such as Nara, Kyoto, and Himeji in no time.
4. The Food
Osaka is historically known as “the nation’s kitchen” for its role in supplying and acting as a hub for the food industry. It is also famous for its cuisine — not luxury cuisine, mind you, but “B-level” (B-kyu) cuisine. The quality of okonomiyaki, takoyaki, ramen, soba, kushikatsu, sushi, and other foods people eat on a regular basis is outstanding. In addition, the large number of non-Japanese living in the city means there is a huge selection of international cuisine, too — Korean food in Tsuruhashi, for example. Delicious food at surprisingly low prices is definitely one of the city’s strongest points.
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.
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.
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 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 (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.
*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.
Takoyaki, which is often humorously (and unfortunately) translated as “octopus balls,” are dumplings made of batter, picked ginger, tenkasu, and green onion, with octopus meat in the middle and sauce, aonori, mayonnaise, and bonito flakes sprinkled over the top. Now, as a non-Japanese, and I know that octopus can sound quite unappetizing at first, but these little snacks are so good that you’ll find yourself popping them into your mouth one after another. These can often be found at stalls at festivals and anytime on the streets, in restaurants, and even in people’s homes (you know you are an Osakan if you have a takoyaki cooker in your home). Furthermore, almost anything can be substituted for octopus when you make it on your own, including squid, kimchee, cheese, vegetables, or whatever else you can think of. Along with okonomiyaki, takoyaki is one of the representative foods of Osaka’s food culture, and apparently this incredibly popular dish has even made its way over to a few restaurants in the United States in recent years.
I personally recommend Takoyaki Doraku Wanaka (たこ焼き道楽 わなか 千日前本店), a restaurant opened in 1961 on Sennichimae in Namba (easy to get to from Namba or Nipponbashi station). It is actually right next to NGK, the famous comedians’ theatre, and television and comedy stars are sometimes known to drop in for a bite to eat. It costs 400 yen for 8 dumplings, and it is open from morning until 11:45 pm.
Here’s a video of takoyaki being made at an outdoor food stall in Osaka, in case you want to see a cook in action 🙂
It’s back to the Horie district (Kitahorie, to be precise), this time to a bar called Covent Garden. The main reason I love this place is that it is one of the best places to get burgers in town–and let me make it clear that, as an American (a picky one) in Japan, I rarely say a burger is “good.” Besides burgers, they also serve a variety of Western-style foods including veggie burgers, cheese fries, nachos, pizza, and wraps, as well as a few Japanese dishes. They also offer a good selection of imported beers and other cocktails.
One of the great points about Covent Garden is the atmosphere: there are couches in the lower level; the bar is equipped with darts, foosball, and free Internet; and the staff are friendly and make you feel right at home.
Covent garden is a 5-minute walk from exit 3 of Nishiohashi Station (Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi Subway Line), and a 7-minute walk from exit 5 of Yotsubashi Station (Yotsubashi Subway Line). It is located within 5 minutes (on foot) of Triangle Park in Amemura. They can be contacted by phone at 06-4391-3177.
For menus, a map, the event schedule (they hold DJ events and live performances), and other information, take a look at Covent Garden’s website.