Okonomiyaki, Octopus Dumplings, and the Noble Art of Kuidaore

It is no secret that those from Osaka hold in their hearts a particular affinity for all things edible, an innate passion that each new citizen seems to be born with.  This enjoyment of food and drink has even evolved to the point in which a new term has been coined for their activities: Kuidaore.  Translated directly, it means simply to “ruin oneself by extravagance in food.”  In more common terms, it is applied to a (likely alcohol-fueled) food binge in the heart of Osaka that escalates to the point at which one actually falls down as a result of the excess.  And after it is all over, tradition states that you then pick yourself back up, grab a few new friends, and get your picture taken with the mascot of the area, the Kuidaore Taro (or Kuidaore Clown).  Personally, I’m all for the unique gustatory pleasures that the area offers — in fact, that’s largely the reason I came to Osaka in the first place, as I have yet to find a locale that can force me to collapse — but don’t worry, I’m not getting my picture taken with any creepy clown.

Given the bounty of restaurants and bars in the city, you could choose almost any neighborhood in all of Osaka as an embarkation point for your own culinary feast.  It wouldn’t, however, be a true Kuidaore quest unless you head down to the Dotonbori (pronounced Dotombori) area of town: a crowded, hectic avenue highlighted by an uncountable number of neon-lights and overblown signposts that is then flanked by a series of shopping arcades and restaurant-strewn side streets.  This entire section of town exists for no other reason than to entertain the masses and feed the hungry — have a look:

The main drag

The famous giant mechanical crab outside of the Kani Doraku restaurant

Besides just the main Dotonbori street itself, every side street in the area is equally littered with watering holes and eating establishments

Getting to the heart of the matter (the food) and in keeping with the tradition that each town and region in Japan boasts its own specific dishes native to that specific area, Osaka is famous for two creative and unique dishes: Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki, the former being a grilled, savory pancake-like creation and the latter being octopus dumplings.

Before diving full force into the Kuidaore onslaught, we’ll start things off with a snack and introduce the Takoyaki first.  Originally invented as a handy street food, Takoyaki vendors can be found all over the city, selling their delicious dumplings of joy to hungry passersby for only a few dollars.  The small bite-sized balls themselves are made using a flour-based dough that is stuffed with chunks of octopus tentacle (you can usually feel the suckers in your mouth), ginger, green onion, and anything else the chef happens to have lying around.  It is then topped with a sweet, teriyaki-like Takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, aonori (seaweed powder), and dried fish flakes known as katsuobushi, served in a cute cedar-paper dish with a few toothpicks, and handed over while it is still mouth-searingly hot.

A Takoyaki vendor taking special care to tend his tasty treats with a pair of metal utensils (and trust me, these guys are fast)

The finished product, usually served in 6- or 8-dumpling portions

You can vary the toppings, too, according to your tastes. In this case, I opted for green onions and a soft-boiled egg

Another variation is known as Akashiyaki (from the city of Akashi), in which the chunks of octopus are coated in an egg batter as opposed to the more traditional tempura-like batter, and then are to be dipped in dashi (a seaweed and fish broth) on their way up to your mouth

The other popular dish served all over Osaka is that of Okonomiyaki.  Sometimes likened to savory pancake, an omelette, or even a Japanese pizza, it is, in reality, its own unique creation.  The base of Okonomiyaki is made from a batter of flour, grated yam, dashi, eggs, and a hearty handful of chopped cabbage.  After that, any toppings or fillings are up to you (the “Okonomi” in the name translates as “what you like”), but common combinations often include chunks of pork, bacon, prawns, squid, octopus, kimchi, cheese, or even noodles.  As a side note, in Osaka (and the Kansai region in general) the ingredients are all mixed together and thrown on the griddle in a large mass, but there are several other regional variations, such as in Hiroshima, where the ingredients are all layered individually.  And much like that of Takoyaki, the finished product is then topped with a sweet and savory Okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, aonori, and a heaping pile of Katsuobushi.

When entering an Okonomiyaki joint, you’ll quickly notice that each table has its own built-in griddle in the middle of the table.  Depending upon the specific restaurant, you are sometimes just handed the ingredients and are expected to do the grilling yourself, but more often, the chefs behind the counter will do all the work first, and then just slide the finished product onto your griddle to keep it warm:

An Okonomiyaki Chef with a full griddle

The mixed batter when first hitting the hot surface

The finished product — this one happens to be a pork, squid, and shrimp combo

Ooooohhh, look, this one has a face. How cute? (and tasty)

Another variant is known as Negiyaki, which is thinner in design and substitutes a massive pile of green onions in place of the usual cabbage

With Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki out of the way, it’s time to dive in and get the rest of the Kuidaore feast underway.  Behold, my epic journey through the restaurants, street food stalls, eating establishments, izakayas, and dive bars of Osaka — though all of these dishes (might not) have been all in the same sitting.  My stomach may be made of iron, but even I have a few limits:

Sashimi of Fugu – the infamous poisonous blowfish. The chefs are specially trained to cut away most of the poisonous bits of the fish, but to still leave just enough that it gives your lips and tongue a subtle, tingling sensation

Yakiniku – where you sit at a table with a small grill in the middle, are give a plate full of raw meat (usually pork, beef, and offal), and thusly cook your proteins to your own specifications (this picture happens to be the tender meat that clings to the diaphragm on a cow)

Yakisoba noodles fried on a griddle, wrapped in an omelette, and then topped in the same manner as one would okonomiyaki

Sake (or Nihonsho) served in a bowl – nice touch

This was the result of walking into an Izakaya, not being able to read the Japanese menu, and taking a random guess. It was two ground chicken patties soaked in soy sauce, then (lightly) baked and served with a raw egg as a dipping sauce

As evidenced by the sushi photos back in my Tokyo and Kanazawa posts, I’m a huge fan of Uni (Sea Urchin). Thus, when I discovered that a masterpiece such as “Unidon” exists (a bowl of rice covered in nothing but Uni), I knew I had to have it. Have you ever seen something so beautiful?

A tray full of assorted battered-and-fried meats, fish, and veggies

Crab leg sushi

Why is this beer blue? I have no idea. I was as surprised as you when they served it to me

Curry Rice with a raw egg dropped on top

Yay for wonton-wrapped, deep-fried pork buns! (I want to hug whoever came up with this one)

Yakitori again – this time is was chicken breast, thigh, heart, gizzard, and thigh with onions

Curry Omelette

Mmmmm, nearly raw cow stomach…squeaky…

Japanese cuisine would easily be one of my favorite world cuisines even if they didn’t put an egg on top of everything. The fact that they still do, however, makes it all the sweeter

Tendon (tempura atop of bowl of rice)

Candied potatoes

I know, I know.  I’ve already showed you pictures of Unagi (eel), but I really like Unagi, and that’s reason enough for me to go back for more

Nothing ends of a night of excess like two chocolate waffles sandwiching a mountain of chocolate cream and topped with chocolate chips

…and I’m spent.  That’s about all I’ve got from Osaka for now.  My time in Japan is rapidly drawing to a close, but before I move on to my next country, I still have a few trips outside the city planed to occupy my last few days.  Until then, Kampai from Dotonbori!

But I didn’t…how did that…(sigh)…and I promised myself I wouldn’t get my picture taken with the Kuidaore clown

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

15 Responses to “Okonomiyaki, Octopus Dumplings, and the Noble Art of Kuidaore”

  1. Haha! You were not able to resist a photo with the clown. I hope you are not drunk in the photo 😀
    What a feast! I love takoyaki and okonomiyaki and your photos made me crave some Japanese food now. Kanpai!

  2. My gosh….all that food!!! Lol!!! Eating frenzy indeed.

  3. Andrew, all the food pictures alone is enough to make me want to go to Japan and try all those dishes…now!

  4. I’ve never seen such large Okonomiyaki. mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  5. Wow, fantastic photography. If you’re interested in more information about okonomiyaki – recipes, ingredient info and more, check out http://okonomiyakiworld.com – have fun!

  6. Thank you so much for this post. I miss Japan so much, especially the food, so these photos allow me to keep one foot over there. And what a great word – kuidaore. I’ve got to find a way to use it in conversation 🙂

  7. I love this post. Beautiful images, and AMAZING FOOD! Japanese cuisine is DEF one of my favorties. Sushi mmmmmmm ❤

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