I heard it repeatedly — for a taste of Japan’s very best food, I had to sample Osaka’s street food. And in Osaka, street food in the Dotonbori neighborhood was the best-of-the-best. As a foodie, I clearly had no choice, so I booked a hotel in Dotonbori and set out on a four-day exploration of its legendary cuisine. I quickly found out that I’d hit the jackpot.
On Day One, I joined thousands of people roaming the vibrant Dotonbori market and sampling its countless small food stalls. Osaka is an ancient port city, and by the 17th century Edo period, it had become one of Japan’s major trading hubs. That’s also when Osaka earned its nickname as “Japan’s Kitchen.”
The Dotonbori neighborhood straddles a canal leading to the sea, so its food stall menus always include ultra-fresh seafood. Everywhere you turn, the streets are abuzz with vendors serving ramen, udon, torikara, takoyaki, and much more. No doubt about it — my stomach was in for a treat!
I recalled that Anthony Bourdain had also once roamed the streets here. He was no stranger to the sprawling markets, countless food carts, rich restaurants, and bold creativity that make Osaka a top choice for foodies from Japan and all around the world.
Bourdain could easily have had Osaka in mind when he offered this advice:
“I’m a big believer in winging it. I’m a big believer that you’re never going to find the perfect city travel experience or the perfect meal without a constant willingness to experience a bad one. Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of vacation itineraries miss, I think, and I’m always trying to push people to allow those things to happen rather than stick to some rigid itinerary.”
Take his advice and make Dotonbori your base camp in Osaka. But also roam city-wide and wing it; Osaka has a lot to offer in every way. It’s a city you won’t forget. Curious about what’s going on outside of Dotonburi? Check out TripSavvy’s detailed look at Osaka’s many neighborhoods.
But let’s get back to Dotonbori street food. What follows are my 13 must-taste dishes, all set against a vivid backdrop of unique street memories — the giant red octopus displays protruding from the tops of buildings. A massive animatronic crab pinching the air above a pedestrian crossing. And the ever-changing and mouth-watering smell of fresh-cooked Japanese classics like these…
Let’s begin with Japan’s frittata-like savory pancake, okonomiyaki. Flavorful, filling, but still light enough to keep you thinking about your next dish. Perfect. This cabbage pancake, cooked on a flattop grill like hashbrowns, is based on three simple ingredients: flour, eggs, and cabbage.
For color, body, and flavor, the street chefs can add scallions, various meats (I chose squid), and a barbecue-like sauce to embellish it. When they hand it to you, you’re holding one of the most delicious meals in Osaka.
Price: 450 yen ($3.33 US)
The glutinous rice balls known as Mitarashi-Dango are another cheap and filling street food. These sweet and chewy rice balls on a skewer can be found on stall grills everywhere.
After being boiled and cooled, a browning process imparts a unique burnt taste and a bit of char before being glazed with a sweet soy sauce. It’s a not-so-sweet dessert to tide you over until you can find my personal must-have dessert in Dotonbori…
Price: 150 yen ($1.11 US)
Are you familiar with mochi, a round Japanese rice cake? Like mitarashi dango, mochi is chewy and soft on the outside. But the daifuku part of the name here means “filled,” and fillings are what makes this dessert truly stand out.
And, man, does it stand out! I’ve had plain mochi before and didn’t feel the need to try it again, but then I passed a Dotonbori shop showcasing mochis filled with strawberries. The photos of their various strawberry-accented desserts grabbed my attention and made me drool. There are many, many flavors and shops to explore in the sweet culinary world of daifuku mochi.
Price: 350 yen ($2.60 US)
Japan has to have fried chicken, right? The appealing taste of chicken seems to span all global cuisines. And because Japan has very little grazing land, beef is expensive — think Wagyu and Kobe beef — which makes chicken the far more popular choice.
Torikara is Japan’s deep-fried chicken. It’s available at most street food stalls and can be served with fried potatoes and a wide variety of sauces. You already know the delicious routine: Dip, dab, savor, and smack your lips.
Price: 300 yen ($2.22 US)
Anthony Bourdain nailed it — “Good and hot, that’s how they like things in Osaka,” he said after trying Osaka’s most famous snack. These octopus batter balls generate absurdly long lines of loyal customers at the numerous takoyaki stalls in Dotonbori. They’ve become emblematic of Osaka’s tasty street food.
But what is it about them? Is it the taste of the dried fish flakes and scallions sprinkled on top? The gooey, melt-in-your-mouth taste of the batter? Or is it the alluring sight of them being fresh-cooked right in front of you? Whatever the reason, you must try takoyaki — chances are, you’ll fall in love with them, and they’re definitely the Japanese dish the folks at home will ask about.
Price: 700 yen ($5.18 US)
The tantalizing smell of this fish-shaped pastry will draw you in. As with many street foods, part of the draw is seeing it prepared on the spot. It’s a treat to see this sea bream batter pastry being cooked, followed quickly by the delight of eating it. The smell of vanilla batter slowly sizzling in a large waffle-style flip pan is seductive.
Be sure to try it with red bean paste, the most popular choice and a staple ingredient in East Asian cuisine. Other options include custard, cheese, and hamburger meat. Want to create taiyaki at home? Here’s how.
Price: 280 yen ($2.15 US)
Ahhh, noodles in hot broth. That’s udon for you, with its noodlely relatives, ramen and soba, hanging out in the background. They all warrant repeated taste testing, but the thick, smooth udon noodles are my favorite of the three. Like the other two, there seem to be an infinite number of udon ingredient and seasoning combinations, all of which deserve to cross your tongue.
Tempura udon, yaki-udon, curry udon, and nabeyaki udon… the list goes on and on. The price, ingredients, and flavors may change, but in my opinion, udon is always the place to start.
Price: 650 yen ($4.81)
At a corner stall on the edge of Dotonbori, my eye was caught by three men standing around a pork ramen stall. Two employees inside were dashing back and forth, busily cutting up large chunks of pork and dropping them into the brothy ramen wheat noodle soups that customers wanted.
I joined the line and quickly rediscovered why ramen and udon are both some of the most delicious and diverse Japanese noodle soups on any street food menu.
Price: 800 yen ($6 US)
Soba’s thinner and darker buckwheat noodles round out my triad. At one restaurant, the soba was served cold and cost far more than I paid at a locals’ corner shop around the corner. There, a simple bowl of soba in a clear hot broth with scallions was a perfect palate cleanser.
Japanese noodle dishes come in many variations, so be adventurous and expand your culinary horizons. To learn more about the rich diversity of Japanese noodles, look no further.
Price: 450 yen ($3.33 US)
East Asian countries, including Japan, tend to have a far different diet than the West. No example better illustrates this than looking at how the different cuisines use meat. In the East, no part of the animal is spared; it’s celebrated, cooked to perfection, and savored.
Yakitori is a Japanese example of grilled meat on a skewer. It’s often served with beer, and the options include seafood, chicken skin, bone meat, organs and other parts. When in doubt, trust your tongue.
Price: 1,130 yen ($8.30 US), with beer included
Taiko manju is a dessert with very similar ingredients to taiyaki, but it differs in its texture and unique origins. Made in a distinctive drum-shaped flat iron pan, these light, fluffy pancakes are made to resemble the legendary taiko drums used in Japanese rituals and festivals.
I mostly found this famous Japanese dessert in Gozauoro confectionary stores, far outside of Dotonbori. I’d given up hope of finding it until a ‘yatai’ (mobile food stand) in the fish market gave me directions. (By the way, the the Kuromon Ichiba fish market is a must-see, and the source of the next few items on this list.)
Price: 150 yen ($1.11 US)
I learned about sashimi while touring the Kuromon Ichiba fish market and chowing down on red bean cake. Both sushi and sashimi use fish or meat, raw or cooked, but there’s an important difference — sushi is always made with rice, but sashimi never includes rice.
The Kuromon Ichiba fish market has the best sashimi in Osaka and is about a ten-minute walk from the center of Dotonbori. It’s well worth the hike. I found many exquisite but pricey offerings there, including some beautifully sliced red tuna at a corner store with a long line of people outside.
Price: 4,000—6,000 yen ($30—$46 US)
Salmon, eel, tuna, and sea urchin — the options for sushi are limitless in Osaka. After passing up the expensive choices at the Kuromon Ichiba market, I headed back to my Dotonbori hotel to find a picturesque sushi shop.
For some, conveyor belt sushi restaurants might be adequate, but I wanted the authentic sushi experience — sitting elbow-to-elbow with strangers to eat delicacies prepared just a few feet in front of us. We were all seated at the bartop while nonchalant and highly-skilled Japanese chefs in white used razor-sharp knives to prepare our dishes in an impressive show of precision. That’s the real sushi experience.
Price: 1,250 yen ($9.25 US)
Dotonbori: The Best Neighborhood for Osaka Street Food
There you have it: 12 street foods you can find in Osaka’s Dotonbori neighborhood, home to countless street food opportunities and all the buzz, color, and sizzle of a vibrant East Asian port city.
Dotonbori is in the center of Osaka. Walk a few minutes to the Namba subway stop or the municipal train station. Hop on board and you can soon reach everything sprawling Osaka has to offer. That’s why Dotonbori is the best base camp for your stay.
Download an offline version of Osaka on Google Maps, drop pins on your must-see locations, then roam. Check out the Osaka metro map; you’ll see that lines S16, Y15, and M20 will take you almost anywhere.
Osaka Street Food is as Good as it Gets
In my four-day, self-guided tour of Osaka, I fell in love with the city in general and Dotonbori street food in specific. My foodie dreams took me all over the place, so it was a good thing I’m a confirmed walker. Every day was eventful, challenging, tiring, and oh-so memorable. Thank you, Osaka.
My advice: Take your own tour of Osaka and immerse yourself in its street food culture. Book your lodging in Dotonbori and discover why it’s the centerpiece of ‘Japan’s Kitchen.’ And be sure to do all of that Bourdain-style!
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Last Updated on July 15, 2023