Friday, February 11, 2011

Weekend trip: Part I - Osaka

Time to hit the road! Or in Japan ... time to hit the Shinkansen! We planned a trip to Osaka, Kobe and Koya-san. The first part of the trip consisted of total food, drink and karaoke debauchery in Osaka and a great visit to a Sake Brewery in Kobe.

On my way down to Osaka in the shinkansen I got an "ekiben", which translates to bento boxed lunch from the "eki", or train station. Eating ekiben on the shinkansen is very popular with the Japanese and I absolutely love ekiben. This one was an onigiri ekiben with some nice winter vegetables, an egg and some chicken.  
Snowy field views from the shinkansen
According to the Tokyoites people from Osaka have a funny accents. My Japanese is too bad to corroborate one way or the other, but what I can say for certain is that Osaka rocks some of the best street food in Japan.

As soon as we got to Osaka, we headed to Dotonbori in Namba ward. Its a very popular pedestrian street full of restaurants and neon lights. Our goals for the night were to find takoyaki (octopus-filled dough), okinomiyaki (how to explain? the closest would be a pancake filled with vegies and seafood?) and fugu (blowfish). 

The Glico Man

Tsubaraya!!! Good memories of eating fugu with Sternies here
 Walking down Dotonbori we say this line for Takoyaki. So we knew it had to be good and we lined up too. Check out this video of this guy making takoyaki, he has mad skills.

The takoyaki came out piping hot! It was absolutely perfect: hot, goooey and crunchy. I was pretty happy.

Next, the guys wanted to eat fugu.  Osaka is know for its many fugu restaurants so we set of to find one in the smaller alleys and streets parallel to Dotonbori. Poorly cut fugu will kill you in 24 hours and there is no cure, so fugu chefs train really hard to earn their licenses.

How much for the fugu in the window?
 We ended up in this small fugu place with a really nice owner that specialized in fugu hotpots. I passed on the fugu this time, feeling that I already defied death once and I want to see Brendan really badly, so I am not risking it again. The guys ordered fugu sashimi and were overall disappointed. We do not know exactly why, but the fugu sashimi did not result in the tongue-numbing feeling that is expected.

 This restaurant also had "hire-sake" and this was a new experience for me. It is pipping hot sake with a roasted fugu fin in it. Of course as soon as I heard of it I had to try it!
Three little fugu fins inside the sake
After setting it on fire, you remove the fins
Bottom's up!
Yeah, I won't be trying that again ... the taste of the fin is not overpowering, but I think I prefer my sake and my fish flavors separate. I am happy that I did it though.

We were still hungry and after walking around and not finding any good street okinomiyaki, we ended up in a yaki niku restaurant. I am SO glad that we ended up at that restaurant .The quality of the meat was great.

Various beef cuts we grilled
 The meat was so tender and marbled that it did not need any of the sauces they offered us, just a bit of salt and pepper. The highlight of the night was the beef sushi. The raw beef was so tender it just melted away, and the chef combined it with a small topping which I suspect was shredded daikon soaked in some sort of citrus. The citrus flavor was perfect with the beef, and the texture of the sushi rice was fantastic. I need to go back to this place!

Beef sushi that changed my life ...  it really was that good
Lastly, we ended with a dessert called "shochu pudding". I do not usually like dessert but I was scraping the bottom of this one. Just thinking about this dinner makes my mouth water.

After dinner we went for a couple of drinks at an "Irish Pub", where the "Irish" bartender would forget his role once in a while and reveal his French accent, he he he. The place was quite fun and the bartender gave us an awesome recommendation for a Karaoke bar where we wrapped the night. The owners of the bar were awesome, it was pretty epic.

This blonde girl was totally digging Richard, after his Elvis cover who can blame her
Yeah, it was EPIC
The bar owner was also called Richard, here is is with his wife

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