In Japan 3: Signs and Streetfood in Dotonbori
You don’t need to read Kanji, it doesn’t need to be a set meal time, you just need to rock up to Dotonbori, Osaka and grab a stick to eat well. Osaka, second city of Japan, has an world-famous entertainment district known as Dotonbori. You can’t miss it, in fact you can smell it blocks away.
There are some chemistry-heavy posts coming up on Crackling in the next few weeks, so why not soften you up with photographs and tales? I was concerned that I may be straying from my commitment to writing about food science and technology but this post is still about the science of food, really it is.
Food scientists know that consumer sensory perceptions and expectations must be matched and delivered using a range of tools outside the test kitchen for example, dining atmosphere, signage and cultural expectation as well as the sense of destination are all in the toolbox of product design. A food scientist / technologist faced with a product development brief that reads “make the consumer feel like they are having a night out on the lash in the big city,” would be ahead of the game if they could summon up their holiday experiences of a place like Dotonbori. Honestly.
In Dotonbori the restaurants, bars, clubs, pachinko bars and food stalls crowd along the banks of canals a bit like Amsterdam or Georgetown in Penang and even Soho in the late 20th century.
Dotonbori is the home of the phrase Kuidaore, which means to ruin oneself with food, and that is what people come here to do, or at least to flirt with that convention. Very few Osakans are obese and while are all wildly enthusiastic about food, they are content to quench their appetites visually here amongst the wonders and signs of Dotonbori.
Takoyaki are octopus dumplings. Cooked in hemispherical depressions on a griddle, the great skill is in turning them them over using a single chopstick while the upper surface is still raw. They are served with mayonnaise, bonito flakes and green onions.
Okonomiyaki are distinctly Osakan pancakes: shredded vegetables including cabbage and yam are grilled with a protein filling and lots of seasoning. These are full of eggy goodness.
I ordered these fabulous creatures inside a smoky Izakaya bar on the way back from visiting Osaka Aquarium, feeling very sad for the whale shark and his 8 storey high prison. While not technically streetfood, the name of these greasy, meaty, savoury wonders was never revealed to me. I had to order using the point with thumbs aloft and quizzical raising of the eyebrows method. They went down a treat with a glass the local Asahi brew. Yes, they are positively glistening with meat fat, an element vital to mouthfeel, texture and flavour – heck it’s vital to the whole greasy, salty, delicious experience.
If you are feeling disappointed that there are no recipes for Japanese dishes, I direct you to Mr Taka Hirose’s excellent blog Cook Me Japanese, he does it so much better than I can.
Bad-ass bass player too.
The pictures were mostly taken by Anthony Wong of digital design agency TWCreative