Following on from Eating in Japan – Miyajima Island, we headed to Osaka, which people call the food capital of Japan!
Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum
One of the first spots we visited, on my must-see list, was the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum where you get to create your own ramen flavours. Luckily, the museum is only a few hundred metres (5 minute walk) from the Ikeda train station. Upon entering (free admission), a timeline of instant ramen greets you.
So much instant ramen…
A bit of history – Momofuku Ando is the founder of Nissin Food Products. He invented the world’s first instant ramen in 1958, the ‘chicken ramen’, after a year of research in his tiny shed. In 1971, he invented the Cup Noodle as we know it today where you simply add hot water to the cup. In 2005, he invented ‘Space Ram’ where instant ramen was eaten in space on the space shuttle Discovery.
The museum’s exhibits weren’t that large and we quickly got through everything leading us to the My Cup Noodles Factory. Step 1 – purchase a cup. These were ¥300 each (cash only) and I bought two.
Step 2 – sanitise hands with hand sanitiser gel. Then wait by the red rope for someone to let you into the colouring area.
Oh yes, step 3 is colouring/drawing on your cup to customise it! My sister and I didn’t really understand why we had to sanitise our hands before touching multiple coloured markers that a hundred other people had touched?
Some people were really getting into the designs. A few people at the table next to us had drawn some awesome anime!
Once happy with your customised coloured cup, join the queue to create your own ramen. Step 4 – someone will place your cup onto a machine where you get to twist the handle to place the dried ramen inside (yes this is mainly for kids). Staff speak into a microphone letting you know what is happening (all in Japanese so all we could do was watch).
The cup is then passed onto the next person in the production line.
Step 5 – choose your toppings – a flavoured soup base in powder form and up to four toppings. For cup 1, I chose seafood powder as the base, then added dried shrimp, seafood discs, crab flavoured pieces and dried corn. For cup 2, I chose the original cup noodle soup base, with dried pork cubes, dried pork jerky, dried garlic chips and green spring onion.
A short video I took below…no idea what she was saying! But everyone was so polite and friendly.
Step 6 – the cup is then passed onto the next person to seal it with a lid.
Step 7 – after a lid is firmly in place, the cup is placed in a bit of plastic to be shrink wrapped.
It’s put through a machine for the final shrink wrapping process.
And ta da! I got a quick shot of the shrink wrapped cup before the final step.
Step 8 – place the cup into an ‘air package’, loop a rope into it so it can be easily carried, then use a pump to pump air into it.
Your cup noodles are then fully protected (great when you’re taking it back in a suitcase) and safe in its little bubble.
A wall showing global instant ramen consumption showed that 102.7 billion servings of instant ramen (in 2014)!
Apart from the cup noodle factory, you can also eat cup noodles in the ‘tasting room’. Four vending machines are available for you to choose your cup noodle, add water to it and take it to a table to eat.
It was lunch time and with limited seating, we had to wait about 10 minutes. There was so much variety and I had never seen a lot of the cup noodle options available. I read that the museum stocks limited edition cup noodles from all over Japan, some not available in the rest of Osaka so that even the locals have never seen them. Apparently there are differences in the soup base between east and west Japan. Too bad we couldn’t read Japanese so all we could do was go by the pictures.
I chose a pork instant ramen which was much better than the instant ramen I’ve tasted in Australia!
There’s also a Chicken Ramen Factory where you can knead, stretch and flavour the dough to make your own ramen. This must be booked about a month in advance and the fee is ¥500 for adults or ¥300 for children. We didn’t book this in but perhaps I’ll try it out the next time I’m there.
Osaka Station depachika
After the Instant Ramen Museum, we took the train back to Osaka station and walked through the depachika (basement food hall).
We passed by these dessert pizzas which I really wanted to try but we wouldn’t have finished one between the two of us after our instant ramen lunch.
In saying that, we still wanted some sort of sweet snack. We spotted these little pastry puffs and decided to try some at ¥200 each.
These were simply puff pastry filled with some cream. Not as fantastic as they first looked.
It was time to do some sightseeing and we headed to Osaka Castle. Just outside the castle’s premises, there were a few food stalls set up with people sitting on picnic blankets under the sakura trees, otherwise known as hanami.
We approached one stall which had a BBQ going on…
They were cooking grilled corn, sausage on a stick and pork belly skewers.
I chose one pork belly skewer to try (about ¥300). Very Hawaiian with some pineapple chunks and spring onion on the skewer. The pork was delicious and not too fatty.
We made it to Osaka Castle and I explored the multi-level museum inside while my sister rested in the square out the front. By this stage of the holiday, she wasn’t climbing any more stairs.
The view from the top overlooking the souvenir and food shops in the square below.
We passed by several souvenir and food stalls in the square but I wasn’t hungry enough to try anything (even though there was matcha soft serve!)
We then headed to Dotonburi to find lunch. One of the first stalls we came across was Lord Stow’s Bakery. I remembered reading great reviews about the bakery and that the egg tarts were really good, so I didn’t hesitate to buy something.
Flavours that day included the original egg tart, chocolate, apple cinnamon, strawberry, caramel and green tea with red bean.
I chose one of the original egg tarts (¥220) and a green tea with red bean tart to try (¥280). The original was nice and warm, creamy and gooey in the centre surrounded by a wonderful buttery flakey tart. One of the best tarts I’ve ever tasted! In contrast, the matcha tart was cold but did have a light matcha flavour in a thick but light custardy cream.
As we walked further on, we saw the famous oversized mechanical crab whose legs moved above the Kani Doraku crab shop. The crab looked pretty pricey and all I could see were crab legs (too bothersome to crack through) so I decided to keep moving. I later discovered that there were several floors of seating inside the restaurant so maybe it was worth going to.
There was a giant rice bowl advertising the Sutadonya eatery.
The street is sensory overload with so much to see and smell while wrestling through the crowd. It was late in the afternoon, about 2pm, so we had missed the busy lunch time rush, plus it was slightly drizzling, hence the photo below is actually quite sparse of people.
I’m not sure what the deal is with all of the oversized food displays but they all add to the fun atmosphere of Dotonburi. This giant nigiri being held in a giant hand looked great.
We passed a giant fugu (blowfish) above Zuboraya, a famous fugu chain restaurant which we tried for dinner that night, but more on that later.
We also passed a giant octopus holding a spatula and takoyaki ball with the shop below selling takoyaki.
We made a stop at a gyoza stall with a giant gyoza being held by chopsticks at the front.
My sister chose number 1 on the menu – 6 pieces of pork and prawn gyoza.
We watched as several gyoza were cooked on a large griddle.
We shared the set of 6 between us. Condiments were available along the small wooden standing bar. Fresh gyoza with a lovely crunchy gyoza skin on the outside.
My sister wanted to do a cheap lunch and suggested the sushi train where every plate was ¥135 (I’ve forgotten the name of the eatery).
The sushi train was one long skinny counter with screens set up so we couldn’t actually see the kitchen or the chefs working.
Two types of tea powders were available for diners to make their own tea.
We ordered a few plates to share. I thought they were average and definitely not as fresh as the sushi in Tokyo. But it wasn’t bad if you want a cheap eat.
Sadly, we didn’t have much time in Osaka and that was our only visit to Dotonburi. I’m kicking myself for not trying the Kobe beef stall as that would have been my last opportunity to try it. Food regrets. Next time, I’ll make sure to have more time at Dotonburi!
We visited Tenjinbashisuji, a shopping arcade 2.6km long. We passed the famous Glico running man on the way.
We tried some takoyaki sold from one of the several takoyaki stalls along the arcade. I just couldn’t get enough of it. Fresh, hot and gooey in the centre. Yum!
I loved all the food shaped chopstick holders you could buy all over Japan. So cute but too heavy and fragile for me to bring back.
There were so many different types of Pocky sticks available. I only managed to take a photo of two, but trust me, there were so many varieties!
We were ready for dessert and stopped in at a small cafe as I wanted to try some anmitsu. There were different types but I chose the anmitsu with agar jelly, azuki beans and various warabimochi topped with vanilla ice cream (¥630). A small jug of syrup was provided as well as green tea. I found this was refreshing and I just loved all the mochi.
My sister ordered the red bean soup (¥630) with shiratama (glutinous rice dumplings). The red bean soup was warm and sweet, kind of like how our mum makes it.
We spent a full day at Universal Studios in Osaka, hence we didn’t have much time exploring other places in Osaka. We got there before it opened along with a thousand other people! After queuing to purchase our tickets, we joined another queue by the entrance gates. It was a fun day with lots of snacking. This little minion steamed bun was filled with pork.
Then an elmo shaped steamed bun filled with chicken.
There were several types of ramen to be bought – Spiderman, Snoopy and Elmo branded cup noodles to name a few.
I spotted a cart selling the churritos dog – a sweet version of a hot dog with a chocolate churro, mango and strawberry sauce in a choux bun. It just didn’t look appetising so we gave it a miss.
We made it to Harry Potter World and we’re so excited to see the Butterbeer cart! There were queues on either side of the cart so we lined up in the shortest queue.
There were two types of butterbeer – a hot and a cold one with various prices depending if you wanted a souvenir mug. My sister and I both love Harry Potter so of course we got the souvenir mugs.
I chose the hot butterbeer while my sister chose the cold one. I couldn’t help but feel short changed as my hot butterbeer (right) was obviously not filled to the top (and no I hadn’t even taken a sip yet). Turns out, the butterbeers were horrible. Completely over the top sweet, like drinking pure butterscotch sauce. After a few sips, we both headed to the bathrooms to tip it out into the sink. Highly disappointing after all of that excitement. At least we got our souvenir jugs.
We stayed for lunch at the Three Broomsticks which had a menu displayed outside. Not the cheapest food but that was expected.
Orders were taken and paid for at the front counter, before moving onto the food collection counter. The inside was dark but there were several seats and we found it easy to get a table towards the back.
I ordered a BBQ pack which came with some ribs, a chicken wing, baked potato and corn on the cob. I also ordered the pumpkin juice and a sweet treacle tart for dessert. Being Harry Potter World, the food wasn’t cheap. All of this I think set me back at least AUD$40. The pumpkin juice was pure sugar and did not taste anything like pumpkin. The meal was satisfying but nothing spectacular. The treacle tart was my favourite and I shared it with my sister. I must have been preoccupied with taking photos of my food that I forgot to take one of hers!
Just as we were leaving Universal Studios, we passed by a cart selling snoopy buns!
I was too full to try it, but my sister bought one filled with custard. How cute?!
Fugu @ Zuboraya
My list of ‘must try’ eats was fugu (blowfish). We didn’t know much about it except that if prepared wrong, it could be deadly, so we picked a well-known fugu chain – Zuboraya which was close to our hotel.
Tables were equipped with a small stove for cooking. I don’t remember whether the menus were in English or not, but they did have photos so it was easy enough to pick what we wanted. I decided since it would be my first (and maybe last) time to try fugu, I went all out and picked the fugu three-ways set – sashimi, boiled and fried, with side dishes, rice, soup and dessert.
First out was the fugu sashimi which had been sliced so thinly, it was translucent. I very much enjoyed it. It didn’t have the strong taste like salmon or tuna. It was so light. I would have ordered another plate of it if we didn’t have so much food coming.
A small pot filled with broth arrived and was place on our stove to be heated. A plate of fugu and fresh vegetables was set on the table so I could cook whatever I wanted steam-boat style.
Everything else came out quickly. There were only two pieces of deep fried fugu which tasted like salt and pepper squid but softer. I also received sides of pickled vegetables, tofu, fresh spring onion and ginger. My sister wasn’t that hungry and ordered the fugu udon. The menu must have stated that the fugu three-ways set had to be shared between two, but I didn’t know that since I can’t read Japanese. There was so much food so I made my sister help me eat it.
After most of the fugu was gone, we thought we were done when our waitress came out with a bowl of rice and cracked eggs. She asked if we had finished with the broth on the stove and we said yes. But then she turned the stove back on, added in rice and stirred the eggs through as the broth bubbled.
She then added fresh spring onion and nori and kept stirring it through. We then had a couple of bowls of rice/congee to eat (after we were both stuffed), but I must say this was so full of flavour and I had no trouble eating it all (and my sister’s share after she’d called it quits).
Dessert were three strawberries and some whipped cream. It may not look like much to Australians but as strawberries are very expensive in Japan, this was quite a generous dessert.
By this stage, we were a little more than halfway through our Japan holiday. I longed for a decent healthy sit-down breakfast. Sadly I could never find a cafe that did a real breakfast. As we often got up early to catch a train, we usually snacked on very unhealthy food – snacks from a bakery. I had Mister Donut for breakfast on one occasion while waiting for our Shinkansen.
Some bakeries opened very early (for early travellers and those going to work) so we could sit down and relax. This one bakery (I’ve forgotten the name) did a wonderful matcha latte (which I spilled about 5 seconds after taking this photo), a sweet sakura pastry and a yummy curry pastry. Very unhealthy but we didn’t feel like cold onigiri from the convenience store.
We also did a half-day visit to Nara. I wanted to go especially since it is the sister-city to Canberra. Unfortunately, the day we went it completed bucketed down with rain. Within 5 minutes of walking out of the train station with umbrellas, our shoes, socks, feet and jeans were completed drenched and every step made squishing noises. We very much regretted not taking the bus to the Todaiji temple but we did take it back to the station. There were a few food options I wanted to try (apparently there’s a stall where you can watch mochi being made and buy it fresh!) but we were both so grumpy with the rain, that we just wanted to leave. Even in the rain, the deer were not shy in coming up to people looking for food.
And that’s all from Osaka. I will definitely allocate more time in the food capital during my next trip (ah, food regrets). Next, we travelled to Koyasan for an overnight stay at one of the temples.
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