Thursday, March 9, 2017

[Japan 2016] Osaka: Dotonbori + Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcades


Photo by: Elin Chow

After dropping our luggage off at our Airbnb apartment in Osaka, we headed out to Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi area to do some eating and shopping. Located just a short 10 minutes walk away from our Airbnb apartment, Dotonbori is known to be the most popular tourist destination in Osaka.


Affectionately known as the "Kitchen of Japan", Dotonbori is the heart and soul of Osaka, famous for its dining, entertainment and nightlife. A trip to Osaka is never complete without visiting Dotonbori because this is simply where everything happens.


You will know that you are in Dotonbori once you see the famous Glico running man billboard, which is one of the most iconic landmark of Osaka. The billboard is a symbol of Glico candy featuring a runner crossing a finishing line. Brightly lit, the billboard has glowed over the Dotonbori Canal for over 80 years.


Running alongside the Dotonbori Canal and Midosuji street is Dotonbori, a street that never sleep. It is full of noise, lights and energy and is always bustling with both locals and international tourists. As dusk arrives, the entire street comes to life with bright neon lights.


The entire street is lined with a wide selection of restaurants, cafes and shops. Right above them, you will find huge flashing billboards to catch the attention of customers. Apparently, the bigger the better. It was certainly a very impressive sight!


Dotonbori is a haven for food lovers. It is undoubtedly the best place to experience Osaka's food culture. Japanese often refer to Osaka as a city of "Kuidaore", which translate literally as "eat till you drop". Most people visit Osaka for food and it is commonly said that people of Osaka usually spend more money on food than anything else.



The food options at Dotonbori are endless. Be it street snacks, fast meals or exquisite dining, there is always something to satisfy every palate. Most of the restaurants open till wee hours, offering high quality food that will never disappoint.


With plenty of places to dine, it is impossible to go hungry. In fact, you will be spoilt for choice! However, be prepared to break your bank and gain some weight from all the feasting. Just make sure that you bring enough cash with you as credit card is not widely accepted in the country. Also, do remember to visit on an empty stomach.


Dotonbori offers some of the best street food in Japan. It is the reason why we love Osaka so much. The atmosphere is lively and vibrant, but eccentric. We loved every minute of our time exploring and feasting our way through the streets. This is definitely where you will be able to eat to your heart's content!

Kani Doraku

Kani Doraku is probably one of the most famous restaurant in Dotonbori. The popular chain restaurants specializes in high quality crabs (especially snow crabs) and seafood dishes. You can easily identify the restaurant by the iconic giant mechanical orange crab that moves above the entrance. However, dining at this restaurant can be expensive. So, please be prepared to splurge if you plan to have a full meal at this restaurant.


Right in front of the restaurant, you will also find a food stand that sells grilled snow crab legs.


Price: 900 Yen (2 pieces)

Since we could not afford to dine in the restaurant, we decided buy the grilled snow crab legs to satisfy our crab craving. For 900 Yen, we got two nicely charcoal grilled snow crab legs in a plastic container and a pair of chopstick. Yes, it is a very expensive treat.

The crab meat was very sweet and fresh but not very filling. It was so heavenly delicious, though it was a little hard to eat because they were no sitting area around.


The grilled crab leg tends to sell out really fast too. I suggest that you get there early if you would like to try.

Takoyaki

Price: 550 Yen (6 pieces)

When in Osaka, you cannot leave the city without eating Takoyaki. Takoyaki is a incredibly popular street food originated from Osaka. It is cheap, amazingly delicious and deeply loved by people of all ages.

Tako means octopus and Yaki means grilled in Japanese. Takoyaki is octopus ball made of a wheat flour based batter cooked in a special takoyaki pan, which will mold the ingredients into a small ball. It is filled with diced octopus, pickled ginger, green onions. Once it is cooked, it is served immediately, topped with dried bonito, takoyaki sauce, green laver (Aonori) and mayonnaise.


You can find Takoyaki almost everywhere in Osaka. There are dozens of stalls selling Takoyaki in Dotonbori. A highly recommend place for Takoyaki is Dotonbori Konamon Museum. You can easily spot the Museum by its huge octopus billboard. There is always a long queue in front of the stall.


We did not try the Takoyaki from Dotonbori Konamon Museum. Strolling down Dotonbori street past Kani Doraku, we came upon another Takoyaki stall with a shorter queue. So we decided to join the queue and try this stall out.


You can peer over the counter and watch the Takoyaki being made. Making Takoyaki is an incredibly labor-intensive process because the batter mixture has to be simultaneously rotated and flipped to ensure they are perfectly cooked. It is always fun to watch the Takoyaki balls get flipped over while they are cooked.

Takoyaki is best to enjoy when it is still hot, but be careful not to burn your tongue. Waiting for the Takoyaki to cool down is the hardest part. But I can ensure you that it is certainly worth the wait. The treat is crunchy on the outside, but soft and moist on the inside.

We ate Takoyaki from that same stall every single night we visited Dotonbori. 6 pieces for 550 Yen. It was not cheap, but we just could not resist the urge to eat more.

Toukai Suisan 

Toukai Suisan is a Izakaya that specializes in seafood. Izakaya is a Japanese casual gastropub where co-workers and friends gather after work for drinks and inexpensive food. In front of the restaurant is a small food stand selling grilled seafood.


This was our favorite stall in Dotonbori. At the stall, you will find skewered prawns, octopus tentacles and scallops on ice, waiting to be grilled on charcoal. All the seafood will be grilled fresh right in front of your eyes.


Simply choose the seafood you want and wait while your food is being prepared. While the seafood are cooking, it is fun to listen to the sizzling sound of fresh seafood on the grill.

Buttered Grilled Scallop

Price: 500 Yen / piece

Fresh large scallop grilled with butter and soy sauce. Grilled to perfection, the meat was incredibly tender and juicy. But obviously, it was a very expensive but addictive treat.

Grilled Octopus Tentacles

Price: 500 Yen / piece

Seasoned with salt and pepper, the octopus tentacle is grilled over hot flame until it began to char around the edge. Just like the scallop, the octopus tentacle was also perfectly grilled - not rubbery or chewy. It was surprisingly tender and flavorful!

Genrokuzushi


Price:
945 Yen

Sushi is generally considered a high class delicacy in Japan, Conveyor Belt Sushi Restaurants are popular because it is fast and reasonably priced.

Genrokuzushi is the first restaurant to offer Conveyor Belt Sushi in Japan. The restaurant offers high quality sushi at a fairly affordable price. Each plate of sushi only cost 135 Yen. If you are looking for some decent on a budget, this is certainly the best place to go.

There is usually long queue outside the restaurant due to limited seats. The restaurant has a take away counter where you can buy and bring it back to your hotel or apartment to enjoy. To order, simply fill out an order form and hand it to the clerk at the counter. 

Shinsaibashi

Shinsaibashi is the largest, oldest and busiest shopping district in Osaka. At its center of Shinsaibashi is Shinsaibashi-Suji, a covered shopping arcade located north of Dotonbori and is connected by Ebisu bridge under the Glico running man billboard. 


Spanning across the Dotonbori Canal, the bridge connects two major shopping district in the area, Shinsaibashi-Suji and Ebisubashi-Suji and is surrounded by flashing neon lights and billboards.


Ebisu bridge is a popular meeting place for both locals and tourists. In the evening, the bridge is packed with people entering Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi shopping arcades.


The 600 metres covered shopping arcade is lined with boutiques, cafes, restaurants, food fast outlets, popular fashion stores, from both local and well-known international brands. There are approximately 180 shops, including a Daimaru department store, offering all the latest fashions.



Shinsaibashi Suji leads to Ebisubashi Suji, another covered shopping arcade with more boutiques, restaurants, souvenir shops and cafes. You would probably not realize that you have just left one shopping street and entered into another while strolling down the endless long street.




Both the streets are always crowded with people throughout the year with a relaxed atmosphere. Together they offer some of the best shopping experience in Osaka. You can find almost anything here, thus it is best to place to get some souvenirs and gifts for your family and friends.

Kamukura Ramen

Ramen is definitely on our must-eat list for our trip to Japan. It is inexpensive, convenient and delicious. Almost all Japanese love Ramen. You will find Ramen restaurants basically all over Japan, on every corner and street. I love Ramen very much too. It is very delicious and fulfilling.


We decided to have some Ramen at this restaurant called Kamukura Ramen. This is a Ramen restaurant that specializes in Shoyu Ramen, or Soy Sauce Ramen.

Outside the restaurant, there is a vending machine where you have to buy a ticket before getting a seat. Just like any other ramen restaurant in Japan, you have to choose what you would like to eat and pay at the vending machine by the entrance. The menu has both Japanese and English with pictures. Simply insert the money into the machine and push the button of what you want. You can order extra toppings like noodles, green onions from the machine as well.


Once done, we collected the order ticket from the vending machine and pass to the chef. Then we waited as the chef prepare our noodles in a cramped and narrow kitchen right in front of our eyes. The restaurant also provides a jar of water for free.


Price: 880 Yen

A few minutes later, our orders were served piping hot. The Ramen uses medium thick noodles with generous amount of cabbages and Chashu (sliced pork). Serving size was quite large.


Price: 100 Yen

For extra topping, we also ordered a large bowl of green onions. The broth is thick and extremely flavorful and the green onions have added more flavors to it. Surprisingly, the Chashu were very tender and the noodles were very springy.

Ramen is a very sinfully delicious dish. It is calorie heavy, certainly not a very healthy food. Ramen is actually considered a fast food in Japan. Basically, you will come, order, pay, eat and leave as soon as you have done eating.

Isomaru Suisan Dotonbori

We also visited an Izakaya called Isomaru Suisan Dotonbori. Open 24 hours a day, Isomaru Suisan has several chains all around Japan and specializes in fresh grilled seafood. Stepping into the restaurant, we were greeted by tanks of fresh seafood by the entrance.

Izakaya is great place to meet and drink after work. Smoking is allowed inside the restaurant, which is also the one thing I did not like about it.

Each table is equipped with a grill with skewers, scissors and spices so that you can cook up your own seafood. Isomaru Suisan is our most favorite discovery in Dotonbori.

Super Thick Sausage

Price: 636 Yen

Egg Fried Rice

Price: 647 Yen

Scallops Steamed in Sake

Price: 971 Yen

We also ordered a big pot of scallops that steamed in Sake to satisfy my insatiable craving for scallops. The scallops were a delight to eat, very fresh and deeply flavored with Sake. This is also the most expensive item we have ordered at the restaurant.

Shrimps

Price: 755 Yen (5 pieces)

Shima Hoke (Atka Mackerel)

Price: 539 Yen

Stir-Fried Vegetables

Price: 647 Yen

Oolong Tea & Shochu

Price: 453 Yen

We had mistakenly ordered two large glass of Oolong tea & Shochu with ice (we thought this is just tea). This is basically Oolong tea mixed with some Shochu. So, if you are wondering why Oolong tea is so expensive in Japan, it is probably because it contains alcohol. The drink has a slight bitterness of the Oolong tea with a very strong alcohol taste. We ended up wasting more than half of it because we did not like the taste at all.

But overall, we had a great time dining at this restaurant. The seafood are consistently fresh and really delicious. Who says Izakaya is cheap? It is actually not. We ended up spending 5,424 Yen (about RM 219) in this restaurant. It was a very satisfying dinner.

Pablo Cheese Tarts - Dotonbori store

Official Website: Pablo Cheese Tart

Pablo cheese tart is originated from Osaka, with several branches located all around Japan. Since we were in Osaka, we were excited to try the Pablo cheese tart because many people have been raving about it. There is usually a long queue outside all the Pablo outlets in Japan.


We visited the one that is located in Dotonbori. This is one of the six outlets with a take-away counter and an in-house cafe. It is better to dine in if you want to escape the long queue at the take-away counter.


We waited patiently in the line, waiting to get our hands on the famous cheese tart. At Pablo, we will get to choose how our cheese tart are baked: either rare or medium. The rare ones are soft and sticky while the medium ones are firm and well-baked inside.

Pablo has open kitchen where you can watch the cheese tarts being made while waiting in the line. There are several flavors for you to choose from - original, matcha and chocolate.


Price: 850 Yen

All Pablo cheese tarts (but more like a cheese cake) are freshly baked and reasonably cheap, considering the size of it. Measuring 15 cm in diameter, a Pablo cheese tart can easily be shared by 4 persons.

We bought Pablo's signature original cheese tart, baked rare. It is sinfully cheesy and creamy on the inside with a flaky crust. The cheese was fluffy, soft and light. There is a thin layer of mango jelly on top of the cheese tart. However, we were not impressed with the jelly layer because we feel that its sweetness has spoilt the taste of the cheese tart.



Pablo cheese tart is best to be eaten fresh. You have to keep them refrigerated if you could not finish in a day. We saved the cheese tart for breakfast the next morning because we could not finish an entire cake in a night.


Running perpendicular to Dotonbori Canal is the famous Midosuji street. The three kilometres long street is an attraction by itself. Hundreds of gingko trees, as well as several shops and historic buildings that lined the street are decorated with colorful illuminations, making it the longest illuminated street in the world. It is a pleasant place for a stroll in the cool night time temperature. 

If you are interested to know more about our trip, you may want to check out our 7D6N Osaka - Kyoto - Nara - Kobe Trip Itinerary + Overview for the list of attractions that we had visited during our 7 days in Japan. For anyone planning your first trip to Japan but have no idea where to start, you should read my "How To Plan A Trip To Japan" post.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates on my 7 days adventures in Japan! You might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.

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