Eat Drink Style Japan Food Hunt #2: Oh-Osaka! Yoshinoya, Double Dinner and Octopus Balls

Yesterday, we stayed up for nearly 19 hours. I don’t even want to add the hours I was awake on the plane. I was lucky enough to have three vacant seats next to me… but it was impossible for me to sleep in a plane with 90 degree seats. Well maybe 95 if you want to count the economy class’s idea of reclining seats. Bastards. I love it when you get on a plane and have to walk through the Coach and business class. Everyone in there is holding a fresh copy of their Wall Street Journal and giving you the “maybe you should’ve worked harder” look.

When I woke up this morning, I was exhausted and surprisingly hungry after a big day of eating. If it weren’t for the jetlag, we wouldn’t have been able to live through such a long day. We all got up and met outside our 30-story RV at around 8am. A pachinko parlor next to us blared sounds synonymous with Vegas. Business men, all dressed in black, walked in quiet herds. Occasionally, a business woman would walk by, also dressed in black – completely focused with a stoic expression – like a robot. Mini trash trucks humming down the streets. So this is Japan in the morning. We took a deep breath and began to forage for breakfast. We needed something to get us going because we had a long train ride to Osaka and Kyoto ahead of us today. It’s what I’ve been waiting for, in addition to the long list of ramen places I wanted to try out. Before I left, I caught an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” filmed in Osaka. I wanted to do everything he did - takoyaki octopus balls, okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake/pizza) and Hanshin Tiger (baseball) sports bars. I wanted all of it. He is after all, someone I highly respect.

We spotted the familiar orange sign of Yoshinoya. Yes, the real Yoshinoya. Why not. It wasn’t like it was really breakfast time because we were in a warped time zone. At least there was rice in the bowl. I’ve seen people back at home eat full burger combos at 7am. These people are also not in the best shape and usually drive a tow truck to work. So we walked in and found the place to be quite packed with businessmen and schoolgirls. A friendly frontman greeted us and asked us to wait a few minutes. This Yoshinoya, like many others in Japan, only needed 2 people to run the place. One person to take orders and bus everything. The other to skillfully slice the beef (???) on a deli slicer. I put question marks after beef because people were telling me that Yoshinoya didn’t use beef because of mad cow. Back at home, we joke that Yoshinoya uses zebra meat. Or something from a real obscure animal. The food came out really quickly and was smaller than what we got back at home. About 75% rice, and maybe 10-11 thin slices of mystery meat and sautéed onions. Mmm. I also ordered miso soup to go with it. The beef bowl was really good! Flavorful, super tender and just the right amount. It’s hard to believe that I used to clean out the large beef bowls with extra juice. This meal cost less than $4.

We walked to the Shinjuku station and headed over to Tokyo. Once we got to Tokyo, we were ready to board the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto. These mothers average 140 mph. The trip to Kyoto would take about 140 minutes. By local train, it takes 7 hours! Screw that, I’m glad we spent the $230 for the rail pass (Kyoto and local train access for one week). For lunch, we raided one of the many food courts. All of the places had my favorite plastic menus laid out on tables. Damn, everything looked so good and shiny. MK, his gf and I hit up a katsu place. Once we walked in, we were blasted by the smell of smoke emanating from the smoking section, occupied by businessmen of course. I ordered pork katsu with curry and MK ordered a ‘hamburg’ steak. The waitress signaled for us to pick up our own drinks. Mmm, coffee and curry – a combo that’ll make your stomach hate you. The meal was heavy, but good. You can get the same thing anywhere in LA.

A. Fake Plastic Food - Yes, my favorite. If I moved to Japan, I would apply for the companies that produce these fabulous works of art. Who knew glue could be so fun.
B. Gum Syrup - The Japanese love to use sugar in a sticky, liquid form. I didn't think it would taste too good, but the coffee was definitely enjoyable. I kept a few of these in my backpack with me in case I wanted to f*ck around with my friends. Hehe.
C. Katsu Curry - Nothing special here but the fact that I can taste small chunks of apples and pears, which takes curry to another level.
D. Hamburg Steak - MK, give me your tots! This meal almost looked like it was taken from the outside display tables and thawed out. Japanese eggs for some reason have really golden yolks.

We boarded the Shinkansen and found our assigned seats. Each train was about 25% full, so we were free to move about. So spacious. I had a good 2 feet of foot space in front of me. If I had a Wall Street Journal, then would I be able to experience Coach and business class seating. I fell asleep as soon as the Shinkansen started moving. Although it averaged 140 mph, it really felt like 80 mph. Same feeling you get when you sit in a luxury car, like a Lexus. It was that comfortable. A woman came around with a cart full of refreshments a few times. I was too full from Yoshinoya to eat. I got up a few times to move to the ‘smoking’ trains. Ashtrays were built into the armrests like old school cinemas. I saw this guy reading one of those adult manga books, drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette. Thought it was so bizarre that he was totally in his comfort zone. You’d get double looks back in the US. As we sped further away from Tokyo, I noticed a drastic change in the architecture and geography of the towns and villages of outer-Tokyo. Most of the houses were built like apartments, with most people drying their laundry outside the balcony. Civilians mostly on mopeds or bicycles cruising along the small roads. Most of the land was used for farming and fishermen were dotted along the rivers. Truly a beautiful look at rural Japan. Why couldn’t the 909 area look like that? All you see there is dirt and Meth labs.

Once we got to Kyoto, we took the train to Osaka, where we were staying. Oh I loved the city… so much calmer than Tokyo. Definitely looked less Westernized. We checked into the New Otani Hotel, which we have here in Little Tokyo. Way nicer than the place back in Shinjuku. Most of all, we had a beautiful view of the Osaka Castle. Whew. After a few hours of resting, we met up and headed back into the city for some you know what. I noticed that there were a lot more places to eat and drink in Osaka. The city was really bubbly and vivid. As I stood outside the station, I noticed a small food stand that people were lined up for. “Be right back guys.” I walked closer to the stand and noticed that they were cooking food in round molds. Oh no, could it really be??? I had finally gotten my first glimpse of real Japanese takoyaki, the fried octopus balls. Watching Bourdain’s show and hearing about it from fellow bloggers, Oishii Eats and Diet Chili Cheese Fries, I was dying to try one of Japan’s favorite snacks.

Me: (Pointing at the takoyaki.) “Takoyaki ikura deska?”
Takoyaki Girl: “Six for 250 yen.”
Me: “Hai!”

I watched her pour a battered mixture into the circular molds. Her coworker then came by and carefully placed a chopped tentacle into each mold. After a few minutes, she would use two metal sticks to flip them over. This process took a good 5-7 mins. She then took out 4 and put them on a small plate. She grabbed some mayonnaise and gave me a generous amount. I shuddered. Didn’t matter. I had to try it. Finally, she topped it off with katsuoboshi (bonito flakes) and green onions and popped in two toothpicks. I turned around and walked back to my friends. I had the look Charlie had while he opened up his lucky chocolate bar. I then took a stab with my toothpicks to open them up to let out steam. Whoa. These were really hot! I took a bite of one and scorched the roof of my mouth. So did my friends. The batter was slightly mushy and almost watery. I was somewhat disappointed. It really didn’t taste that great. I ate it anyway. Oh well, this was the first place, maybe I found the lemon.

A. Me & Takoyaki Girl - See that peace sign she's throwing up. It came up faster than lightning as we posed for a photo. Even I was throwing up that peace sign. It just felt right to do it in Japan.
B. The Finished Product - Good from far, far from good. I mean, if I had 'munchies', I'd probably enjoy it.
C. Takoyaki Girl - Going to work!
D. Takoyaki Boy - Here he's carefully adding pieces of octopus tentacles in each circular mold.
E. Batter - Making more takoyaki.
F. Takoyaki Girl - Going to work and doing the peace sign. She was really enjoying herself.

Our next stop was this Yardhouse-like restaurant called Beer Company. The inside of it even felt like Yardhouse. Loud music, booths and tables and a woody appearance. We called it the ‘Meterhouse’ in respect to Japan’s unit of measurement. After loading up at the ‘Meterhouse’, we decided to do Japanese Idol. We asked our server where the closest karaoke bar was. She gestured for us to go upstairs. Very nice!

A. The 'Lat Pack' - All seven of us in front of The Meterhouse.
B. Kirin Kegs - These barrels made drinking that much more fun. I wanted to steal this.
C. Spare Ribs - Oh man, some of the best ribs I've ever tasted.
D. Pasta - A break from Japanese food was definitely nice.

Yes, after singing, we asked our server where we could get izakaya-style food. We were headed for Double Dinner. She gestured for us to go downstairs. Again, we stayed in the shopping center all night. This place was happening! People were all seated on the mats and drank/ate the night away. The food here was EVEN better than the Meterhouse.

A. Grilled Squid - Smoked/Grilled nicely with a light soy sauce and scallions. Dericious!
B. Chicken Karage - I think these were the spicy version of Japanese McNuggets... awesome.
C. Chicken Wings - Deep fried perfectly... the skin was perfect and full of great taste.
D. Okonomiyaki - The Japanese pancake/pizza! I loved this. This also contains octopus parts and tastes way better than takoyaki IMO.
E. Kampai! - Going to work!
F. Me Rove You Rong Time - The embarrassing aftermath of going to karaoke and having Double Dinner. I could care less, life's short.

Part 3 coming up next... more Osaka and Kyoto! Thanks for reading.

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