The Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street in Osaka is purportedly the longest arcade in Japan, a 2.6km-long shopping narrow mall starting at Tenjinbashi, reaching Tenjinbashisuji 7 chome to the north taking about 40 minutes to walk its length. It took us all morning!
Actually, we came back for a second day to take in the fantastic eating in some of the side-lanes; I suspect even if you lived in Osaka, it would take you a lifetime to get to know each and every stall, artisan shop and eatery with the Tenjinbashisuji environs.
We started at the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living end of the arcade, which is a must-do when visiting Osaka and a re-creation of buildings and street life in the past and also has a model of the whole city in the Edo period. Its spread over several floors of a high-rise building and well worth allocating a good 2 hours and make sure you hire one of the English audio self-tours.
In much the same vein as the Nishiki Market in Kyoto, the Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street is bustling with small stalls selling artisan produce, fresh local bounty, seasonal foods and specialties. However, this is on a much larger scale and there are more shops with day-to-day essentials mixed in with tourist knick-knacks stalls and kitchen utensil, crockery and small furniture and lifestyle shops.
There are two local Osaka dishes that are mandatory eats here; the Takoyaki, a ball-shaped tapas-sized morsel made from a wheat flour batter filled with diced octopus, pickled ginger, green onion, and brushed with takoyaki sauce (savoury-gravy-like) and skirt of mayonnaise, then topped with dried, shaved Katsuobushi (Bonito flakes), although there is all number of variations on this theme. Moreover, Takoyaki are known and franchised the world-over now with street vendors visible by the black cast-iron indented takoyaki plates frantically turning the balls with chopsticks however, there is something special about the flavour of the ‘real thing’ in Osaka and crouching a tables stall-side with a pint of beer, waiting impatiently for the balls to cool down enough to eat with scolding ones mouth. Actually, they say that by the time you finish your first beer, the Takoyaki will be cool enough to eat, then of course you have to order another beer to wash them down.
The other popular local dish is Okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake of sorts containing base ingredients like grated nagaimo (Japanese type of yam), shredded cabbage and dashi (stock or Miso) and egg to bind it, self-cooked on a Teppanyaki like iron hotplate. Doing the cooking yourself is the essence of this dish as you can decide on the many additions or variations on the theme—okonomi, meaning “what you like” or “what you want”—by adding other ingredients such as thinly sliced pork belly or beef, octopus, shrimps, mocha (Japanese rice cake), vegetables or cheese.
Like Takoyaki, once cooked, the Okonomiyaki is brushed with a savoury sauce (which appears to me to be identical to the takoyaki) and a big skirt of Japanese mayonnaise, then topped with dried, shaved Katsuobushi or bonito. It looks pretty messy as you slap on the sauce and mix in the mayonnaise with a big brush, but it’s a lot of fun.
We had spotted what appeared to be a hugely popular Okonomiyaki eatery in one of the Tenjinbashisuji side-lanes—it’s called chigusa, but I have no idea of the street name/number other than you take the lane on the left next to the shoe shop—and it looked continuously full with a whole lot of happy people cooking away.
You can have your Okonomiyaki cooked for you here, but looking around at all the other dinners, that would seem to miss to point completely. Somewhat anxious, watching our fellow diners, there seems to be a degree of etiquette and expertise involved technique, as demonstrated by our waiter, with particular emphasis on thorough mixing, but more so when you look around at the other tables and observe others with their exactness of routine, and more interestingly, the multiplicity of variation to the ingredients.
A table next to us added a substantial layer of noodles, which has been named modan-yaki, thought to indicate Japanese for ‘piled high’. We watched with intrigue as another table of businessmen layered thin slices of Wagyu beef in their pancakes with much animated discussion and downing of beers. It was one of those situations where you just point, with the universal gesture, “I’ll have what they are having.”
We had a wonderful experience chigusa and the staff (and other dinners) we very friendly—language was no barrier—if not amused by our naivety and one got the feeling not many westerners ventured in here.
Later in the afternoon took refuge from the cold having a pot of tea in a painstakingly replicated English teahouse with all the twee paraphernalia and very tempting cake display out in the street front. Turns out its famous for their strawberry sponge cakes and does a roaring trade all day even though it does feel somewhat out of place with the streetscape.
I should mention that on our first trip to Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street and The Osaka Museum of Housing and Living we had a private Japanese, English-speaking guide from a company called Narawalk www.narawalk.com Our guide, Reiko Hirasuga, was wonderfully friendly and a real foodie as well as quite a historian. She took us to the Osaka Castle giving us an excellent narrative of Japanese feudal history and architecture. I can highly recommend her and you can contact Reiko direct at firstname.lastname@example.org, mobile 090-51-68-6982
Scroll below for a photographic experience of Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street: