Cycle 5 – Item 146
31 (Sat) May 2014
Shime Saba Hakozushi
-Chuo, Osaka, Japan-
Mission to Japan: Expert Consultation on Intersectoral Action on Health + Personal Deviation (Day 4)
In Osaka. My first duty travel! Dispatched to the World Health Organization Centre for Health Development (aka “WHO Kobe Centre” aka “WKC”), where I attended the Expert Consultation on Intersectoral Action on Health. For GMTD purposes, the trip is all about food. To maximize the opportunity, I’ll be staying in the country an extra couple days – a “personal deviation” as per WHO parlance – in the neighboring city of Osaka, where the food is reputed to be legendary.
Daimaru is a chain of luxury department stores. Founded in 1717 as a dry goods store. Currently 6 stores throughout the country.
At the flagship in Osaka, on top of the Shinsaibashi metro station, the basement features a very impressive supermarket and wide array of quick dining options.
My Grill Deli is a Japanese restaurant. More like a meal counter. Offers quick-fix items.
Japanese-style curry rice is dish that I’d eaten my whole life until finally, for the first time here, trying it at the source.
Surprisingly, the sauce was smooth and free of solids, unlike the chunky concoctions that I’m inclined to make. the flavor was also richer and spicier than I’ve come to expect from the curry roux blocks that I use.
The tonkatsu was blah.
After lunch, I took a stroll through the supermarket. I was thoroughly impressed.
Chuo-ku is a ward of Osaka. 1 of 23. The city’s shopping/dining center – chuo = central. In particular, the 1-km stretch between the metro stations of Shinsaibashi and Nanba is densely packed with stores and restaurants, mostly restaurants, mostly of a pubbish character.
The signage in this part of Osaka is boldly literal: 3D representations of the house specialty. Way cooler than neon.
The dizzying/dazzling array of the eat/drink establishments reminded me of the night markets in Taipei, only most places here are indoors.
After an hour of indecisive walking around, I dropped by a street vendor offering crab legs.
Amazing charred flavor, sweet and juicy flesh.
Way overpriced at JPY 700 per leg, maybe about 2 tablespoons of meat. I shudder to think how much it would’ve cost me had the family been there.
Takotake is a Japanese restaurant. The house specialty is hakozushi.
Another restaurant on MK’s list, local staff at WKC had made reservations for me.
I was the only customer during my time there.
Given all the eating options in Chuo, I would’ve been perfectly content just to wander and nibble on random bits and pieces for dinner. However, I did want to try hakozushi at its best, and Takotake was recommended on MK’s brochure, so I took a break from Chuo and went out of my way to check it out.
Hakozushi is a Japanese dish. Also referred to as “oshizushi.” A type of sushi made by pressing the rice and toppings into a wooden frame, then cutting the formed cake into bite-sized pieces. The toppings are typically boiled/cured components (e.g., shime saba), not raw fish, and tend to be seasoned, no need for condiments (e.g., soy sauce). The method was invented in Osaka in the 19th century at the restaurant Yoshino Zushi, which still exists.
The meal started with a fizzle.
For the assorted hakozushi, the toppings were rather dry. In fact, the ingredients were laid out and sitting on the counter, as if to dry them further. True to form, the chef refused me soy sauce, shaking his head vehemently and saying what I assumed to be something about failing to respect tradition.
So, I ordered miso-shiru, just to wash things down, but what I got was perhaps the best representation of the soup that I’ve ever had: intensely flavored miso, large chunks of succulent fish; with a bowl of rice, it could’ve constituted its own meal.
Finally, the shime saba was perfection: the fish had been delicately cured to enhance the natural brininess of the mackerel, not at all salty, not at all fishy, maybe even a bit sweet, gorgeously succulent. And, for whatever reason, soy sauce was permitted.
The meal ended with a bang.
Back in Chuo, I wandered around, nothing planned. I ended up spending 6 more hours there.
Takoyaki is a Japanese dish. Consists of batter filled with bits of octopus (tako), poured into spherical molds, and grilled in balls. Another signature Osakan dish.
As with the okonomiyaki, the insides were gooey, much to my dislike.
One of the few non-Japanese establishments in the area, I stopped by out of curiosity.
Upon seeing the jamon, I decided to take a seat.
The food was excellent, so I stuck around, much longer than I would’ve anticipated.
And then a bit longer to enjoy being flirted upon by a Taiwanese flight attendant, who was easily titillated by my recent photos of Taipei.
I stepped in for a quick final bite, but couldn’t resist taking advantage of the absurdly generous pours of whisky.
If I could find this restaurant again, I would love to go back for a proper dinner.
(See also BOOZE)
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN JAPAN)