“Tokyo may have more money and Kyoto more culture; Nara may have more history and Kobe more style. But Osaka has the biggest heart.” ~ Vikas Swarup.
It’s no secret Osaka is famed as the Kitchen of Japan. But where can you find the best Osaka street food away from the touristy spots?
Perhaps you’re hoping to be invisible when planning your Osaka itinerary by avoiding the main crowds of visitors around Dotonbori and Kuromon Ichiba Market to experience a different side of the city. Or maybe you want to try the Osaka street food scene, but aren’t sure where to start beyond okonomiyaki and takoyaki?
You could just randomly meander around and allow your nose to lead the way, but wouldn’t it be better to remove the uncertainty by getting into the mind of a local who knows exactly where to go?
Having visited Osaka 9 years prior, in that time I’d realised there was a neighbourhood I completely missed on that trip. Always wanting to uncover more than the average visitor and share my findings with you on my Japan travel blog, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a different side to Osaka by enjoying Japanese street food from a new perspective.
Beneath the neon lights and gritty alleyways, I learnt there is a century’s worth of history to be found in the exciting Shinsekai neighbourhood of Osaka. If you’re wanting to uncover authentic local street food in a carnival-like atmosphere, read on for more!
I experienced this Osaka street food tour as a press invite. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Who are Arigato Travel?
I was invited by Arigato Travel to enjoy this delicious Osaka Shinsekai Street Food Tour in the evening. Specialising in small group tours with a focus on culturally significant foods and drinks throughout Japan, Arigato Travel help connect visitors with local businesses in a meaningful way.
My local Osaka street food guide was Miki-san. Having grown up in Osaka, she was a treasure trove of knowledge about her hometown and a lot of fun to be around!
You can simply let Arigato Travel know your preferences, dietary requirements or any allergies at the time of booking. I liked that this tour was suited to my tastes, so the eateries you visit may slightly differ to mine.
Where to eat in Osaka: Best street food according to locals
Learning meaningful histories of things hiding in plain sight
My meeting place with Miki-san was right beneath the lovely Tsutenkaku Tower in Shinsekai. Within the first few moments, she told me to look up – always so important not to forget in Japan – and wow!
I hadn’t realised the colourful mural of flowers and peacocks looking down at me. Miki-san explained the significance of this exact pattern, which made it even more meaningful.
This structure of Tsutenkaku Tower is actually the second one. It was first built in 1912 and modelled after the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The pride of Osaka at the time, it was the second largest tower in Asia and people travelled long distances to see it. Unfortunately, it was damaged by fire in 1943 and was rebuilt in its current form in 1956.
Miki-san went on to explain the meaning behind the different coloured lights on the tower, which actually have to do with the weather!
NOTE: The order you may visit the following locations may differ to me, depending on store opening hours.
Sampling a specially-shaped dessert
Our first stop was actually dessert, why not? Having been operating for 120 years, this family-owned store specialises in all kinds of manjū まんじゅう. I love the custard-filled ones in Miyajima!
Traditionally filled with a sweet red bean paste, the small, cake-like desserts offered here also include fillings such as bitter caramel, strawberry and even banana. I highly recommend the bitter caramel, it was scrumptious!
As a graphic designer, I adored their branding as the sweets are shaped like the bell of the local 1400 year-old Tenno-ji Temple. Its giant bell that rings throughout the neighbourhood was kindly donated by the owner of this store.
TIP: Keeping in with the bell theme, listen out for the sound that plays as you enter the store!
After leaving the dessert store, we passed a very small local shrine with a resident cat. Miki-san demonstrated how to interpret an interesting stone feature here, so make sure you give it a go!
Discovering the secret behind Japanese knives
Did you know that the knife used to prepare your food can actually change its flavour? And why rabbits were once considered birds in Japan throughout the 19th century? I was so surprised to learn the reasons for these things at our next stop!
If you are in the market for Japanese knives, you’re going to love this knife store. I had a go slicing a carrot with a regular knife versus one of their specialised knives, and the difference was night and day.
TIP: You won’t believe the length of a knife used to slice tuna on display here.
Specialising in locally hand-crafted knives for professional and home use, this store has over 500 different kinds to choose from.
From cutting vegetables and filleting fish to slicing meat and sashimi, these knives make great gifts. And for only 500 yen, you can engrave a name in the blade for a special personalisation.
Trying a 70-year old recipe for a local specialty
The word Shinsekai means “New World,” as the area and Luna Park once showcased Western architecture to give locals a feel of what it was like in Europe at the time. Our next stop featured framed old photographs of exactly how this looked a century ago.
Opened in 1948, the interior décor of this juice bar had the most nostalgic vibes. Dimly lit with classic wooden panelling and stained glass Tiffany lampshades, I loved that these original features made it really felt like stepping back into the early Showa Period (1926 – 1989). It was so natsukashii!
In its earliest days, this bar was known for its summer iced coffee, but then developed a secret recipe for mixed juice that has been adored by locals ever since. I couldn’t tell what was in it exactly (tasted like banana with some citrus perhaps? You be the judge!) but it was tasty and refreshing.
Finding out the meaning behind an interesting street character
Before I met Miki-san earlier, I had noticed an interesting character popping up all over the streets in Shinsekai. Intrigued by his bald head, grinning face and large feet, I asked Miki-san who he was!
You’ll notice this golden little creature in front of stores, on rooftops, and on merchandise. This unofficial mascot of the area is called Billiken, and Miki-san explained how he came to be from a dream in the USA to existing here in Osaka.
TIP: There is even a shrine dedicated to Billiken, see if you can find it. Don’t forget to touch his feet for good luck!
Learning Osaka food culture through different types of kushikatsu
One of the most popular street food vendors in Osaka, our next stop was so much fun! Founded in 1928, this kushikatsu 串カツ eatery that only fit about a dozen people is an old favourite with locals, specialising in deep fried meat and vegetables on skewers.
As I enjoyed my nihonshu (sake), Miki-san explained the importance of quick lunch breaks for construction workers during the rebuilding of Osaka after WWII. She also detailed a popular way locals enjoy the deep-fried morsels which included cabbage and a secret sauce.
Coated in flour before frying, the skewers we tried were beef, mochi, onion, cheese and garlic chicken. After a little break to make more room, we then ordered crispy lotus root (one of my favourites) and a runny boiled egg. The egg was to die for and cooked at the just right temperature.
Our chef recommended that some of these just needed salt while others would be best enjoyed with the secret soy sauce. We followed these guidelines and of course he was right. All were absolutely delicious, and filling!
Enjoying Osaka style sushi & soup
By this point I was getting quite full, but it was time to move on to our next stop. Maybe you’ve heard there is a friendly rivalry between Osaka & Hiroshima when it comes to okonomiyaki (savoury pancake with meat and vegetables).
But what I didn’t know was that there is another between Tokyo and Osaka when it comes to sushi! It’s something I’d never noticed before. Maybe you’ll be able to tell from my images below, but if not, your local guide will explain.
At this restaurant, our sushi was made fresh to order directly in front of us by a skilled chef. Alongside the sushi we enjoyed a red miso soup with clams and green onion, and Miki-san described the different kinds of miso that are commonly used in cooking throughout Osaka.
Finishing the night with some retro games
Absolutely bursting by now, it was time to finish the evening enjoying some of the carnival games Shinsekai is known for. To no avail, I had a go trying to shoot a prize off some shelves with an air gun, but it was great fun nonetheless!
On our way back to the train station, Miki-san pointed out a number of different places to try next time including a restaurants where you can catch your own fish, her recommendation for conveyor belt sushi, where to find sumo-sized meals, and even where to go shopping at stores that proudly showcased Osakan humour in the form of indie fashion and merchandise.
And that wrapped up my fun Osaka street food tour!
Overall thoughts on this Shinsekai Osaka food tour
Having only clung to the Chuo Ward and not visited Shinsekai previously, I thought this tour struck a great balance between trying different kinds of street foods, seeing culturally significant features in the neighbourhood and being shown lesser-known spots to return to another time.
I was especially impressed with the old juice bar, as this was somewhere I would never have thought to visit on my own. Its interior is a fantastic portal into the early Showa Period; I just loved there was so much history packed into a small space.
As with other Arigato Japan tour guides, my Osaka food guide Miki-san was so friendly, easy to chat to and made this tour so enjoyable!
If you’re wanting experience Osaka from a different perspective and learn more about Japanese street food outside of Kuromon Market and Dotonbori Street, I’d definitely recommend this tour.
Sending a huge thanks again to Arigato Japan Tours for inviting me on this fabulous experience!
Are you also visiting Tokyo during your Japan trip? Take a look at my tried-and-tested reviews of the best food tours in Tokyo while you’re here, my advice for how to plan a trip to Japan, what to pack for Japan in every season, crucial Japanese etiquette, easy Japanese phrases for tourists (including a FREE cheat sheet) and more!
Until next time,
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