The Japanese “oasis” of Osaka, 90 miles northwest of Tokyo, has long attracted immigrants. They are known for elegant northern hotels and gracious people, but they are also known for their cuisine.
You’ll find kimchi, sashimi, sherbet, miso soup, desserts like matcha-spiced iced tea, yuzu and sticky rice cakes. The basic dishes are prepared tableside, as are hand-rolled sushi rolls and even sushi filled with iced sake. In the evening, hotels become dumpling houses, with specials and food unavailable elsewhere in the city.
Sensational sushi is an old tradition in Japan. Japanese restaurants in Osaka, in particular, often create sushi rolls as an add-on to meals — or as an accompaniment — to dishes that require simple ingredients. Or they make them on site. It’s rare to see a “tatami bowl” (as they’re known outside of Japan) in an urban restaurant, but it’s frequently a stand-in for the dumpling shop.
And it’s that combination that I found in Osaka, an international cuisine complex.
I’ve lived in the United States, London, Vienna and Osaka. In each of those countries, my palate includes regional food. But traveling to Tokyo and Osaka, I’ve come to prefer neither. I found neither “classical” nor local Japanese food in either city. So I asked, why?
As someone who doesn’t eat sweet things, I was mystified when my first meal in Osaka was made with homemade fruit and cookies. Tokyo didn’t necessarily appeal to me, either, so I introduced my Japanese dinner companion and me to tatami mats. That brought back memories of table-making. We weren’t prepared for the texture, sharpness and flavor of the rice — although there was little need to be: Tsujita noodles have taken over the famed Tsukiji market in Tokyo. But ultimately we loved the meals we shared there and learned some unique sushi rolls.
Tsujita Matsu is no longer in this season, but so are two similar restaurants, Tsukiji and Seiji.