Sunday, February 21, 2016

Osaka Takoyaki Museum 

Street food from the Kitchen of Kansai

By Justin Velgus, November 2012

Osaka is famous for many things, but most certainly for its love of food. Osaka locals love to eat the tasty cuisines of the city so much that they sometimes are victims of “kuidaore” or depleting all their resources by an excess of enjoying food. One such treat that is worth your money is takoyaki. Tako is octopus in Japanese. It is pronounced as “taco” in English which results in some funny first conversations between Japanese people and Japan visitors. Yaki means to fry or cook. Fried octopus dumplings originated in Osaka over 75 years ago and have become a favorite across all of Japan. While it is traditionally sold in stalls on the street, takoyaki can now be found in restaurants and for the purposes of this article, at the Osaka Takoyaki Museum!

Located just outside Osaka’s Universal Studios theme park is Universal City Walk, a collection of shops and restaurants, is a haven for any foodie. Although this place is called a “museum” it is primarily a collection of fivetakoyaki restaurants. Each restaurant has takoyaki from a different locale in Japan or has their own special way of making the fried dumplings that are topped off with sauce, mayonnaise, or dried fish flakes. All claim to be the best and that is where you as the customer have to make some hard decisions—because not buying takoyakiwhen you visit is out of the question!

Since restaurants are located directly next to each other and kitchens are right behind the counter, it is easy to see what options each restaurant sells before you buy. The prices are more or less the same so it’s all about quality and taste of the items. A restaurant called Yamachan mixes 10 kinds of fruits and mountain vegetables into their batter then lets it simmer for 4 hours to bring out the flavor. Jyuuhachiban (Number 18) specializes in crisp, crunchy, and creamy dumplings with its milky tempura batter. It is one of the mainstays at the museum and has been there since 1990. Another store with a large red sign compares its takoyaki flavor to American tastes (which have become popular with Japanese youth). As you may expect, these dumplings are loaded with many toppings and a stronger flavor, including the restaurant’s original hand-made mayonnaise. “Kukuru” boasts over 50 stores across Japan. Their fluffy juicy textured dumplings go well with wine or beer. The final eatery is more traditional. It claims to be Aizuya’s (a town near Osaka) original birthplace of takoyaki. The main chef has the biggest smile of the bunch and you can tell he is passionate about his work. Great care goes into the making of each piece of his takoyaki. He makes sure the size is perfect for eating in one bite and the sauce and toppings are laid on such that if you eat by hand your fingers will not become messy. Its menu is the smallest. I found myself splurging for items from three of the restaurants and all were delicious in their own way.

Takoyaki is taken very seriously at the Osaka Taokoyaki Museum. It takes great agility and a steady hand to twist the dumplings with chopsticks while they cook on a special pan. Within the museum you’ll find a small shrine dedicated to the deity Ebisu. He is there to send his wishes and spiritual energy into the restaurants to make sure each takoyaki comes out nice, round, and flavorful. A gift shop sells Osaka souvenirs and many things related to octopus or the fried dumplings.

The Osaka Takoyaki Museum is an easy add-on trip when visiting Universal Studios. It’s located in the Universal Studios City Walk shops and restaurants center on the 4th floor.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dinning Out

Show window displaying food replicas

Japan has a large selection of restaurants of an almost endless variety. While every place is different, the following points will help make dining out in Japan a smooth and enjoyable experience.
Entering the Restaurant
Many restaurants in Japan display plastic or wax replicas of their dishes in a window near their entrance. These replicas serve both to entice and inform patrons of the restaurant's menu and tend to offer an accurate, visual description of the style and price of meals found inside. The displays are especially helpful for foreign tourists who do not read and speak Japanese. For if all other forms of communication fail, you can go outside and point to what you want to order.

Upon entering a restaurant, customers are greeted with the expression "irasshaimase" meaning "welcome, please come in". The waiter or waitress will ask you how many people are in your party and then lead you to your table. Only in rare cases, are customers expected to seat themselves.
While a majority of restaurants in Japan provide Western style tables and chairs, low traditional tables where you sit on pillows on the floor are also common and referred to as zashiki. Many restaurants feature both, and you may be asked which you prefer. In case of zashiki style seating, you should remove your shoes at the entrance to the restaurant or before stepping onto the seating area.
Smoking is permitted in many restaurants in Japan. Some restaurants provide both smoking (kitsuen) and non-smoking (kinen) sections, while others are fully smoking or non-smoking. If there is a choice, the waitress will ask you about your preference before seating you.

Traditional style zashiki seating on the floor  
Low table with a sunken floor for your legs

Modern style restaurant with Western style tables and chairs

Ordering and Eating

After you are seated, each diner is usually served with a free glass of water or tea. If it is not served, free water or tea is usually available for self-service somewhere in the restaurant. Everyone will also receive a wet towel (oshibori) which is used to clean your hands before eating. If chopsticks are not already set, you can usually find some in a box on the table. Most often, they are disposable wooden chopsticks that need to be separated into two before usage.
While many restaurants provide illustrated menus, other restaurants may only have Japanese text based menus, or the restaurant's offerings may instead be posted on the walls. If you are ever in doubt on what to order or find that you cannot read the menu, try asking for the recommendations (osusume) or the chef's choice (omakase). The latter will often get you some surprisingly good, prix fix style meals, but be prepared to be adventurous and do not expect it to be cheap.
Once you are ready to order, you can signal the restaurant staff by saying "sumimasen" (excuse me), or if available, press the call button at the table. Once you have finished ordering, the waitress will often repeat your order back to you for confirmation.
At some restaurants, such as Izakaya, it is common for everyone in the party to order dishes together and share them. At other establishments, however, each diner is expected to order individually.

Illustrated menu at a typical family restaurant
Menu displayed on the wall
Chopsticks box

The bill will be presented upside down, either as you receive the meal or after you have finished eating. In most restaurants, you are supposed to bring your bill to the cashier near the exit when leaving, as it is not common to pay at the table. Paying in cash is most common, although more and more restaurants also accept credit cards or IC cards such as Suica.
Some restaurants, especially cheaper ones, have slightly different systems for ordering and paying. For example, in many ramen and gyudon restaurants, "meal tickets" are bought at a vending machine near the store's entrance and handed over to the staff who then prepare and serve the meal.
It is not customary to tip in Japan, and if you do, you will probably find the restaurant staff chasing you down in order to give back any money left behind. Instead, it is polite to say "gochisosama deshita" ("thank you for the meal") when leaving.
Meal ticket machine outside of 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wasabi Wasabi Wasabi

Why is most wasabi fake?

Real wasabi paste is made by grating the wasabi rhizome (stem),

When you grate wasabi the volatile compounds in it begin to break down within a few minutes so it has to be done fresh. Also the cost of real wasabi roots is quite high since its a rare and perishable commodity, on the other hand you have the fake wasabi powder which is cheap has a long expiration date.

Wasabi doesn't develop its distinctive flavor until

Monday, February 3, 2014

Tanpopo's Perfect Sushi Rice...

By Verl Murphy


Yield: 4 cups rice

2 cups sushi rice (Nishiki Primium Rice, Medium grain)
2 cups water
4 tablespoons rice vinegar (in lieu of the rice vinegar, sugar and mirin Marukan Seasoned Gourmet Rice Vinegar can be substituted)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons mirin


Ignore the directions on the bag that the rice came from and rinse the rice only 3-5 times. The water does NOT have to run clear.
Place rice to drain in a strainer.
While rice is draining, combine vinegar,sugar, salt and mirin together in a bowl and mix well.
Add rice to the pot.
Bring quickly to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
Cover the pot and DON'T touch it until the end, NO PEEKING.
Cook for 15 minutes before removing the pot from the heat but keep the lid CLOSED.
Let rice rest for 10 min and then remove the cover.
Place in a glass dish to cool and lightly fan the rice while adding the vinegar mixture.
Mix rice gently, careful not to break it.
Sushi rice is best used at body temperature.