Rained Out

September 16, 2017

Aw man…

In Japan right now, Typhoon Talim is making landfall. Fortunately, the storm has weakened significantly, but this means that Osaka will be awash with heavy rain and winds. Man…

The storm didn’t seem so bad when I was inside of my room, so I went down outside to check for myself. Immediately after opening my umbrella, a strong gust of wind turned it inside out and nearly ripped it from my hands. Eh.. Guess I won’t be doing much walking today. After waiting for the weather to die down for just a little bit, I went on a search for some okonomiyaki.

A little walking in the rain and I arrive at what seems to be “the location” for a restaurant that I was searching for on Google Maps. I looked around and saw nothing that resembles the restaurant listed on my map. I asked some locals for help and they too had no idea where this place was. Hm… Well, upon closer inspection, I noticed that there was a small dirt plot about the size of the restaurant in question pointing exactly where Google Maps said to go. The restaurant had been demolished and the listing was never updated. Oooookay time to search around a bit more then.

Most of these okonomiyaki places were dinner-only, so I had trouble finding any open place near me. I decided to search for “お好み焼き” instead of “okonomiyaki” to see if my results would fair better. Immediately, tons of these little okonomiyaki places started to appear on my map. Sweet, there was one right below the bridge I was standing on. Protip when searching for things is a foreign country – try searching in the native language for better results!

This okonomiyaki joint was awesome. The cook was right out front with a big teppan cooking away meals while the rest of the super tiny restaurant consisted of only a few tiny tables inside. “Comfy” aptly describes this restaurant. I ordered up some okonomiyaki and as to be expected, it was glorious!

Egg, cabbage, various meats, bonito flakes, and wonderful okonomiyaki sauces and Japanese Mayo. This stuff is the bomb and is a super cheap eat. I loved this tiny street-side restaurant. The only problem with some of these smaller joints though is that a lot of people like to smoke in them. Being in a small room with a bunch of smokers makes it a little tough to fully enjoy the meal, but eh.

Soon after I finished, the storm was beginning to mount. Man, it sucks to be rained out in Osaka – there are so many cool things I want to do here and wasting days just blows. Okay, if I’m staying inside today, I’m still going to figure out a way to experience some new things.

I’m gonna’ go down to a convenience store and buy a whole bunch of Japanese chocolates and see how they taste. Yeah!

The chocolate sampler

So I picked up a couple packages of chocolate items that seemed interesting to me. Osaka is known for both its Glico and Meiji factories, whom which are two of the largest Japanese confectionery producers. I grabbed a couple tiny squares, some chocolate-stuffed crackers, a “Crunky” (crunch?) bar, some good ol’ standard Pocky, and some strawberry Pocky, which I haven’t actually seen in the States before.

Roasted soy-sesame mochi

First up, the tiny squares. This first one doesn’t look like chocolate and displays some sort of mochi on the package. I actually really enjoyed the taste of this piece – It was almost like a peanut butter flavor, but it’s more along the lines of “peanut butter, but made with sesame seeds.” After the piece melted a little, there was a squishy texture inside. It was an actual piece of mochi! Awesome! I liked this candy!

Coconut, lime, and creme?

Next up, this white square of candy. Again, this didn’t seem to be chocolate, but I gave it a try anyways. This flavor was odd… Ever smell a candle and think “man, I really like this smell, I wish I could ‘eat’ this candle.” Yeah, that’s kinda what this thing was like. Odd limey-waxy-creme flavor with a liquid lime center. I don’t think I really liked the flavor of this one. Meh.

Choco-filled crackers.

Next, the chocolate-filled cracker things. These were awesome. Light, crispy, goldfish-esque cracker filled with light and airy chocolate. I… May have finished the entire box of these things. They were really really good.

At this point, my sweet tooth was satiated and I decided to save the rest for later. The forecast calls for more rain tomorrow, so perhaps I’ll save the rest of these chocolates for the following day.

Totally random side-note that I just wanted to share, keys in Japan are neat. Instead of the standard North-American notch-and-bump model keys, Japan uses different-sized divots in the body of their keys.

What keys look like in Japan

Random side-note over. Let’s go get some dinner!

The storm cleared up a little near 20:00 and I wanted to do some walking. I searched around for a cool restaurant to eat at and after about a mile or so, I found an Izakaya. Izakayas are tiny bars that you’re normally supposed to drink yourself stupid at, but are also known for their Yakitori. Yakitori is Japanese-style charcoal barbecued skewers of meat cooked up right in front of you. Yeah, that sounds awesome, I’m in.

An open, white-hot charcoal grill cooking up some wonderful meats.

There was a friendly request at the bottom of the menu that said you must order at least one drink, but sorry Japan, drinking ain’t my gig, so no disrespect to your restaurant. I gave them a five-star review, so hopefully that makes up a little for my lack of alcohol consumption ;). I got a couple odd looks, but overall, I think they got over it eventually when I just ordered water.

Anyways, back to the food. Holy moley it was incredible. Even though I don’t drink, I can appreciate the clever design of the food in these restaurants. Pickles, salted meats, salty breads, miso-rich glazes… They want to make you as thirsty as possible so you buy more drinks. Delicious, but they certainly do make your parched.

Here are the dishes I ordered:

My favorite skewer. Pickled-ginger chicken. Incredible flavor.

Salted chicken skin. Good, but admittedly, a little bit of a boring flavor after a couple bites. I ordered the sauce-drizzled chicken skin next and THAT was amazing.

Fancy seared and shreaded wagyu beef dish. As a westerner, eating near-raw beef /w raw egg was an interesting sensation, but man it was good.

Wasabi-seared chicken. Again, nearly-raw chicken felt super shady to eat, but it was wonderful. Pro-tip that I discovered while eating these: If your head is exploding from a massive amount of wasabi, just inhale through your nose at a steady rate. It prevents your sinuses from flaring up!

Grilled chicken and onions. The heavy charring on these ingredients paired up with the sauce is divine.

A crispy grilled shrimp and vegetable sandwich. I love crispy, salty, charred up bread. There uh.. was two of these sandwiches.. I may have been a bit hasty :)

Just had to get more of these chicken skewers. Man they were good.

love Yakitori and will totally be getting that again. I just wish the pressure to drink wasn’t so strong, but whatever. These dishes would never be served in the United States. Serving under-cooked poultry and beef is a sure-fire way to be shut down by a health inspector in the US, so I’m glad I got to try it out down here where the unique blend of more relaxed food preparation standards and the pursuit of literal perfection merge.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that my confidence with walking in to random restaurants has really improved. When I first came to Japan, there were so many cool places that I wanted to visit, but hesitated since I was unsure if they would accommodate a foreign person that doesn’t know the language very well. In retrospect, that mentality was pretty silly and I’m glad I’m getting over it. These places are more than happy to take your money, after all. Every restaurant I have been to either has an English menu, pictures of the food that you can point at, or rarely failing that, staff that will gladly help you pick something good.

Food is an absolute good in Japan. You really have to try to make it a bad experience. Well, unless you go to McDonalds for breakfast.

Posted in Japan 2017.