The REAL Japanese Food

A lot of people have an idea of Japanese food being the haven of health. Pictures of sushi abound, accompanied by simple bowls of rice and delicately arranged mushrooms. Don’t get me wrong – you’ll find plenty of all of that in Japan. But I want to show you what the everyday eateries are actually serving. As you’ll see, there’s just as much junk and rubbish on sale as you’d find in the UK or the US.

This documentation process took place, once again, in Osaka – on the day when Calle and I bumped into all kinds of characters. Our day trip started with food because, by the time we arrived,  I was starving and needed lunch.

Unfortunately, we headed straight to Tempozan Marketplace, the “shopping and dining arcade” next to the aquarium, which is actually just a place where parents entertain their kids at weekends, presumably by feeding them lots of “kid-friendly” food ie. junk.

In our desperation, we settled for Ganko, where I could get a steak lunch deal for just 750円. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t the tastiest steak in the world but we were in one of those places where you’re only ever going to get quantity, not quality.

Steak, sizzling

The restaurant staff were very obliging and changed the tempura set to veg-only for Calle.

Vegetable tempura

It was probably one of the blandest tempura I’d ever tried, but you can’t go too far wrong with something deep-fried in batter.

And yes, deep-fried. It’s very, very popular in Japan. Tempura is everywhere. As is deep-fried chicken and pork. If it can be deep-fried, it will be deep-fried. The Scots would be proud.

My Lonely Planet was treacherous that day. Within this “shopping and dining arcade” is a “faux Edo-period food court where you can sample all of Osaka’s culinary specialities.” I guess that’s true. But really it’s more accurately described as an indoor, grotty, fake, old-style street with lots of fast-food stands.

It may not look too bad, but remember that this is an enclosed indoor area, with lots of little stalls frying stuff and the unpleasant smells of stale food permeating everything. Plus you will be confronted with things that look like this:


The above is an omu-rice – rice wrapped in an omelette, topped with ketchup. Aside from the gross amount of ketchup, I just can’t get over the colour combination. It looks like an operation. And look at these ones – they’re spilling their guts:

Spilling their guts

The next dish on the “menu” is the common curry rice (カレーライス).

Curry rice

Sometimes served with reformed chicken or pork, deep fried in breadcrumbs, it always involves a plate swimming in a “curry” sauce, which is made by mixing a curry block with water. And it’s sweet, and probably not very spicy. There are chains upon chains serving this, and even little coffee shops will do a minuscule lunch menu with this on it.

Medley incl. ketchup, mayo and pineapple!

Yes, that is a hamburger and fried egg, soaking in some kind of unidentifiable brown sauce, covered in ketchup and mayonnaise, served with a classic combination of rice, chips, salad and a pineapple slice. All of this is very typical of the food that lines the streets in Japan, except perhaps the pineapple slice, but I like the extra-quirky edge it gives that dish. Very original indeed.

Osakan speciality

I don’t quite know what this….or maybe I don’t want to know what this is. All I know is that it’s covered in a sweet sauce, with mayonnaise and mustard on top. I assume it’s a kind of okonomiyaki (a cabbage pancake), layered with pork and noodles and all the usual trimmings.

Next on my hit list are the places that appeal to the Japanese imagination of Western food. Take a look at “Vie de France”, attempting to appeal to the traditional French bakery. And then take a look at what they’re selling in the window…

French Life....starts here......
Frankfurter encased in plasticky, sweet bread, with ketchup (or sorry, is that la sauce tomate?)

Calle also discovered that Sweden actually has a million multi-coloured ice-cream flavours. He obviously hasn’t been getting out enough back at home.

The multi-coloured ice-cream land of Sweden

As for our dinner, we decided to try an Osakan izakaya.

The place: Torihime Oriental Re-Mix
The food: Standard izakaya (tapas style eating), with an emphasis on chicken (torihime translates as “Chicken Princess” which doesn’t sound quite so grand in English!)

The context: We needed food, we wanted izakaya atmosphere and we didn’t want a chain. That left us with little choice as we were stuck around the Umeda station area. But then our eyes were drawn to a very popular little place. We had to queue to get seated.

Torihime Oriental

The atmosphere was spot on. The food we saw whizz past us looked delicious. I was ready for a treat. Check out some of the dishes we ordered:

Strange version of potato salad - mashed with fish egg sauce
"Fried potatoes"
Pumpkin curry
Yakitori - grilled chicken. And some bacon too!

Looks great, right? WRONG! The “potato salad”, which incidentally involved MASHED potatoes, tasted of nothing, despite having various things mashed into it and being topped with a creamy fish egg sauce. The grilled chicken was so bland I was amazed they had applied any tare (sauce) at all.

To rub salt in the wound, it was expensive compared to other izakaya. There was also a hidden table charge of 500 円.

Overall: 2/5

Don’t waste your time with a place that’s obviously trading on a trendy reputation and prime location.

Food quality 2/5 – Bland. Average at best.

Value for money 1/5 – Hidden cover charge and high prices for bad food. No thank you.

Atmosphere – 5/5 – Credit when credit is due. It had a great interior and was buzzing without being too raucous and loud. Good for both intimate and social dining occasions.

Service 2.5/5 – Slow on bringing the food and a bit of a “drop-and-run” attitude.

NB: I PROMISE A NICE REVIEW SOON. I’ve actually found a really amazing izakaya I want to write about 🙂

Author: Phoebe Amoroso

Phoebe Amoroso is a Tokyo-based reporter, multimedia journalist and storyteller. Hailing from the UK, she moved to Japan in 2014 and has since been shouting about the country to all who will listen. She divides her time between covering breaking news and producing feature stories for TV; writing about everything from business and tech to food and travel; and guiding hungry visitors who want to sample the best of Japanese cuisine. When not working and/or eating, she can often be found running up a mountain or cycling by the sea.

8 thoughts on “The REAL Japanese Food”

    1. Hey thanks for reading! I’ve got plenty more food reviews/ Japan stories coming – hopefully will get around to writing some of them up this week!

    2. It took me some time but my favourite izakaya review is finally up! Hope you like it and if you ever come to Kyoto, I’m definitely recommending this place 🙂

  1. Thank you for stopping by.
    There are many interesting foods in this blog.
    I love Kyoto because there are many beautiful places and delicious foods.:)

    1. Thank you for stopping by as well! I really like reading your blog about life in Japan, given that I’m spending so much time here!

      Kyoto definitely has many beautiful places! Could you recommend some Kyoto cuisine to try or any particularly good restaurants (if you know any)? It’d be great to feature that on the blog 🙂

Leave a Reply to Pheebz Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: