Food of the Gods….(or maybe just my favourite izakaya)

Yes, it’s time to introduce you to my favourite izakaya in Kyoto and to a casually racist costume.

The story starts in Osaka, where we had taken our friend Tom on a sightseeing trip. I crave the modern aesthetic Osaka exudes – at least in comparison to the Kyoto – and so we had to stop by the Umeda Sky Building, designed by Hiroshi Hara.

Umeda Sky Building

I would love to teeter my along those high elevated walkways but didn’t have the time nor money. Fortunately, Hiroshi designed the Kyoto Station building as well, where I can happily wander an elevated walkway for free, giving me a great view over Kyoto.

Let’s move on from architecture and arrive at… costumes. Yes, party costumes are a BIG thing in Japan, and you’ve probably come across blog posts mocking showcasing them before. To illustrate how culturally integrated costumes are, I’ll give you an example from two weeks ago. I was casually climbing the stairs in the Kyoto City International Foundation and noticed a wedding function in the restaurant. Then, two men appeared clad in red shiny bodysuits. Why was security not seizing them and throwing them out? Well, they were the wedding entertainment. They certainly entertained me.

However, I wasn’t quite sure about the following.

Lady suit

This is a “Lady Bodysuit”. The only thing that screams “lady” at me is the word “lady” on the packaging. Weirdest costume of the day award goes to the casually raciest “I’m a foreigner” face appendage set!


Big round of applause.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the true star of this blog post.

The place: Sumika
The food:  Japanese izakaya style

Sumika counter seating

We arrived at Sumika at 10.45pm. And we were ravenous. Having been to see the Hikari Renaissance lights and realising they were unspectacular, we found ourselves in an area with nowhere to eat, except Zawatami, and I wasn’t going there again. Thus, we hopped on the train and arrived in a state of desperation. But I’d been to Sumika before and I knew the food was amazing.

Sumika is on a basement floor and has a faux cave interior which makes it intimate and shadowy. It’s relaxed and always popular (at least, when I’ve visited on weekend nights).

We flung ourselves down at the counter, grabbed the menu and devoured it with our eyes. In the next hour, we proceeded to order seven dishes each.

Now, I should say that this isn’t fine dining – izakaya food rarely is unless you go up a price-notch and downsize the menu. But Sumika does good quality food that is simply delicious. I guess this makes the first photo rather ironic, as it’s just chips. But no izakaya trip is complete without an order of “potato fry” and the beer glass in the background perfectly captures the atmosphere. All I need is a photo of our hyperactive waiter with whom Tom developed an ongoing joke: they kept bowing and saluting and grunting niceties at each other, whilst the waiter cried with laughter. It was a refreshing change from the often impeccable yet impersonal service in Japan.

Potato fry AKA chips

Below is the bacon and tofu salad and it is simply one of the most delicious salads I have ever had. The tofu melts in your mouth whilst the bacon provides a salty kick and substance. The dressing is fresh and light. The whole dish is addictive; we ordered at least two of these. I guarantee you don’t need to like tofu to order it. In fact, you don’t even need to like bacon either because it’s very easy to pick out (the veggie among us is well-practised at this).

Bacon and tofu salad

Another star dish of the evening was the fried pumpkin with cream cheese. The combination of flavours was exquisite and at only 200円 a plate, I thought this was all too good to be true.

Pumpkin and cream cheese - divine!

Below is a selection of the other dishes we enjoyed, including plenty of yakitori – grilled chicken on sticks.

Seasonal vegetable salad
Chicken and plum meatballs
"Roast beef"
Cheese and bacon mochi (rice cakes)
Don't judge me! It was for the veggie!
Yakitori - chicken and leek
Thai spring rolls

Final mentions goes to the pudding. A giant crepe filled with ice-cream and covered in chocolate sauce. Could easily feed two. But I’m greedy so it only feeds me.

Mega crepe!

Overall 5/5

Give me more. Great food. Great service. Great atmosphere. Great for small parties, great for larger parties. Great for everything. 

Food quality 4/5 – Delicious and well-thought out flavour combinations.

Value for money 4/5 – For the quality, it’s exceptional value. We paid ~3500円 each for seven dishes each and several drinks.

Atmosphere  5/5 – Intimate yet open; busy but not noisy.A place where you want to eat and drink FOREVER. Or at least to you’re on the uncomfortable side of full

Service 5/5 – A waiter that you can have a laugh with? It’s a winner!

How to find it:

Sumika is located on Kiyamachi, just south of Sanjo-dori.

Maps can be found here and here.


The evening didn’t end there. Fuelled on fine food, we did the only logical thing and sang karaoke until 2am.

Yes, let me pretend to sing by opening my mouth as wide as possible.

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 🙂

Santa Diver and Benjamin Button

I love Osaka. It’s full of disturbing characters, such as this fellow below. Well, Japan in general is pretty good at creating disturbing characters. (Read my post featuring  the product of bestiality from Nara).

Hello little children!

Calle and I decided to visit Osaka again because we got ourselves an amazing deal: free transport to, from and around the city and entrance to the gigantic aquarium for only 2,800円. Now for those of you who’ve just gone, “An aquarium, really? How old is this girl?!”, this aquarium has an amazing reputation….because it’s amazing! Let me show you…

For starters, the building itself is worth gaping at:

Osaka Aquarium

Then, once inside, the first thing you walk through is a shark tunnel, I spent ages trying to capture a photo but my timing really wasn’t in tune with the sharks’. Still I managed to take this:

Other cool things:

Underwater party

OK OK, I promised you some characters. Here is Bob, the world’s ugliest fish:

Bob. The world's ugliest fish.

Here is Charles, the sentinel:

Standing guard

And here is “Santa Diver”:

Santa Diver

Yes, that is a guy in a wetsuit in a Santa costume, posing for photos underwater. And here he is about to get taken out by the dolphin, clearly miffed that Santa’s hogging the attention.

Santa Diver gets mugged

I actually commend the Japanese for this crazy idea. It made me smile. However, the following character did not:

Hello little children!

It appears to be an old, ugly man in a baby costume. Japan’s take on Benjamin Button? Oh wait, it’s a metaphor for drugs. Here he is in a mushroom costume.

Mushroom head

And here he is again in a cow costume with an udder on his head. I can’t come up with any witty comments or symbolism for that one. Maybe I need the mushrooms.

Udder head

For those of you familiar with manga/anime One Piece, you’ll know it’s aimed primarily at a youthful audience. By that, I mean it’s definitely watched by kids. In the series, there is a flame-haired female character, called Nami. Here she is with the rest of the crew:

As you can see, she has sizeable boobs – after all, there’s the teenage male audience to please. However, here is the plastic model version. Notice anything different?

Eating ice-cream like a super-cool ice queen

Other characters I got to meet include a seriously creepy panda and the very scary Hattifatteners from my favourite cartoon as a kid, the Moomins!

Boxing panda

The day ended, however, with a poster about the real disturbing characters in Japan. Train perverts (チカン) are a big problem. When I was studying in Tokyo last year, several of my friends got felt up on the trains – one girl was assaulted by the same man twice. Many women are too embarrassed or frightened to confront them. To make matters more problematic, it’s often impossible to tell who it is because train carriages are so crowded. This poster tells girls “Don’t forgive the perverts!”

Don't Forgive the Perverts

Pizza Ball House and Other Osakan Eateries

According to my Lonely Planet, Osaka is renowned for good eateries. And whilst that statement might be true, after interrailing round Eastern Europe in the summer, I don’t trust anywhere Lonely Planet recommends.

So we wandered the streets at leisure, stopping to laugh at all the ridiculous places we found. Here they are, in ascending order of amusement:

1. Snack Donkey

Snack Donkey has squeezed itself down a dank-looking alley, to serve you God knows what.

Snack Donkey or Snack Donkey

2. Eat Man

Really? Eat a man? Cannibalism? Or is this a case of punctuation – Eat, Man!

24hr cannibalism

3. Pizza Ball House

This serves takoyaki (fried octopus balls). Maybe it serves pizza as well. But it definitely does not serve pizza balls. The octopus looks just as confused as we were.

Octopus: "Huh? They wanna eat me?"

4. Far D

Mmm, which would you choose?

Take a look at this food. Yes that is an omelette stuffed with rice, served with a hamburger and a pile of spaghetti. Yes, the Japanese have VERY different tastes when it comes to what flavours they believe fit together.

However, look at this preposterous claim:

The Natural & safe cooking from style of Canterbury

From Canterbury? Yes, I believe the Archbishop eats that dish daily.

But on to our actual lunch restaurant….

The place: Buzz Brasserie & Wine Café 
The food: faux-European 

We spied this stylish place straight after crossing the road from Umeda Hankyu station and later returned to it hungrily to snap up what we thought was a 1,500円 lunch deal. And European food! I get so sick of eating rice, rice, rice and pickles. Hooray for chips and steamed veg!

Although on the main road and at the beginning of a rather dirty “shopping” arcade, Buzz was clean and quiet inside – despite the fact it was packed with people.

They had three options: lunch deal 1 (hamburger), lunch deal 2 (spaghetti carbonara) and lunch deal 3 (mustard chicken). I eyed the room eager to spot what everyone else was eating. I could only see hamburgers but didn’t really fancy it as it came covered in thick tomato-based sauce. Nor did I fancy the pasta because Japanese pasta is notoriously bizarre (I ignored my own reservations just the other day and regretted it – post coming soon). So I ordered the chicken. Mistake. If no-one else in the room was eating it, then there’s probably a reason.

It wasn’t terrible. But the mustard sauce was hardly complex in the flavours employed, and the meat itself was rubbery.

Mustard chicken

Calle took the pasta, which was “all right, especially for Japanese pasta”, and given that they’d adapted it to make it veggie.

Spaghetti with veg and salad and chips!

However, it really was amazing to have steamed vegetables!! And chips!

Plus the appetisers were delicious, and steeped in olive oil and basil and oregano, which are rare finds in Japanese food.

The dessert was also good – not the tastiest brownie in the world, and definitely not home-made, but the fresh fruit provided a delicious contrast.

Gratuitous shot of the super-fancy coffee cup:

Overall 3.5/5

Visit for relatively well-priced and above average “Western” food.

Food quality 3/5 – Pretty good for the price. Given the quality of ingredients and effort that had done into the appetisers, the rubbery chicken was the biggest disappointment. My ice coffee was also undrinkable – no idea what they did to it.

Value for money 3/5 –  let down by not including the dessert in the price. They slapped a cheeky 300円 extra on for it!

Atmosphere 4/5 – Busy yet quiet. Pleasant, stylish interior. Just enough space between tables so as not to feel uncomfortable.

Service 5/5 – Very helpful and obliging. Water glasses were continuously refilled. The till lady then directed us to the nearest cash machine.

How to find it

See this map on their website:

Turns out they also have a restaurant in Tokyo too:

The Hepatitis Whale / Never take directions from a drunk man

Last week, was a national holiday in Japan. Why? Who knows? Who cares?! It means no work, no school and LOTS of fun.

Actually, what it really meant was traipsing to Osaka to buy a second-hand printer we’d found on the Internet.

All kind of weirdos hang around Osaka at night

The morning stated badly – as in the old-married-couple-row kind of badly. Darling Calle had been asked to buy eggs the evening before. When it was subsequently revealed that there were no eggs, his first excuse was “How was I supposed to know that we were totally out of eggs?”, which changed to the more preposterous, “I couldn’t afford to buy the eggs!” What was wrong with walking to the ATM which is on the way to the supermarket and withdrawing money, I shall never know.

The result – I had an insubstantial breakfast and was incredibly grumpy. This mood was accentuated by the fact that I had to then pay for Calle to accompany me on the trip as JP Bank ATMs are located inside post offices, which, unsurprisingly, are closed on national holidays. To make matters worse, when changing stations we were directed the wrong way by two locals independently (NB: they weren’t even drunk!)  and ended up walking BACK the way we’d travelled on the subway, making it even further to reach the right station. As it turned out, it wasn’t going to be a successful day for directions.

SO…we arrived in Osaka later than intended. With only time to sit in café before we had to go on our printer mission.

Printer collected, deposited in locker, plans for Osaka castle postponed by rain, we found ourselves wandering along a shopping arcade, mainly full of low-end eateries and gaming zones. But AH! was it good to be strolling in Big City air. How I miss that living in Kyoto. We entered a game zone where my money-hunting mode overrode by conscious senses and I located myself a 1,000円 (~£8.70)  note – nice! It, therefore, felt like a legitimate activity to try and win some kind of paraphanalia relating to possibly the strangest popstar ever to exist…..because she doesn’t actually exist. Yes! Japan is home to a CGI superstar.

How can a cartoon be this hot?

We then went to check out a large manga store. And I swear I’m not exaggerating when I say that about 50% of that store was dedicated to porn.  Don’t just think of the porn for the guys. There was plenty of S&M yaoi (boy love) for the ladies. Oh, but here I do exaggerate a little bit: I did find a really heart-warming incestuous story about two brothers as well. Standard.

So after perusing the store, and Calle bemoaning the lack of decent sci-fi in stock, we had to hunt out a restaurant before I gave in to my brewing cannibalistic tendencies. You can read about our lunch, all the weirdly-named eateries and gross food by clicking here.

Refuelled on Western food, or at least, a Japanese attempt at Western food, it was time to hit the shops. But which direction to go in? Where was the best shopping district? We could see a couple of giant department stores but we wanted to find smaller shopping districts. Sadly, that was not to be. Whilst stopped outside a conveni, a man sidled up to me, giving me a smile and a nod. Are you lost? he asked. It was pretty clear that whether we were lost or not, he was going to “help” us. He wore a leather jacket and was swigging cheap beer from a can. He was definitely inebriated. “Shops? I know shops! Big shopping centre! Follow me!” Our protests that we’d already seen the shopping centre were in vain. We were escorted there….so we decided we might as well enter the 9 storey monstrosity.

The name of the mall itself was intriguing: HEP FIVE. Now I’d only heard of Hep A and B. But conveniently, Wikipedia, informs me that there are actually 5 hepatitis virus forms. Could it be that you can find them in this mall, all under one roof?! Don’t forget about the Hepatitis Whale to keep you company as you shop. I like to think of him as benignly spreading STDs with the help of his cousins, the Sperm Whales.

The Hepatitis Whale

We perused the fashion shops, all aimed at the young market and yet with prices way above high street shops in the UK. Why? Probably because they have to fund projects like this to invite people in:

Now that's what I call a Bunny Girl!

However, this mall has subsequently become a very important place for me. For a very personal reason. I decided to get married. I can remember the very place. It was on the fourth floor. We’d just come up the escalator from the third floor. And then I realised: I HAD TO WEAR THOSE WEDDING DRESSES OVER THERE, LOOK LOOK LOOOOOOK!

Check these babies out:

Actually, the ones in the store were even more ostentatious, and possibly nauseating to many. But I love them! I want giant flowers and bows all over my wedding dress. I can see it now… I just need to convince Calle to marry me and pay for the dress… and for the divorce should he fail to buy eggs again.

We continued on our upwards journey until we got to floor 7, where for only 500円, we got to ride a really slow ferris wheel, 106m up in the air. Calle was completely comfortable with the height.

Calle: "Stop jumping, Phoebe. Please. Please!

The views it afforded were amazing! Can’t wait to go again on a sunny day!

Our day concluded by attending a Thanksgiving party, hosted by my employer, Tom Brown, of Tom’s Burger Bar and Brown’s English. He cooked a meal for a small army. Check it out:

Turkey feast