During my recent visit to Osaka, my daughter and I signed up for a cooking class with Eat Osaka. We learned to make Yakitori, Okonomiyaki, and Kitsune Udon – three traditional and popular Japanese festival foods. Just like fair food we enjoy stateside, festival or street food in Japan is often served on a stick so you can eat while walking.
Our instructor, Arisa, spoke excellent English in a soothing voice, gave easy to follow directions, and was friendly and encouraging. The custom-made prep table was set up with three stations and we set to work. Arisa began by showing us how to make their special home made yakitori sauce, then, prepared the skewers by threading chunks of chicken thigh meat alternatively with leeks on the wooden skewers. While the skewers of chicken and onion gently cooked, she taught us the traditional (and very surprising!) method for making udon noodles from scratch. The udon is served “Osaka style” with sweet, fried tofu in a delicious soup called Kitsune Udon.
The recipe for udon is incredibly easy, like pasta, but no pasta machine required. And Arisa’s little secret: wrapping the dough ball in plastic wrap and tucking it in the pocket of your pants for 30 minutes to let it rise. After the 30 minutes, the dough is rolled out, sliced into thin strips, tossed with flour until thoroughly coated, and cooked in boiling water. Easy, peasy, you just made your own noodles!
- 55 ml water
- 5 g salt
- 120 g flour
- 300 ml water
- 2.5 g dashi powder
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon mirin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Garnish: fish cake fried tofu, scallions
In a bowl, mix the water, salt, and flour. Work the dough until it forms into a sticky ball, generously flour your hands and work surface, knead the dough into a thick disk, folding it in half and pressing it out again repeating for 5 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, place in a plastic bag and put it in a pocket of your clothing for 30 minutes. (Putting it in an apron pocket is not close enough to your body heat.)
After 30 minutes place the dough ball on a well-floured work surface and roll out until the dough is 1-2 mm thin (about 1/4 inch thickness).
Fold the dough lengthwise and cut into 3 mm strips.
Place in a pot of boiling water and cook for 12 minutes, separating the noodles with chopsticks as they cook. Remove the noodles with a slotted spoon, place in a sieve and rinse well with cold water.
While the dough is rising, make the broth by adding the 300 ml water, dashi powder, soy sauce, mirin, and salt to a pot. Bring to a gentle boil before pouring onto the noodles in a bowl.
Garnish soup with sliced fish cake, fried tofu, and scallions. Sprinkle with togarashi spice, if desired.
We finished with a third festival favorite, chopstick okonomiyaki. This Osakan pancake is famous all over the country and comes filled with vegetables and herbs and topped with cheese, bonito flakes and Eat Osaka’s special okonomi bbq sauce. Although ubiquitous in Japan, there are many variations of okonomiyaki by region and shop – in Osaka, Dotonbori is street food paradise – allow the savory aromas to lead the way to your first taste of this authentic Japanese rolled omelet. We were all a little nervous about messing up our okonomiyaki but, with Arisa’s guidance, all three of us successfully rolled our okonomiyaki around the chopstick. A sense of relief and pride with a streak of hunger over came us as we slid our edible handiwork off its chopstick and onto a plate, artfully drizzled okonomiyaki sauce and Japanese mayonnaise, scattered bonito flakes on top and waited with anticipation to dive in! Taking a cooking class is something I look forward to doing wherever I travel – it’s a great way to learn from a local, talk with other like-minded visitors from around the world, experience some aspect of the regional cuisine, and bring home a recipe or two that serves as a lovely reminder of the trip every time you make it. Taste memories stay with you forever.
When it comes to buying mementos, I seek items that are specific to that country and, for a chef or avid home cook, that meant a handcrafted Japanese knife. Japanese knives are the finest in the world and Osaka is known for producing the best knives in all of Japan. Once the era of the samurai was over, sword makers transitioned to hammering out knives, one by one, with keen precision. One big bonus about Eat Osaka, they have partnered with their neighbor Tower Knives to give participants a chance to use some of the best Kansai (Osaka) knives in the world!
Conveniently located right around the corner, I made a beeline for Tower Knives and bought this beauty to replace my lost santoku – bring your passport for an 8% duty free discount and they do all the paperwork for you! At 14,000 yen (about $116 USD) it was the best buy ever – and I’ll think of Osaka every time this beauty slices effortlessly through a tomato or quickly juliennes a carrot!
You can even snap a photo of the man who painstakenly hammered the knife that bears his inscription.