Osaka is overflowing with food. Small apartments, skinny kitchens, and easy access to the entire city make going out the preferable option for many. And given the relatively cheap cost of living in this city, spending a little bit more money on well-prepared food is no guilty pleasure, it’s just part of daily life.
Looking in a guide book, you’ll likely be shown around the hustle-bustle of Osaka’s Namba and Shinsaibashi areas. These are no doubt great neighborhoods. While you’ll certainly experience a lot of the city’s signature character, you may miss out on seeing what day-to-day life is for its regular residents.
That’s why I decided to take a stroll a few kilometers east to the Tanimachi area. It’s there, at Tanimachi-6-cho-me station, that one finds older streets and restored traditional homes transformed into boutiques and restaurants. It may not have that same big city vibe of its more tourist-friendly neighbor, but the food is certainly better and the locals more relaxed.
We start at a warm and inviting soba restaurant called Imanara. Unlike ramen shops, soba establishments make their noodles in-house. The most typical soba serving is in the “zaru” style — chilled noodles nestled on a traditional wooden strainer, which are then dipped into a light “tsuyu” sauce. Grated daikon, ginger and green onions are also common additions. We order fried fish cakes, followed by zaru soba with tempura, and a sesame soba dish called “goma no oosama.” Despite the fried tempura and fish cakes, the cold soba makes the meal feel light and healthy.
Following our filling soba experience, we convince ourselves to try out one more spot. This one’s an izakaya at the end of the street called En. Also a restored home, a corner shelf is adorned with locally produced kitchenware and accessories for sale. A cozy downstairs area also boasts a garden fountain. Once we sit down, a delicious line-up of Japanese craft beer and well-prepared ko-zara (small plates) dishes await.
First out is a complimentary bite-sized serving of miso paste and nuts. Following that, onion salad, salmon sashimi and a baby tomato pork wrap dish are ordered alongside domestic craft beers. Everything tastes amazing, and it’s a shame we’ve already eaten so much because there’s so much more to try! We decide to come back again when our appetites are ready for the treat.
What’s so wonderful about neighborhoods like this? For one, many of the restaurants on these streets are locally owned. The owner took an old house, opened up the first floor, and created a dining experience that is tastier and more enjoyable than the chain-operated restaurants lining the highly-trafficked streets in the city center. Then, there’s the added bonus of the architecture — using previous residential spaces for a restaurant provides for space like backyard dining tables, fountains and high ceilings. Finally, the clientele is largely local, so the atmosphere is relaxed and low-key. It’s a great way to sample the city without feeling like a tourist.
If you’re keen on exploring the Tanimachi neighborhood, take the Tanimachi subway line to Tanimachi 6-cho-me station. To find the soba restaurant and izakaya mentioned above, take exit number three and immediately turn left where you’ll find a small alley. Walk down this alley and you’re all set! Also of note, there’s a shoutengai (walking covered shopping arcade) about 100 meters south of exit 3. For similarly delicious lunch options, I encourage you to take a peak.
Imanara 6-2-21 Tanimachi Chuo-ku Osaka 540-0012
En 2-6-24 Uehonmachi Nichi Chuo-ku Osaka 542-0062