>More good & cheap eats in Osaka

>Endo Sushi (ゑんどう寿司)


For fresh, good and cheap sushi, you can’t go far with Endo Sushi, located at the Osaka Central Wholesale Market. This venerated sushi joint has a history spanning 100 years and is a favourite with locals. The location can be a little out of the way for most travellers as it’s not located near any tourist attraction or shopping district.


But it makes for a worthwhile trip to start your day right with platefuls of fresh, delectable sushi. Do take note that the staff hardly speaks any English, save for the affable owner, who speaks at most, a smattering of phrases such as “Set?” (to enquire if you’re having
the sushi set, which comes with tea, miso soup and sushi), “More?”, and “Where are you from?”. You get the idea.


The sushi comes served as a mixed plate of 5 different types. The chef takes note to change the variety of sushi with each new plate ordered, keeping only the toro (tuna belly) consistently available on each plate. Each plate costs ¥1000 (approx USD 9, SGD 13). The sushi is served slightly different from what we were used to, as the rice was still warm (apparently a testament to the popularity of the sushi. To meet the orders, there is simply no time for the rice to cool.) and there is no wasabi (grated horseradish) available on the tables, only soyu (soy sauce which you apply with a brush. It’s communal, so the “no double-dipping” policy applies here) and gari (pickled ginger).


Eating the sushi becomes a fun challenge as each new plate of sushi gets stacked on top of the emptied plates, letting you keep count of the number of plates, hence the number of pieces you’ve devoured. We noted that every other diner ate a minimal of 3 plates each. At this point, my travel companion, having enjoyed his sushi so much, joked that he would ask the owner what is the most number of plates anyone has eaten at one sitting, so he could issue a challenge to top that number and leave his mark on Endo Sushi (and possibly have his picture taken and framed up on the wall, alongside that of the Japanese celebrities).


After much wild gesticulation to communicate our question across, we received the answer from the owner: 30 plates. The ravenous culprit in question? A sumo wrestler. Needless to say, my travel companion wisely forgo his proposition.


Endo Sushi Restaurant is located near the car park to the left of the Central Wholesale Market. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Noda Station on the JR Loop line. It’s also accessible via subway on the Sennichimae Line, exit Tamagawa station. The market can be a little tricky to navigate, but you can do what we did and pop into a hotel or police station along the way to ask for directions (please carry a map and it’ll probably help to note down the hiragana characters of Endo ゑんどう寿司 and the kanji name of the Central Wholesale Market 中央市場).


Address: 1-1-86 Noda, Fukushima-ku.
Tel: 06-6461-7773.
Opening hours: 5am to 2pm (closed on Sundays).
Website: http://www.endo-sushi.com

Picture taken from www.endo-sushi.com, showing the Market façade and the location of Endo, indicated by the red arrow.



>To eat cheaply & well in Osaka

>Kinryu Ramen / Golden Dragon Ramen 金龍

Looking for good and cheap eats in Osaka? Head to any one of the three Kinryu Ramen stalls in Dotonburi. Hard to miss with the gigantic 3D fibreglass dragon sprawled overhead the stalls.

Order via a coin-slot machine, the ¥600 (approx USD 5.50, SGD 8) or the ¥900 (approx USD 8, SGD 12) noodle soup (with char siew –roasted pork. Highly recommended, worth paying an extra ¥300 for the delightful slices of char siew).

The kick is in the complimentary self-service array of condiments. Help yourself to the pepper, garlic, Kimchi (Korean-styled spicy pickled cabbage) and chilli-pickled chives, mix them up with your ramen and savour the goodness of the resulting broth. Satisfy your craving any time as the outlets are open 24hours.

As my travel companions and I stayed nearby at the Swissotel Nankai (a good hotel linked conveniently to the Namba station and located in the prime food and entertainment district of Namba), we often braved the wintry winds to satiate our supper cravings for Kinryu ramen. Once, we encountered a group of Hong Kong tourists who cabbed all the way in the dead of the night for two bowls of ramen each. They devoured the first bowl, then ordered a second, only to drink up the broth, leaving the noodles intact. A unfortunate waste of good noodles, but I understand their craving for a second bowl of the hearty broth. The soup stock of pork bones tasted divine!

Dotonburi (道頓堀) is a shopping/restaurant street located in the Namba district, accessible via the subway. Exit either Namba station (なんば駅) or Shinsaibashi station (心斎橋駅) on the red Midosuji (御堂筋線) line.

>In Anticipation of Travel

>

I’m planning a trip to Osaka, Japan this February. I’ve got the tickets and accommodation booked and I have been doing so much reading up on Osaka, that I feel like I’m almost there already!

Yes, I’m experiencing that foremost emotion of travel – the excitement that wells up in the soon-to-be traveller, the imaginings of all that the fore coming trip promises to be, the impulsion to pack the bags and head there immediately – I’m talking about the anticipation of travel.

For most of us, travelling overseas for holiday is something done on a well-earned break. It is a departure from the norm, a getaway from the usual drone of the daily grind. It is time to rest and relax, to indulge and have fun. It is a grand time to look forward to.

Which is why so much is invested on an upcoming trip, especially so when you’re travelling free and easy and planning your own itinerary. Not only do you have the holiday experiences to look forward to when you finally arrive at the destination, you’ll also have to choose your own activities and plan your own schedule. This research and planning stage serves as an appetizer that titillates the travel palate and arouses the wanderlust curiosity, all conspiring to cook up a frenzy of excitement, heralding the upcoming trip. And the correlation is direct; the more research and planning done for the trip, in the other words, the more time and effort invested to ante-trip, the greater become your expectations of the trip and the more intense your anticipation of it.

Ante-trip

Fortified with information culled from travellers’ tales, the internet, books, magazines and TV travelogues, my impressions of Osaka were building up bit by bit, and my expectations brimming to a hilt.

This will be my first time visiting Osaka and third time to Japan, the first two times being Tokyo. I’ve read that one way for travellers to prime their expectations of Osaka is to take note that the city is often referred to as the anti-capital. Osaka is everything that Tokyo isn’t and most importantly, Osaka isn’t another Tokyo.

For starters, Tokyo is located in the Kanto region, while Osaka is further west, in the heart of the Kansai region. Osakans speak a different Japanese from Tokyoites, expressing themselves more succinctly in the Kansai dialect of Osaka-ben. Tokyo is historically the seat of the political and military power in Japan, while Osaka has traditionally been the centre of commerce and city of merchants. The Osakan way of greeting best sums up their mercantile roots. Instead of the usual “Konni-chiwa” (hello), Osakans acknowledge each other with “Mokari-makka?” which translates to, “Are you earning any money?” to which you would reply “Bochi Bochi Denna”, which means “A little here and there”. And while Tokyoites prefer to be politely politically correct and reserved, Osakans are known to be louder, straight forward and more forthcoming. The difference even stretches to the way they ride the escalators, with Tokyoites keeping to their left while Osakans stick to their right.

Kuidaore

Much has been written about Osaka’s kuidaore culture. There is a popular Japanese saying that goes: Tokyo people ruin themselves by overspending on footwear (hakidaore), Kyoto people on clothing (kidaore), while Osaka people on food (kuidaore).”

To be honest, when I first came across this saying, my eyes lit up. Being quite a glutton myself, I am ecstatic with the promise of Osaka turning out to be a food obsessed city. I imagine meeting and dining among kindred souls who would share my boundless love for food with fondness.

I further trawl the net for specific food recommendations, to take note of the not-to-be-missed delights that I must savour when I am finally there. My searches throw up a melange of cheap eats and snacks, – Takoyaki, griddled octopus balls. “Not to be missed”, hails one finding; “experience frying your own Japanese-styled pancake with an Okonomiyaki meal”, enthuses another – lunch recommendations, – the guidebooks list Oshizushi, compressed box-sushi unique to Osaka; Kitsune Udon, fat noodles served simply with sheets of sweet beancurd – and dinners to splurge on – “savour the fugu (blowfish) feast at Zuboraya” opines a food critic; “you must visit my top recommendation, Kani Doraku and have the succulent crabs” a blogger suggests. My eyes shine, my lips glisten and I find myself subconsciously licking my lips, working up an appetite just collating the list of food items.

City sensory overload

Combing through the images and photographs of Osaka, I gather what are some of the more iconic images of Osaka. The usual suspects of the city’s tourist attractions turned up in pictures of the Osaka Castle, Universal Studios, Kaiyukan Aquarium and the ilk.

But strangely, it seems Osaka may be best represented by images of colourful neon signage and over-the-top, 3 dimensional displays of mechanical fibreglass creatures. Recurring photographs of the Neon-lit running Glico Man billboard in foodie heaven, Dotonbori and that of a gigantic mechanical crab overhead a restaurant made the most indelible impression. That countless photographers see fit to capture the images of eatery signages, testify to the food haven reputation of Osaka. Photographs of not just mechanical crabs, but sprawling fibreglass dragons, octopuses and blowfish lanterns, all sitting pretty above the eateries they are representing, jostle for space in the gallery of Osaka images.

It is also said that Osaka is best appreciated after dusk. Once the sun sets, the grey metropolis with its nondescript concrete skyscrapers springs into life with its vibrant displays of colourful neon signs. Osaka also seems beloved for its night spectacle of neon light displays. The Glico Running Man is just one of the more favoured and enduring display. It seems apt that many travellers have photographed the Running Man for keepsake. From everything I have read, heard and seen of Osaka (short of being physically there, of course), this metropolis seems to be populated with loud, hard-partying denizens and is a place of frenetic, kinetic energy – a city that can possibly be justifiably represented by an over-the-top display of a glaringly-lit man in motion.

The mundane takes on an Osakan twist

From the day I started planning for the trip, each day is heralded as another day closer to departure date. As the days count by, with the anticipation of the trip ever-present in my subconscious, I find myself appreciating the everyday things in a new light. Any information, experience or event remotely related to Osaka or even Japan, suddenly seem pertinent. General knowledge and otherwise objective information suddenly seem highly apropos. Current affairs news about the warmer climes bringing about shorter winters and thus earlier blooming of Ume, Plum Blossoms bring unbridled cheer. I rejoice in the news and gleefully add on the possibility of Ume-viewing to my To-Do list.

Through my planning and waiting for the fore coming trip, it seems I have already took off on the departure flight and am onboard my travel – albeit an anticipatory travel.

* The above was written way back in Jan 2007, when I fancied the notion of trying out for travel writing. However, never got round to submitting the above nor post it anywhere. So here it is now. In Anticipation of Travel, as inspired by a chapter in The Art of Travel, a great book for travel enthusiasts by the way.