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Pretty much every country has their version of a pancake (everybody loves pancakes).  Japan’s is called okonomiyaki — a savoury pancake that’s filled with various meats and veggies.  It’s an Osaka specialty, so yeah, obviously I had to try it while I was here.

And I clearly picked the right place to do it; I’ve had okonomiyaki a few times, and I’ve always liked it, though it’s never particularly stood out.  The one they served at Okonomiyaki Chitose definitely stood out.

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

They have a few different versions on the menu.  I went with the one that’s filled with shrimp, squid, pork belly, and noodles.

The chef cooks it on a griddle right in front of you, and just watching it get made is  entertaining on its own.

It starts with a mixture of the veggies and the batter.  He also cooks the seafood on the griddle off to the side.

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

Then he adds the cooked seafood to the pancake, followed by the noodles, and finally the pork (which is still raw at this point).

He adds more batter to each pancake…

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

…then deftly flips them over.

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

Finally, he slathers on some mayo, adds a couple of other sauces, some seasoning, and it’s ready to eat.

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

It was incredibly delicious.  The texture was perfect — previous okonomiyakis that I’ve tried have been a little bit doughy, but this featured an amazing balance of crispy exterior, fluffy interior, and chewy noodles, not to mention the perfectly cooked seafood.  The combo of the creamy mayonnaise and the slightly sweet, slightly tangy sauces compliments it perfectly.  It was ridiculous how much better it was than any okonomiyaki I’ve had before.

Considering that sushi might be Japan’s most ubiquitous food export, it’s one of those things that you pretty much have to try at least once while you’re here.

And of course, ideally you’d go to a high-end place like Jiro to taste the best of the best — the type of experience you’d never be able to have back home.  Sadly, dropping several hundred dollars on one meal just isn’t in the budget, as much as I’d like it to be.

Endo Sushi in Osaka, Japan

There are, however, a bunch of sushi joints in Osaka that are both well-regarded and not absurdly expensive, including the one I just went to, Endo Sushi.  They have a pretty good deal where you get five pieces of sushi for about 13 bucks Canadian — not cheap, certainly, but not unreasonable either.

Sadly, the sushi was quite tasty, but not much more than that — definitely not the mind-blowing sushi experience you might hope for in Japan (I suspect I might have to spring for a Jiro type of place if that’s the goal).

Endo Sushi in Osaka, Japan

There were a few things that I really liked, however.  Each plate had a piece of sushi with otoro tuna, and man, that stuff was good.  Otoro comes from the belly of the fish, and thanks to how fatty it is, it pretty much just melts in your mouth.  It’s like tuna butter.

Endo Sushi in Osaka, Japan

The other highlight was, surprisingly enough, the egg nigiri.  I’ve never quite understood the appeal of this particular type of sushi — the ones I’ve had back home were always slightly rubbery and overcooked.  This one, on the other hand, was almost creamy — it was perfect and eggy, and eating it was a definite eureka moment.  Oh, that’s what that’s supposed to taste like.  Good to know.

Endo Sushi in Osaka, Japan

Otherwise it was fine, but not much better than the best sushi I’ve had back home.  Most disappointingly, the seasoning was off.  Better sushi like this shouldn’t require the usual soy sauce/wasabi combo — it should have already been seasoned by the chef.  But some of the pieces were pretty bland, and others had wasabi applied so prodigiously they were like a roundhouse kick to my nasal passages.

There’s an area in Osaka called Dotombori that’s pretty much tourist central, and when you go there, it’s easy enough to see why.  The main street here is absolutely festooned with restaurants, each with a zanier and more elaborate sign than the last.

There are any number of animals, including a crab (I probably should have taken a video of that one — its legs move up and down)….

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

…a blowfish…

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

…an octopus…

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

…and another crab (which also has moving legs).

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

And the wackiness doesn’t stop there.

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

Or there.

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

I think you get the idea.

Plus, if you go around the corner, there’s a bunch of elaborate ads overlooking the Dotombori canal, including the iconic Glico Running Man, which has been an Osaka landmark since 1935.

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

Plus, there’s this location of Don Quijote, a Japanese chain of discount stores.  Yes, that’s a ferris wheel, though it’s no longer in use.

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

From the outside, you can barely even tell that Fu-ka is a restaurant.  Tucked away in a quiet residential street near one of Kyoto’s many shrines, it’s pretty much the definition of a hidden gem.

Fu-ka in Kyoto, Japan

They have a small menu that focuses on curry; I went with the curry omurice (which, for the uninitiated, is a Japanese dish that consists of an omelette on top of a pile of rice).

Fu-ka in Kyoto, Japan

The curry had a mild but satisfying flavour, and the chunks of beef were nice and tender — but what really made this dish stand out was the omelette itself.  They say that the truest test of a chef’s skills are the way he makes an omelette, because it’s so simple to make but incredibly difficult to do well.

Fu-ka in Kyoto, Japan

If that’s the case then the chef here must be pretty amazing, because this might have been the best omelette I’ve ever had.  It was silky, creamy, and luxurious; at first glance I thought it might be a bit underdone, but there was none of the sliminess you get from undercooked eggs, just a uniformly velvety texture that was downright magical.  It was so good.

The Gekkeikan Sake company in Kyoto has a sake museum, and it’s actually quite similar to the Heineken and Guinness tours I did in Europe (right down to the fact that it’s housed in an ex-brewery).

However, it’s a lot smaller than those two, and doesn’t have quite the same element of flashy corporate spectacle.  You start in an area that goes over how Sake is made, then you proceed into a small museum that outlines the history of the Gekkeikan brand (it’s been around since 1637, so there’s some history there), then finally you get to try some sake.

The Gekkeikan Sake company Sake Museum in Kyoto, Japan

They give you two different types of sake and a plum wine to try.  The sake wasn’t bad at all — this was only my second time trying sake, and while it’s not exactly my new favourite drink, it’s pleasantly sweet and fruity.

The plum wine, on the other hand, wasn’t great.  It basically tasted like boozy sugar water.  It was way too sweet.

The Gekkeikan Sake company Sake Museum in Kyoto, Japan

All that and I was out the door about twenty minutes after I came in.  So it’s probably not worth coming too far out of your way for — but at least it’s ridiculously cheap at 300 yen (just over three bucks Canadian), which includes the sake samples, plus a small bottle of sake to take home.

I mentioned in a recent post that the under-the-radar temples and shrines in Kyoto are where it’s at; well, on the other end of the spectrum is the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is famous for its seemingly endless pathways of orange gates.

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

It’s a stunning sight, but it’s also as insanely packed with tourists as you’d fear, especially at the beginning of the trail.

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Thankfully, it’s about four kilometres long and leads up into Mount Inari, and as you get deeper inside, it becomes less and less crowded.

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Towards the end, it was finally empty enough for me to take a picture like this:

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

And, because I have a hard time writing a blog post without talking about food, there’s a little cafe about halfway up that sells soft serve ice cream cones.  One of them was “soy bean flour” flavoured, and of course, I had to try it.

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

It wasn’t bad — it had a mildly nutty flavour, and was a nice treat after a long uphill walk.

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

You also get a pretty good view of the city from up there (which would have been better if it weren’t so hazy out).

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

I know, more cemeteries?  Weird, right?  Well what can I say, they’re entrancing.

Temple cemeteries in Kyoto, Japan

Many of the temples in Kyoto have a cemetery attached, and some of them are quite striking.

Temple cemeteries in Kyoto, Japan

I took a brief video at one of them.  It doesn’t really capture it (it’s mostly wind noise from the tiny built-in microphone on my camera), but there was something weirdly serene and kind of eerie about the sense of quiet here; just birds chirping and boards clacking.

Then there was this odd pyramid of sorts at one of the cemeteries; I don’t know what it was, but it was certainly memorable.

Temple cemeteries in Kyoto, Japan

I am, however, always vaguely paranoid that I’ll accidentally knock over a tombstone or something and wind up with a Grudge-esque curse, so if I die under mysterious circumstances here, you’ll know what’s what.

Temple cemeteries in Kyoto, Japan

On the 21st day of every month, the Toji Temple in Kyoto gets transformed into a bustling market — something I had no idea about until the owner of the pug cafe clued me in.  Ah, pug cafe: the gift that keeps on giving.

Toji Temple Market in Kyoto, Japan

It’s a pretty typical flea market, filled with all of the useless knick-knacks and quirky junk that you’d expect, but it’s still interesting to wander around, and the location can’t be beat.

Toji Temple Market in Kyoto, Japan

There are also intense, claustrophobia-inducing crowds, so it might be a good idea to either go first thing in the morning or later in the day, not smack-dab in the middle of the afternoon like I did.

Toji Temple Market in Kyoto, Japan

I was surprised by the amount of food to be had; there was all kinds of street food like takoyaki, okinomiyaki, and yakitori (all of the yakis, basically).

Toji Temple Market in Kyoto, Japan

It didn’t occur to me that there’d be so much food there, so I had already eaten lunch.  Like an idiot.

Toji Temple Market in Kyoto, Japan

I did, however, partake in one of these cakey, sweet bean-filled things.

Toji Temple Market in Kyoto, Japan

As far as I can tell, these are identical to the ubiquitous fish cakes that you see everywhere in this part of the world, just in a different shape.  It’s hard to go wrong with these things, especially when they’re hot and fresh.

So there are posters of this guy all over Kyoto — I’m assuming he’s a politician of some sort — and in almost all of them, he’s doing a totally normal pose.  But in this one, which I only saw a couple of times, he’s doing… whatever it is that he’s doing.

Seriously, what is he doing?  This must be some kind of specifically Japanese cultural thing, because as far as I’m aware, there are only two reasons to do that pose:

  1. He’s about to shoot lightning out of his fingers like Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi.
  2. He’s about to strangle somebody.

Neither of those things seems like something a politician would want to do, so…  I’m stumped.

I didn’t think it was possible, but I may have found a bowl of ramen that’s too rich.  Because I just went to a local chain called Tenkaippin that specializes in an incredibly hearty chicken-based soup, and yowza.

Tenkaippin in Kyoto, Japan

It’s the heaviest bowl of ramen (or any soup) that I’ve ever had.  It really did taste like a bowl of gravy with noodles in it.

Tenkaippin in Kyoto, Japan

I don’t know if you can tell from that picture, but the soup was clinging to the noodles like alfredo sauce on fettuccine.  It was nuts.

Tenkaippin in Kyoto, Japan

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it — it was actually quite good.  But it still probably falls under the category of “too much of a good thing.”  I don’t think a bowl of ramen has ever left me feeling so full.