A rich culinary culture has blossomed in "The Kitchen of Nation" where specialty products from all over the country gathered.
A fertile plain expands across the center of Osaka Prefecture, while the Seto Inland Sea borders by its west (Osaka Bay), and mountains can be found on the prefectural borders to the north, east, and south. With a mild climate throughout the year, the prefecture has been blessed with bounties from both the sea and the mountains.
By the end of the 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who succeeded in unifying the whole country, established his headquarters in Osaka. Hideyoshi built a huge castle in Osaka (Osaka Castle) and promoted the development and maintenance of the surrounding area, creating a castle town with vast moat rivers. At a time when ships were the main means of transportation, Osaka, which faces the sea and has abundant waterways, became a hub for the distribution of goods and rapidly developed as a commercial city.
Data was acquired with the help of Naniwa Kappo Kigawa.
Collaborator: Mana Kumagai (NIPPON KONAMON ASSOCIATION)
Even after the Edo period, when the political center moved to Edo, Osaka remained a major economic and commercial center thanks to its well developed land and sea transportation infrastructure. Annual tax rice and specialty products from all over the country were collected in warehouses in Osaka, sold by merchants, and sent all over the country. Osaka, where ingredients from every region of Japan were commonly traded, received the name "The Kitchen of the Nation," resulting in the development of a wide and diverse culinary tradition that makes use of the finest ingredients. The passion for food and an ethos concerning its waste that can be seen in the appreciation of ingredients, as well as the rejection of its misuse and discarding, has nurtured such a rich culinary culture that the city has been given the popular name of "town of eating to death."
On the other hand, in the surrounding areas full of the natural environments of mountains and sea, among others, a local gastronomical tradition that utilizes the ingredients of each area has been also passed down for generations. Osaka Bay used to be called "Naniwa" (fish garden) due to its abundant fish, so there are plenty of fish based local dishes to be had in the coastal areas. In addition, in the plains and mountain village areas, the traditional vegetables that have been cultivated within these regions since old times have been widely used in their cuisine. However, since these traditional vegetables have been disappearing in recent years, Osaka Prefecture has put forward efforts to revive and popularize them, such as certifying varieties that have been grown in the prefecture for more than 100 years as "Naniwa traditional vegetables."
A "Dashi culture" has developed based around kelp
Osakans appreciate the taste of Dashi stock. As well as within soups, Dashi can also be found in Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, and other flour based dishes. Dashi made with bonito is customary in the Kanto region, however, in Osaka, it is preferred to have Dashi made with "Konbu" kelp as the main ingredient and accompany it with bonito flakes.
It is thought that historical and geographical backgrounds may be related to the differences in flavor of the Dashi stocks in different regions. In the Edo period, when maritime traffic thrived, large amounts of kelp found their way into Osaka when "Nishimawari Koro," the westbound route connecting the region with Hokkaido (a production area of kelp) through the Sea of Japan, was established. This route is now sometimes referred to as the "Konbu Road." It is also said that the rise in popularity of Konbu Dashi in Osaka was helped as well by the fact that the water in Osaka was soft, so the conditions were in place for delicious Dashi to be made from Konbu. And then, this Dashi was mixed with the flakes made from the bonito brought from Wakayama, Kochi, and Kagoshima, and thus, Awase Dashi was born.
It is also interesting to note that even within the Kansai region there are differences to be appreciated, as the "Makonbu" variety of kelp, which has a rich flavor, is used the most in Osaka, while "Rishiri" kelp, which has a lighter taste, is preferred in Kyoto.
And if we are to look for a dish that allows you to appreciate the taste of Dashi itself, it has to be Udon. Among all Udon dishes, the Osakan favorite is Kitsune Udon, a variety topped with sweet and salty "Aburaage" (fried tofu). It is a simple dish, yet perfect as it is, that allows us to enjoy the harmony of Dashi, Udon, and other ingredients.
Now, we will proceed to present to you the culinary culture of Osaka Prefecture, divided into 4 areas: Osaka City, the Hokusetsu region, the Kawachi and Minamikawachi regions, and the Senshu region.
< Osaka City >
The cultural and economic center of western Japan. Restaurants fiercely compete with each other serving delicious food at affordable prices
Osaka City, located almost in the center of Osaka Prefecture, is also the center of economy, culture, and transportation not only in Osaka Prefecture but in all of western Japan. Thanks to its location facing the sea and its many rivers, this commercial town developed into a port city.
Osaka City has many different faces to show across its different areas, such as the Kita area where the latest trends are born, the Minami area where one can enjoy the atmosphere of Osaka, and the Osaka Castle area where one can fully appreciate the history of the region.
Semba, located between Kita and Minami, is the economic center where Toyotomi Hideyoshi gathered merchants from Sakai as the castle town was built. Osaka cuisine is said to be a "zero waste cuisine" and this ethos is clearly reflected in the "Semba Jiru," which has been popular in Semba since the olden days. In the past, many servants worked at the merchant houses in Semba, and their eating habits were extremely modest. They would have fish, such as salted mackerel, only two times per month. Semba Jiru is made by taking the stock made from the head, bones, and other leftovers that remain after having used the main parts of the fish, and simmering "Daikon" radish in it. Since it uses ingredients that would otherwise go to waste, this was a very economical dish, which added to the fact that it requires little work to prepare, resulting in it being greatly appreciated among merchant houses.
When people think of Osaka, the first dishes that come to their minds are Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki. These flour based dishes are not only indispensable soul foods in the day to day life of Osakans but have also gained popularity as a symbol of Osaka among tourists. Shops that serve Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki can be found throughout the city, including in sightseeing spots and downtown areas, and they offer a wide variety of unique variations in elements such as the Dashi, dough, and ingredients.
< Hokusetsu region >
Heading away from the city center for a while, you will be able to enjoy the scenery of mountains, rivers, and "Satoyama" areas (mixed spaces of low density urbanization, farming, and natural areas).
There are 2 "Class A rivers" (rivers deemed of special importance and protected by the government) that flow across Osaka Prefecture. One is the Yodo River, which originates from Lake Biwa. The other is the Yamato River, for which a new channel was excavated during the Edo period.
The Hokusetsu area is located north of the Yodo River. The prefectural border is a mountainous area, and the southern region is covered by residential areas. There are plenty of places within Hokusetsu that allow its visitors to fully enjoy nature, such as Expo'70 Commemorative Park, famous for the Tower of the Sun, and Hokusetsu Prefectural Natural Park, and if you head just a little far from the city center, you can also enjoy the scenery of the Satoyama.
Agriculture also thrives in the locality and, in addition to Japanese chestnuts from the Nose area known "Ginyose," traditional "Naniwa" (old name of Osaka) vegetables such as "Suita Kuwai," "Hattori Shirauri," "Mishima Udo," "Torikai Nasu" eggplants, "Takayama Gobo" burdocks, and "Takayama Mana" are also produced.
Since the late Edo period, agar has been produced in the mountain villages of the Hokusetsu region during winter, which was a leisure season for the local farmers. "Decchi Yokan" was made from this agar. Thanks to its moderate sugar content, Decchi Yokan has a rather delicate taste compared to ordinary Yokan, which requires plenty of sugar for its preparation.
< Kawachi and Minamikawachi regions >
An area with a long history dating back to ancient times. A local gastronomical tradition that brings the culture of the rural communities into our present day
In the eastern part of Osaka Prefecture, the Kawachi and Minamikawachi regions spread north and south, respectively, from the Yamato River. Due to the great political influence that the area played in ancient times, there are many local attractions with a long history behind them, such as huge burial mounds built in the 4th and 5th centuries, ruins, and cultural heritage sites. The area has a long relationship with overseas immigrants, and since many people have traversed the area since ancient times due to the major road that crosses through it connecting Osaka with areas such as Kyoto and Nara, the character of the locality has been influenced by a rich and diverse group of people. Thanks to the redirection of Yamato River during the Edo period, the cultivation of "Kawachi" cotton flourished and the textile industry developed.
Nowadays, in addition to vegetables such as eggplants and cucumbers, fruit trees such as grapes, mandarin oranges, and figs are also actively cultivated in the foothills, and forestry sites are spreading in the mountainous areas. Higashiosaka City and Yao City are known as manufacturing towns.
There is a local dish that brings the culture of the rural communities into our present day known as "Akaneko." Akaneko is a "Mochi" confectionery made from glutinous rice and wheat flour, which was eaten at the beginning of July, after planting the rice, while praying for a good harvest. It is said that this confectionery owes its name (red cat, with the word "red" also being used to identify colors that we would usually refer to as brown, orange, etc.) to the fact that, back then, the mochi would turn brown since the wheat would be ground with the skin on, and its shape resembled that of a curled up cat.
Even now, urban agriculture is developing in the area, taking advantage of its proximity to the large market that is Osaka City.
< Senshu area >
The eggplants known as "Senshu Mizunasu," a brand of vegetable representative of Senshu, are a typical product when presented in their lightly pickled form.
The Senshu area, located in the southwestern part of Osaka Prefecture, borders Osaka Bay to the west and the Izumi Mountains to the south and is blessed with the natural environments of both mountains and sea. The Kansai International Airport is located in the area, and the region is easily accessible from both inside and outside Japan. There are also many places where you will be able to get in touch with the history of the region, such as Nintoku Tenno Ryo Kofun, one of the largest tombs in the world, and Kishiwada Castle, which dates back to the Nanboku-Cho Period.
The Senshu region, which has been blessed by nature and remains warm throughout the year, has a variety of specialty products, but one that is particularly well known nationwide is the "Senshu Mizunasu" eggplant. Mizunasu (meaning water eggplant), as the name suggests, is characterized by its juiciness, and thanks to its soft taste, can be enjoyed raw. In the past, farmers in this area used to plant Mizunasu eggplants in the corners of their fields and used them to quench their thirst. The classic presentation of this product is the "Senshu Mizunasu no Asazuke" which is made of Mizunasu eggplants quickly pickled in bases such as "Nuka" rice bran.
Then, after the Senshu Mizunasu is slowly pickled in a bed of salted Nuka used for pickling, known as "Nukadoko," it can be stewed together with shrimps to prepare a dish known as "Jako Goko." "Jako" refers to the shrimp, and "Goko" to the pickles. It can be said that this dish, which makes use of the shrimps caught in the nearby sea and the specialty Mizunasu eggplants of the region, is a unique local dish of Senshu.