By Farah Nadiah on March 22, 2018
In this part, Farah Nadiah continues to explore Kansai’s delights, this time covering Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka and Sakai City. For Part I of this story, read here.
On the third day of our trip, we attended Yoshihiro’s Kyoto Style Confectionery Class, located 10 minutes’ walk from JR Nijo Station. During that one-hour class, we tried our hands at making wagashi, traditional Japanese confections that are often served with tea, under the guidance of a class instructor. The pastry, red beans and confectionery utensils, spoons and chopsticks were provided. After the demonstration by the instructor, we followed the steps to make two types of sweets. At the end of the session, matcha tea was served with other sweets for us to enjoy.
From Osaka, we travelled to Nishinomiya in Hyogo Prefecture to visit the Ozeki brewery. A special tour was organised to enable us to see for ourselves how sake is manufactured at the brewery. The right combination of rice, water and brew-master is important in making sake. We followed every brewing process starting from examining the condition of the rice, determining the rate of rice polishing, fermenting and monitoring the temperature.
After the sake-making tour, we were offered different kinds of sake to smell and guessed the ingredients used to flavour the sake. Like other versatile drink, sake can be paired with various food items to boost its taste. Sake is can be served at room temperature, warm or straight from the refrigerator. At the end of the tour, we made our way to Sekijuan where sake bottles are stocked up. Do not forget to look up for the sake skin care products on sale at Sekijuan, which prove to be efficacious.
Back in Osaka the same afternoon, we tried okonomiyaki, a popular snack in the Kansai region alongside takoyaki. From the moment we entered Kiji Umeda-Ten, we were greeted by the inviting smell of the brown sauce filling. Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake from batter made up of wheat flour added with Japanese yams and cabbage. The uneven square shaped pancake will then be half-grilled with the filling of choice by the chef before transferred to the iron girdle on diner’s table. You can also order okonomiyaki topped with soba noodles. Okonomiyaki is so popular in Kansai that travellers need to queue for them before they can get their hands on this snack.
Address: 1/2F Shinumeda-Shokudogai, 9-20 Kakudacho, Kita-ku, Osaka-shi
Time: 11:30 – 21:30 (Closed on Sundays)
After feting over Japanese food for the last couple of days, it was timely that we visited the Kuromon Ichiba Market of Osaka, where fresh produce is sold. Kuromon Ichiba Market is the ideal place to find arrays of local street food for travellers to sample such as takoyaki, grilled scallop, oden and sashimi. Sushi and sashimi are prepared fresh for immediate consumption. Being the most well-known fresh markets in Osaka to be frequented by foreign travellers, prices here can be steep compared to other local markets. But it would be difficult to resist the temptation of fresh food prepared right under your nose. Travellers may also catch the tuna-cutting demonstration here.
Address: 2-4-1, Nipponbashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
For dinner, we were taken to the neon-lit food street in Kita-ku to taste the exotic tora-fugu (tiger puffer fish) Guenpin Fugu. The wild tiger puffer is highly sought after in Shimonoseki, Japan. With 93 restaurants nationwide, Guenpin Fugu serves exotic delicacies at an affordable price. Since tiger puffer fish is poisonous, the chef is highly trained and has license to dissect the puffer fish and prepare it as a meal.
First, we enjoyed the wild puffer hot-pot course. After devouring the croquettes glazed with fugu sauce and parboiled tiger puffer skin sashimi, I was fascinated to learn how the Japanese hot pot is prepared. A mixture of fugu, prawns, clams, mussels, zucchini in fugu-flavoured clear broth are laid out on paper pot and cooked on diners’ table. It was amazing to see how the food was cooked directly above fire without burning the paper. There are three choices of sauce as condiment, ranging from ponzu (citrus sauce), soy sauce with miso and dip set of sweet spicy soy sauce, garlic salt and sweet spicy miso.
The leftover clear broth from the hot pot was then used to prepare an Italian fusion spaghetti dish. A Japanese porridge mixed with egg was then prepared in another paper pot as our final course. The fugu meal was concluded by Guenpin’s special dessert. The five-dish course at Guenpin Fugu costs between ¥4,500 (MYR162) and ¥9,000 (MYR324).
Address: 4-17 Doyamachou Kita-ku, Osaka-shi
Sakai is one of the 33 cities that make up Osaka Prefecture. It is home to ancient cultural heritage and the place where Chanoyu tea ceremony originated. Starting from the fifth century, the Sakai people had been building ancient tombs in keyhole, round and square shapes. Originally numbered at 100 tombs, the present day Mozu Kofungun consists of only 44 tombs. The largest of the tombs is Nintoku-tenno-ryo Kofun having a mound length of 486 metres. It is also one of the grandest tombs in the world alongside the Great Pyramid of Giza and China’s Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor. The ancient tombs are currently on the tentative list for inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Since the ancient mounds are protected and restricted to the public, you can learn more about kofun and the history of Sakai at Sakai City Museum. At the Mozu Kofungun Theatre, the VR (virtual reality) technology provides the opportunity for travellers to ‘fly over’ the tumulus and view the ancient and current appearance of the major tumuli and obtain explanation regarding the artefacts related to each tumulus.
Address: 2 Mozusekiun-cho, Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
Access: 500m from Mozu Station on the JR Hanwa Line / 280m from Sakaishi Hakubutsukan-mae bus stop on the Nankai Bus Line
Because economy rice is common in Malaysia and Indonesia thus considered mundane, I did not expect to enjoy my economy rice luncheon in Japan. When I walked into Ginshariya Geko-tei, I was brimming with excitement seeing trays of cooked tempura, sashimi, grilled fishes, vegetables and Japanese-styled omelette. Here, I learned about the Japan’s wizard of rice, Tsutomu Murashima, who opened Ginshariya Geko Tei in 1963. He cooked rice with water soaked with oyster shells and charcoal to improve its quality. Ginshariya Geko-Tei’s glossy and aromatic sticky rice is delicious that it keeps on attracting diners to its place even after 25 years since it first opened.
Address: 1-1-30 Shinzaikechonishi, Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
Just across the street from Ginshariya Geko-Tei lies the wondrously ancient dessert shop established in 1329 known as Kanbukuro, which sells its signature items: walnut mochi, a small rice cake covered with sweet green bean paste, and shaved ice walnut mochi. The shop closes when all items are sold out.
Address: 1-2-1, Shinzaikecho-higashi, Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
Access: 3-minute walk from Terajicho bus or 10 minutes’ walk from Mikunigaoka Station on JR Hanwa Line
Sakai Plaza of Rikyu consists of Sen No Rikyu Chanayo Museum, Yosano Akiko Museum, Chanoyu Experience Rooms and Tourist Information Space.
There is no other place better to learn about the tea ceremony than Sakai city itself, which is the birthplace of the great tea master, Sen no Rikyu, who is credited for studying and perfecting chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony). There are also reproductions of two tea rooms in which Rikyu spent his final years. For a genuine chashitsu tea room experience, travellers should attempt at participating in an authentic chanoyu at Chanoyu Experience Room. We tried the casual Ryurei tea ceremony, on which we sat on stools while enjoying matcha green tea and Japanese sweets. Throughout the tea ceremony, we were taught the chanoyu etiquette such as how to properly accept sweets and tea and how to greet the host of the tea ceremony with gratitude.
Address: 2-1-1 Shukuin-Cho Nishi, Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
Access: One minute on foot from Shukuin Sta. Hankai Line/ Approx. 10 minutes-walk from Sakai Sta, Nankai Main Line
We hopped on the Hankai Tramway and later walked along a street lined with old buildings. I found Sakai city nostalgic apart from being highly cultured. Out of the sudden, our tour guide signalled us to enter an old shophouse that looked empty from the outside. Little did we know, the 340-year old building is Tsubouchi Tea House where the Premium Matcha Parfait is made from green tea ice cream, handmade red bean paste, milk and jellies, and shaved ice topped with matcha syrup. On normal days, a long queue forms in front of the Tsubouchi Tea House before you can be seated.
Address: 4-2-23 Kainocho Higashi Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
Access: Take the Hankai tramway Hankai Line, it is within walking distance from Ayanocho Station or Myokokuji-Mae Station.
We also visited the Sakai City Traditional Crafts Museum which was only a five-minute walk from Tsubouchi Tea House. The museum exhibits the traditional craft skill of the Sakai people namely the art of knife-making, incense-making, traditional cloth-dyeing, cloth-weaving and Japanese confectionary culture. Sakai was renowned for its production of iron tools, believed to begin back in 5th Century A.D. during the Kofun Period for construction of the tombs, which then prospered as a place for arms production and cutlery.
Today, Sakai is known for its high-quality Sakai knives, the majority of which are used by professional chefs all over Japan and overseas. On the first floor, the showroom exhibits knives for variety of purposes such as filleting and slicing fishes or sushi-cutting. On the ground floor, Sakai’s other traditional crafts are displayed for sale.
Address: 1-11-30 Zaimoku-cho Nishi, Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
Access: Sakai Higashi Station on the Nankai Koya Line
From the showroom at Sakai City Traditional Crafts Museum, we went to Mizuno Tanrenjo to see for ourselves the ancient traditional Japanese sword-making technique that has been handed down from generation to generation as demonstrated by Atsushi Mizuno, the 5thgeneration of Mizuno family. Mr Mizuno used a spring hammer to bang out the blades forged from steel over traditional charcoal fire and straw ash. The Mizuno Tanrenjo is famous for producing the traditional Japanese kitchen knives called ‘Sakai Uchi’.
Address: 1-1-27, Sakurano-cho-nishi, Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
Standing at the height of 80 metres above ground, the 21st floor observatory deck at Sakai City Hall is the best place to see the whole Sakai City and Kofun tumuli. It is best viewed during the day when you can even see Japan’s tallest skyscraper Abeno Harukas, which houses a train station, hotel, museum, department store and offices.
Address: 3-1 Minamikawara-machi, Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
We concluded our 5D4N Kansai Food Trip by having another exotic cuisine, which was the conger eel full course dinner at City Hotel Seiunso, Sakai. The conger eel is a seawater eel, locally known as anago. Unlike unagi, the conger eel is caught wild from its natural habitat. With crispy fried eel bones as starter, we feasted on the range of food prepared from a medium-size conger eel such as the anago sushi; anago hot pot simmered with mushroom, tofu and other vegetables; pickled vegetables; thin-sliced anago and salad with anagodressing; bonito flakes; and grilled anago. The succulent lean meat of the conger eel leaves behind a light sweet-yet-mild aftertaste in the mouth compared to unagi.
Address: 2-4-14, Dejima Kaigandori, Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
Access: Three-minute walk from Minato Station on Nankai Rail Line; advanced booking is required.
As we spent our final night in Japan at Viainn Abeno Tennoji, we had the opportunity to discover Don Quijote, situated on the ground floor of Abeno Tennoji. Don Quijote is the largest discount stores, with over 150 stores throughout Japan and operates 24 hours with no regular closing day. The Don Quijote stores have over 45,000 products from everyday items to high end. Travellers can shop for souvenir food and quirky electrical appliances to bring home. It is always interesting to wander around a Japanese store and buy daily objects that you never thought existed. We must thank the Japanese for their peculiar attention to life’s nitty-gritty details and their attempt to make our lives better by addressing those needs.
Gaya Travel Magazine expresses our heartfelt gratitude to Kansai Gastronomy Tourism Promotion Council Office, Japan Railway Company, Keihan Group, Don Quijote Group, Sakai Tourism and Convention Bureau, and Wendy Tour for making the writer’s Kansai region food trip possible.
This article is included in Gaya Travel Magazine Issue 13.3. Read the magazine for free HERE.