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Food Tales

Osaka Eats: Steak, Matcha Ice Cream, Sake and the Food Court at Muji



Months before we flew to Osaka, I booked tickets for the Wonderloop, the hop-on-hop-off bus, for the second day of our trip. We wanted to do the river cruise, visit Shitennoji Temple, see Osaka Castle…

But Kat and I woke up late because of all the delays the previous day. Breakfast hours were long over and we agreed to go straight to lunch and begin our hop-on-hop-off tour afterwards. Because we were going to board the bus at Namba Parks, the station nearest Swissotel where we were staying, lunch at Namba Parks was the logical way to go.

Dining directory at Namba Parks
Dining directory at Namba Parks

We said we’d search for the bus stop first so we could calculate the time we had before the bus arrived and, based on that, how far from it we could walk in search of a restaurant where we could have lunch and do a little shopping.

Connie Veneracion. Namba Parks. Osaka
Namba Parks

But Namba Parks was so darn pretty. It would be a pity not to take photos we could share with our families and friends. We stopped, I handed Kat my phone, she handed me hers and we took snapshots of each other on the same spot. Then, we resumed our quest for the bus stop.

The bus stop was not easy to locate. One side of Namba Parks was a huge construction site (a condominium project) and we had to navigate… Long story. The important thing is that we did find the bus stop and realized we still had well over an hour to kill before the bus arrived.

Steak at Meat Robata Robert

We walked around a bit, looking at shop windows and surveying the restaurants. As exciting as the shopping scene was, we wanted lunch more than anything. Will it be sushi? Or beef again? When we saw Robert, the discussion ended.

Steak cooked katsu style, Robert, Namba Park
Steak cooked katsu style, Robert, Namba Park

Kat ordered a steak; I chose katsu-style steak. The beef was good but it was the set meal, as a whole, that was truly superb. Miso soup, salad, a small portion of salmon sashimi, side dishes and great rice. Again.

Just as with our previous night’s meal at M, we were again badly smitten with the rice. At Robert, the waitress showed us how we should pour the white sauce (center, right of the photo above) over the rice before digging in.

A sticky white sauce over the rice. Meat Robata Robert, Namba Parks, Osaka
A sticky white sauce over the rice

The sauce tasted of radish but I never learned what it’s called. It’s thick and sticky and simply superb. Apparently, it’s something traditional and quite ubiquitous in Japan because we would encounter that sauce again.

I obsessed with the rice. We’ve been buying Japanese rice for more than a decade but never have we encountered a pink variety. Kat said if she could find it in the grocery, she would bring some home. As it turned out, the rice is not naturally pink. But more on that later.

Dessert and coffee at Amato Maeda

Toys “R” Us was just almost across Robert. Kat wanted to go there to see if they had a Japanese Barbie doll which she was unable to find at Don Quijote the night before. For her granddaughter. I don’t have grandchildren yet and my daughters are in their 20’s. No way was I going to Toys “R” Us.

We agreed to meet after 40 minutes at a circular stone bench under a tree in the open area between Robert and Toys “R” Us. I went in search of a smoking area while Kat resumed her hunt for the elusive Japanese Barbie. That was how I found Amato Maeda.

Soft matcha ice cream and mochi covered in ground peanuts, Amato Maeda
Soft matcha ice cream and warabimochi, Amato Maeda

I’m not really a dessert person; Kat, even less so. But show me mochi and I won’t say no especially if there’s coffee to go with it.

There were so many choices. So many combinations. I wanted to try all but I was still digesting the steak that I had not more than ten minutes earlier. As hard as it was to choose, I finally decided on matcha ice cream and warabimochi covered in kinako (sweet toasted soybean flour). And brewed coffee.

I took my sweet time at Amato Maeda. I savored every morsel lovingly and sipped my coffee slowly. I wanted to imprint them forever in my mind.

When I met up with Kat, I was full of stories about my dessert. And she was full of stories about having discovered the same smoking room I went to (with vendo machines galore!) and, her bad news, about there being no such thing as Japanese Barbie.

How was that even possible, she asked in bewilderment. We had theories, of course. A culture thing, perhaps? Something to do with the image of women in Japanese society? We were discussing it all the way to the bus stop.

Sake and snack at Chibo at Jo-Terrace

The Osaka Wonderloop bus makes several stops but, at that point, there was only one stop where we planned on getting off. Osaka Castle. We were fully aware that was all we had time for. But I was going to take photos of Osaka Castle amid the autumn foliage, no matter what. Never mind the river cruise and Shitennoji Temple. Next time, perhaps.

The bus ride came with a pleasant surprise. As I was showing our tickets to the driver, someone called out my name from one of the front seats. My friend, Cynthia, with whom I went on a cruise aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas years ago was also in Osaka with friends. Her group got off at Osaka Castle too and, after a few photos of us together, we parted ways.

As Kat and I walked toward Osaka Castle, we were already discussing where to go next. I wanted to go to Muji. Should we wait for the next Wonderloop bus or should we take the train to save time? 

We opted to wait for the Wonderloop bus. And that meant we had an hour or so after I had my fill of Osaka Castle in autumn. A snack was in order.

Jo-Terrace is a complex of cafes, restaurants and shops on the Osaka Castle grounds. Some of the establishments were already closed for the day while others, like Starbucks and the plethora of cafes offering waffles and pancakes, did not interest us at all.

Appetizer and sake at Chibo, Jo-Terrace, Osaka Castle
Appetizer and sake at Chibo, Jo-Terrace, Osaka Castle

When we decided to go to Chibo, we didn’t know it was famous for okonomiyaki. That was something I would learn much later when I was researching the place where we had sake and appetizer at Jo-Terrace.

We were there for a snack, and nothing more, because we planned on having dinner somewhere in Namba near the hotel. Kat suggested an appetizer with hams and cheeses, I took a look at the photo on the menu, and I said, “Sure!” And she wanted sake. Great idea. I’ll have some too!

Neither of us knew exactly how sake was served at Chibo. At M, sake was served by the glass. Again, the language barrier was getting in the way. There were two of us drinking sake, so when the waitress signaled with her fingers to inquire if we wanted one or two, we signaled back. Two. She looked a little flustered or confused, maybe? I didn’t understand why.

Cheeses and hams with salad greens at Chibo, Jo-Terraces, Osaka Castle
Cheeses and hams with salad greens at Chibo

It turned out that one order of sake was meant to be shared by two people. Since we ordered two, each of us drank enough sake for two. Well, how were we to know, right? Besides, it was chilly and sake helped warm us up. And we were just having a snack, so, that was just enough sake. If we were having a leisurely dinner, I bet we’d have more than that. It was good sake though. Smooth and did not scorch the throat. The appetizer was exceptionally great with the beautiful cheeses and hams.

I was under the impression that we would be in Japan in the fall. But, earlier that day, the tour guide of the Osaka Wonderloop bus said that winter had officially begun. No wonder that when we crossed the street to the Hotel New Otani before 6.00 p.m., it was already dark. Days are shorter during winter.

The bus was there but, at the Hotel New Otani station, there’s always a break between its arrival and departure. The length of the break varies throughout the day. On its final loop, the break lasts for 45 minutes. We went into the hotel to freshen up. Then, we braced ourselves for a 20-minute wait. Kat boarded the bus and settled in. My eyes followed the driver as he crossed the street and lit a cigarette.

Moon over Osaka. Hotel New Otani, Osaka, Japan
Moon over Osaka

I was right on the heels of the driver. I knew I had time to take more photos. Even finish a stick, perhaps. Because… I couldn’t resist the scene. It was almost like a painting of a nearly empty street, trees, lamp posts and the moon suspended high in the sky as clouds floated past it endlessly.

The food court at Muji

There was just one other passenger on the Wonderloop bus aside from us. He was chattering endlessly and, as Osaka Castle started falling out of sight, the tour guide explained that it’s not even a hundred years old yet because it’s just a reproduction.

The chatty tourist argued that Osaka Castle isn’t a real castle then given its youth. He kept interrupting the tour guide with the same argument and I was sorely tempted to tell him to read a dictionary. “Castle” as the medieval residence of noblemen is only one definition of the word.

I kept my mouth shut though and looked out the window instead. But when I heard the tour guide asking if any of us had other questions, I interpreted it as a plea to please help her make the chatty guy shut up. I immediately raised my hand and simultaneously asked how to get to Muji.

His useless argumentation interrupted, the chatty tourist finally ended his rant about Osaka Castle.

The tour guide took a piece of paper and drew landmarks to help us get to Muji. I can’t recall now if Kat asked the tour guide for recommendations for dinner or whether the tour guide, after such lengthy discussion about how to get to Muji, volunteered the information that at its basement, Muji has a food court that served great food. Home cooking style, she said, and very inexpensive.

Chicken and veggies at the food court at Muji, Osaka
Chicken and veggies at the food court at Muji

It really is smart to listen to the locals. The tour guide certainly wasn’t exaggerating when she recommended the Muji food court. Nothing fancy but nothing plain either.

I’m not a fan of chicken breast but the chicken at the Muji food court was perfectly succulent. Another testament to the oft-forgotten truth that, when it comes to cooking, it’s not about how expensive nor exotic the ingredients are but, rather, how skilled the cook is. Undoubtedly, the cooks at Muji know their stuff.

Meal at Muji food court, Osaka
Again, that lovely pink rice

The meal at Muji included the pink rice similar to what we had at Robert for lunch. It took another two days before I discovered exactly what it was. But that’s another story.