Osaka, Japan: Kuidaore (1st of 2 Parts) here
From the near delirium that is Dotombori and its surrounding environs, I escape to a more sedate setting: Midosuji, a boulevard blessed by the shade of gingko trees. Four lanes wide, it reminds me of Tokyo’s Omotesando Hills, with its gleaming luxury stores and relaxed elegance especially when Midosuji intersects at Nagahori-dori (below). This focal point is regarded as Osaka’s answer to Paris’ Champs-Élysées. I revel in the serenity and retail therapy.
Even when I’m traveling, it’s essential that I start my morning right; that is, breakfast and coffee are non-negotiable. I wake up early as I always do and ask the concierge at the hotel where she has her coffee, her favored kissaten (coffee shop), perhaps? Pointing to my map, she murmurs, “This place is very famous,” and notes the location down for me.
Marufuku Coffee (in Manila, the name of a terrific Japanese restaurant), has been around since 1934. Its exterior is impressive, an old building on which ivy leaves clamber and cluster. Entering the kissaten is like being ushered into another era, that of halcyon times and sepia-tinted memories. High ceilings, vintage lighting, porcelain figurines on a mantelpiece, well-used leather seats with nailheads – I’ve just gotten here and I already want to stay forever.
I take this photo “ninja-style” since the Japanese frown on having their photos taken without permission. But I want a visual memory of this kissaten.
There’s a long marble bar outfitted with cups and saucers and an antique coffee grinder. Manning all of this, the master of this caffeinated domain, is a dignified old man sporting a white skull cap. The server calls out the order and he replies with a guttural, Hai!, proceeding to fill out the order with astounding alacrity and efficiency. The entire look and feel of Marufuku resembles another coffee shop I went to, this time in Milan, Pasticceria Marchesi.
Marufuku prides itself on a ‘secret’ brewing method, which is really a coffee obtained through a hand-poured, slow-drip method. Even taken black, it completely cloaks my mouth – its sear, sweeping; its flavor, an evocation of smoky richness. As I type this now, I lament that I didn’t buy a bag of their coffee.
I enjoy my black coffee with a thick toast, almost an inch and a quarter thick (!) spread with jam. I delight in the tiny receptacle holding the cream. I taste a drop of it and mmm, how creamy it is! So I order a café au lait next and enjoy coffee caressed by cream.
542-0074 1-9-19 Sennichimae Chuo-ku Osaka
A 5-minute walk from the Namba station on the Midosuji Line.
It makes sense that a food-crazed city like Osaka would have a “kitchen street” similar to Tokyo’s Kappabashi-dori. It’s called Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street, a superabundance of cooking and kitchen specialty stores dedicated to the Iron Chefs, the Master Chefs, and the wannabe-chefs. There’s nothing – absolutely nothing you can’t not find here if it’s related to Japanese cuisine. Every year on October 9, throngs flock here for the Doguyasuji Festival when the stores go on sale.
An absolutely stunning – and startling – selection of knives; though “swords” and “hatchet” are more apt descriptions, I think.
Coffee shops and markets highlight and inform my travels. In Tokyo, I was enthralled with Tsukiji Market, and in Osaka, I’m taken by the Kuromon Ichiba Market. Large and lively, I walk around with my mouth half-open, like I usually do when I’m surrounded by such lip-licking largesse.
Come and walk with me as I take you through the sights I see:
I have to physically restrain myself from plastering my hands and face onto the glass and drooling incessantly at this meat mania.
Since 1937, Ocha no Yamaguchien has been purveying tea and ceremonial tea sets from Kyoto, Uji, and Yamajiro. I find the tea descriptions in English very helpful, though some make me chuckle.
I don’t get to eat here, but New Daruni is a famous curry restaurant that’s been around for 60+ years. Its specialty: curry rice with breaded shrimp. Few foods are cloaked in such infamy as the fugu (poisonous blowfish/pufferfish), and none threaten to dispatch its eater into the big buffet in the sky as much as this one. Catching sight of the fugu, my Bin remarks, “Now there’s something we will never ever eat.” Below, what’s known as tessa , sashimi-style blowfish.
From fugu to flowers. A resplendent rainbow of color that reminds me of my trip to Holland.
Spring in Japan heralds strawberries, ruby-red and ravishing and grown mostly in Chiba. Packs are snapped up greedily by customers, us included. As with all things in this country, these strawberry specimens are perfect – what do the Japanese do to grow them this way? It’s a fleeting thought that’s soon forgotten as I pop a berry into my mouth. A flash of tartness then a pure berry flavor suffuses my mouth, sweet on tart then the barely audible crunch of seeds. Eaten here in their culinary home, they’re nothing short of magical for me.
There are only two places in the Kuromon Ichiba Market where we can sit down and eat sashimi and sushi, and Kuromon Sanpei is where I have my best meal on this trip: otoro. A tuna’s fatty belly, which comprises only 15-20% of the entire body, is divided into three sections ascending in quality: toro, chutoro, and the coveted otoro (below). Rarely found outside of Japan which is ironic since this fish is mostly imported into the country, I relish its slippery sensation and the almost overwhelming taste of fat – I shiver at its cool touch on my tongue. It’s too good.
Kuromon Sanpei also offers set seafood sashimi bowls of which we order the most popular (below).
Sushi rice is the mound on which luxuries from the sea are embodied. We witness and marvel at strips of succulent salmon; and braided – yes, braided – tongues of uni, they’re so soft they disintegrate at a chopsticks’ touch; and pearls of ikura, still shiny from the sea’s brine. We eat slowly, reverentially almost, and it’s a true reality that when I look down and see my empty bowl, I want to weep because there’s nothing left.
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