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Working Class Hero: Osaka’s Kushikatsu

A working man’s classic from the bone hard streets of Japan’s second city, kushikatsu is inextricably linked to the place of its birth.

  • Like many other local specialties the world you can include haggis, fried chicken or oxtail with collard greens, pot au feu, ratatouille kushikatsu, too, is the food of the proletariat. The dish of deep fried meats and vegetables on skewers can be traced to one restaurant in the formerly rough neighborhood of Shinsekai. Kushikatsu was the fuel for the day laborers, the rough men and women that built the country before the war, and rebuilt it after. The original shop Ganso Kushikatsu Daruma still stands in Shinsekai but, nearly a century on from that resourceful chef’s first dunk of batter in oil, there are many other ways to get a kushikatsu fix in Osaka.

    Working Class Hero: Osaka’s Kushikatsu

    Working Class Hero: Osaka’s Kushikatsu

    Matsuba Kushikatsu, a capacious standing bar at Umeda Station, serves the another type of working man these days: it’s the typical spot for salaryman to get in a cheap meal and maybe a few beers before heading onto a commuter train out to the suburbs. Located in a hive of similarly retro shops, Matsuba is a frozen in amber classic.

    Working Class Hero: Osaka’s Kushikatsu

    Working Class Hero: Osaka’s Kushikatsu

    Find a place at the bar and start ordering. The basic skewers will run you 100 to 120 yen while more premium options like Camembert cheese or oyster are 150 and 200 yen respectively. And, please, keep in mind the cardinal rule of kushikatsu: don’t double dip! The tureen of sauce the ingredients of this sauce vary by location, but expect dark, sticky, and jacked with sweet soy and Worcestershire sauce is communal, after all. The cabbage, too, at some standing bars is communal (or is all you can eat, at least), but it’s always eaten the same way, picked up by hand.

    Working Class Hero: Osaka’s Kushikatsu

    Working Class Hero: Osaka’s Kushikatsu

    Kyobashi’s Marufuji’s take on the classic is not dissimilar to Matsuba’s but the atmosphere is certainly different. Rather than office drones tanking up on skewers before drowsing on the Hanshin Line to Amagasaki, Marufuji attracts a more local crowd and is far less hectic. All the elements are here: plates of deep fried skewers, secret sauce, a tin box of cabbage, and simple accompaniments.

    Working Class Hero: Osaka’s Kushikatsu

    Working Class Hero: Osaka’s Kushikatsu

    The yudofu is an example of the kind of items that round out the menu of simpler kushikatsu joints: soft tofu simmered in a broth made from kombu, an umami rich kelp great way to finish up a meal of starch, oil and highballs.

    Working Class Hero: Osaka’s Kushikatsu

    Working Class Hero: Osaka’s Kushikatsu

    Escape the standing bar concept at Kadoya, an izakaya in Shinsekai, where the skewers are brought to your table. The sauce and the cabbage and the breaded skewers remain unchanged. The menu, befitting a Shinsekai shop, also has other dishes that were once favorites of the men and women that toiled in scorn and obscurity to rebuild the nation, absolute soul food: pig’s feet, tongue, offal stew...

    Working Class Hero: Osaka’s Kushikatsu

    Working Class Hero: Osaka’s Kushikatsu

    It’s also worth remarking upon another aspect of the kushikatsu experience: Billiken. Created by an American art teacher around the turn of the 20th century, Billiken started life as a pet rock like fad. Billiken first appeared in Japan at Luna Park, an amusement park attached to Shinsekai. In the intervening years, the neighborhood rose and fell and then rose again, Luna Park disappeared, the iconic Tsutenkaku Tower was scrapped and then rebuilt but Billiken held on. Now reigning as the unofficial patron deity of Shinsekai, Billiken statues often grace the sidewalk in front of kushikatsu joints in the neighborhood. Remember, a rub of his feet is considered good luck.

    Umeda(Hankyu Line)
    Address
    Osaka Osakashi Kita-ku Shibata 1-chome
    Phone
    Marufuji
    Address
    Osaka Osakashi Miyakojima-ku Higashinodamachi 3-5-1
    Phone
    0663533104
    Shinsekai
    Address
    Osaka Osakashi Naniwa-ku Ebisuhigashi
    Phone
  • Tsutenkaku
    Address
    Osaka Osakashi Naniwa-ku Ebisuhigashi 1-18-6
    Phone
    0666419555
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