I think the translation of kuidaore on Jim Breen’s online Japanese dictionary is pretty funny:
食い倒れ 【くいだおれ】 (n) bringing ruin upon oneself by extravagance in food
But really, this is exactly what it means. The verb kuu 食う is a sort of informal way of saying “eat,” while the daore 倒れ part can mean either the financial or physical collapse of a person. So put more idiomatically, kuidaore means “eat till you drop” or “eat yourself out of house and home.” And this is exactly what you’re expected to do in the bustling city of Osaka, a consumer’s paradise often referred to as Japan’s second city, and also as tenka no daidokoro 天下の台所 – the nation’s kitchen.
In true viking fashion, kuidaore is the mantra I adopted on my trip there last weekend. Actually, to be more accurate, my mantra was more like kuinomitsuiyashidaore 食い飲み費やし倒れ – I ate, drank, and spent till I could eat, drink, and spend no more, collapsing into a capsule hotel, bloated with food, staggering drunk, and on the bullet train to brokesville. But can you blame me? Osaka offers an awful lot to take in.
For example, Osaka is famous for okonomiyaki お好み焼き. Okonomiyaki in the Osaka style (as opposed to the somewhat less famous Hiroshima style) is basically a doughy pancake slathered with mayonnaise and sweet, Worcestershirey sōsu and bursting with outcrops of chopped cabbage, green onions, and whatever else you want to put in it – hence the name okonomi, meaning “as you like it.” I had a variation of okonomiyaki called sujinegiyaki 筋ねぎ焼き, packed far beyond capacity with crunchy green onions, firm cubes of konnyaku, and unbelievably luscious and tender hunks of world-famous Kobe beef.
The chefs cooked the bubbling mass slowly and skillfully, so that in the end it was moist and steamy on the inside and perfectly crisp and brown on the outside. And as if to defiantly reject excessive toppings as an affront to their negiyaki’s inherent beauty, it came with only a thin glaze of sauce and a zesty spritz of fresh lemon juice – the perfect complement to the beef’s fatty richness and the onions’ grassy snap.
But wait – there’s more. Another ubiquitous Osaka meibutsu is takoyaki たこ焼き, a kinda similar dish that basically consists of hunks of octopus meat (or in some cases, an entire baby octopus) cooked into spheres of dough and topped with sōsu. Takoyaki recipes and methods vary widely across the Osaka foodscape, but I personally like it best when it’s crispy, gooshy, cakey, and chewy all at once, with a generous chunk of octopus inside and copious amounts of sauce, mayo, katsuo bushi, and flaked seaweed on top. If done right, takoyaki makes for a remarkably fortifying snack, perfectly sweet, tangy, and savory to accompany a leisurely afternoon or a night of heavy drinking.
Speaking of which, there is some damn good drinking to be had on the backstreets of Osaka. Before embarking on my trip, I plotted out a pub crawl with one goal in mind: good beer, and plenty of it. This led me first to the Kirin Plaza Osaka, a multi-storey brewery-art gallery-restaurant complex where you can sample some excellent brews outside Kirin’s usual repertoire of boring lagers and borderline-undrinkable happoshu. For 570 yen you can get a tasting set of four fresh, skillfully brewed (if somewhat safe and unexciting) beers: a sweet, crisp Pilsener, a fruity-floral and equally crisp Kristal Weizen, a mild and malty pale ale, and a smooth, roasty stout. After stopping off at Grand Dolphins for a glass of delicious Chimay Tripel on tap and a not-so-delicious plate of “frites” that clearly came from the freezer aisle of a local sūpā, we headed to a wonderfully cute and cozy back-alley bar called Beer & Bear.
There I got to sample cask-conditioned Yona Yona, a silky-smooth pale ale with a toffee-sweet malt character balanced by the ever-present grapefruity bitterness of Cascade hops. Yum. After that we went to a bar called Belgian Beer Cafe Barrel to pay way too much for a bottle of Orval, finally closing our tour at Beer Belly, the only place I’ve found in Japan thus far to satisfy my appetite for big beers, thanks to a delicious imperial stout on tap and a doubly delicious smoked imperial porter on cask.
And as if all that good beer weren’t enough, the next night we took advantage of a rare opportunity to try absinthe. It’s effects can probably best be explained through this video (I’m sorry, Ko, but you brought this on yourself):
Negiyaki Yamamoto (Umeda EST) ねぎ焼きやまもと梅田エスト店
Kakudacho 3-25 EST E24 角田町３−２５エストE２４
Osaka-shi Kita-ku 大阪市北区
Tako Tako King (America Village) タコタコキングアメリカ村店
Nishi-shinsaibashi 2-13-1 西心斎橋２−１３−１
Osaka-shi Chuo-ku 大阪市中央区
Kirin Plaza Osaka キリンプラザ大阪
Soemoncho 7-2 宗右衛門町７−２
Osaka-shi Chuo-ku 大阪市中央区
Beer & Bear
Bakurō-machi 3-4-9 博労町３−４−９
Osaka-shi Chuo-ku 大阪市中央区
Tosabori 1-1-30 Osaka River Building 土佐堀１−１−３０大阪川ビル
Osaka-shi Nishi-ku 大阪市西区