Aji WOW: dive bars in Nishinari
Aji WOW is my series of unusual Japanese food/drink reviews. 'Aji' (味) means 'flavour', and the name's also a pun on 'ajiwau' (味わう) - 'to enjoy the taste of'.
This time: street food, cheap snacks, and dive bars in Osaka's Nishinari-ku.
Japan has a reputation for being a (relatively) safe country. I mean, don't walk around with your phone and wallet hanging out your pocket. That's just silly. But even the 'sketchy' bits of the city aren't so bad sometimes. Just poor, and full of poor drunk people.
This month, I was lucky enough to get a guided food and drink 'dive bar' tour of Nishinari.
The area's reputation is... not good. Like, people say 'I wouldn't go there if you paid me'... not good. But our tour guide's been living in Japan for ages, and knows all these places well. We were in good hands.
I joined the group at a tiny place called Kanmuriya. The super kind owner was offloading leftover food on us, at under 100 yen a plate.
Yep, the eats were really that cheap.
Kanmuriya's pretty famous on Japanese YouTube. People who make trips to Nishinari to review bars make sure to visit it. And the entire menu's priced like nobody's ever heard of bank notes.
It was followed up with 100-yen okonomiyaki being sold out of a nameless hole in the wall. One coin! Didn't even tack on the 8-yen tax. As if you'd find similar in central Osaka for anything less than 6x the price.
Now, important context: okonomiyaki is my favourite Japanese dish. I'll gladly pay for a good plate of the stuff. The 100-yen version we scarfed down was incredible. Look at it. A reasonable portion size, plenty of toppings, and didn't skimp on the sauce.
The next stop was for gyoza and fried rice at 'Fresh 2'. And then Korean food at 'Omoni'. It's impressive how many different things you can go eat within a 5-minute walk.
Fresh 2 is part of a chain, and one of the rare places to drink black beer. You can spot that in this pic of endless gyoza. People visit just for the beer - but I'm telling you now, order food too.
One of our other stops was an oden stand, tucked away in a random corner. Oden is boiled egg, veggies, konnyaku, chikuwa... known way better as winter comfort food, but good all year round.
This place - Fukugawa - was only open 10-4 on weekends, I heard? But I also heard that this is the best oden in Osaka. And I have to admit it's good stuff. Draws a fun crowd.
After that, we beelined to a different food stand (Yamaki) for some horumon. Which, in all honesty, I can't recommend. Not Yamaki itself, it was great there. But I've discovered I just can't like horumon. It's a personal thing.
Horumon is stuff like offal, fat and liver. If you like that stuff, go nuts. I was handed a big stick of liver drenched in meaty garlic sauce. The sauce was amazing. Liver, I can live without.
That wasn't the end of my day, but I was too full to pay attention any more.
If Osaka is 'Japan's kitchen', then Nishinari's where the chef sneakily lets you sample what they're cooking. Sure, it's dirt cheap because it's a poor area and the locals have to eat. But those bits and pieces were some of the best things I've tried in my whole time here.
Verdict: 8/10. Okay, so I'd rather not go back alone. But I'm sure I'll go back some day.