Written by Ryan Sowers, (Wabash College), Student Correspondent for CET Japan, Summer 2022
One of the best parts about studying in Japan is getting to try all the delicious food. While the food that you order at restaurants or buy at a konbini on a busy night doesn’t always live up to the healthy image that many of us have of Japanese food, it seldom disappoints. An added benefit of the CET program is its location in Osaka, known as the nation’s kitchen on account of its street food and famous dishes such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki.
To start with the elephant in the room, I first had both okonomiyaki and takoyaki (fried dough balls with a chunk of octopus inside) in Umeda: one of Osaka’s two main commercial hubs located in the north of the city and featuring a vibrant night scene—a favorite destination for many in the program (including myself). I ate kimchi okonomiyaki (a Japanese savory pancake with kimchi mixed in and slathered in mayonnaise) in Umeda with my housemates during the second week of the program. If that wasn’t enough, some of my housemates even had yakisoba noodles added on top of their okonomiyaki (i.e., modanyaki).
Chicken Curry Udon in Aikawa
Moving closer to home, just down the street from the Sophia house is a ramen shop locally owned by a group of friends from Fukuoka. Aside from enjoying the cozy, friendly atmosphere (something you get a lot at local shops in small-town Aikawa), the shoyu ramen there (soy sauce base) comes in hearty servings and tastes great. It happens that at this particular shop, the owner often serves us free sides like savory fruits and omurice (rice omelet). Also near Aikawa is a fantastic yakisoba restaurant that also serves okonomiyaki (my favorite dish is the kimchi yakisoba), and an udon restaurant that serves a fried chicken-topped curry udon bowl that I shamelessly ordered on back-to-back trips there.
Spicy ramen in Kyoto
Moving away from Osaka all together we arrive in Kyoto. While not directly related to the program itself, Kyoto is far and away the most common destination for daytrips among CET students due to its proximity: being only a 35-40min train ride away (I’ve been 3 times). Kyoto is known for its matcha, so it goes without saying that I visited the matcha house where I had a matcha shake drizzled in chocolate and topped with whipped cream (it was even better than it sounds). While you may associate green tea products with a bitter taste, many of the matcha-based drinks and treats in Kyoto and Japan in general come with plenty of added sugar and sweetener, so you can enjoy the matcha taste without stealing your taste buds first. For lunch I went with some friends to a machine-order ramen shop where you make your order at a machine in front, show the receipt to the hostess who then shows you to the seating area where each seat is partitioned on each side and even has a drape between you and the kitchen. On another day in Kyoto, I had salmon pasta at a café in front of the Kyoto Botanical Garden after I lost my ongoing battle with the heat that day.
Matcha shake with chocolate drizzle and whipped cream in Kyoto
It goes without saying that everyone’s experience will differ depending on a variety of factors: such as their housing assignment, their palette, how much free time they have, and how far they’re willing to go/how long they’re willing to search. I hope that nonetheless this served as a brief indicator of all the wonderful food there is to try around Osaka and elsewhere in Japan and provide some inspiration to put in the work necessary to get here to enjoy it all. Pro tip: your Japanese housemates know where all the good food is—be sure to ask them.