Kansai is notable to many as the cultural center and the historical heart of Japan, but the Southern-central region has much more to show off than its vivid past. Osaka, the second largest metropolitan area in the country, is a must-go for Potterheads who dream to chug on a butterbeer at Three Broomstick with a scenic view of Black Lake and Hogwarts. While Kyoto transports us back to an epoch where geishas and ninjas still walk the streets like any other typical day , Kyoto constantly find ways to be creative and entice people to yearn for more of its tenacious charisma through experiences and food.
Osaka : Of Food and Magic
Have you had a box of Pocky? How about a bite of the fluffly smooth, melt in your mouth Pablo Cheesecake? Or the famous ball-shaped snack called Takoyaki? We may not have paid close attention to it, but yes, we have been introduced to Osaka long before through these Japanese nibbles. But when you finally get the chance to visit Osaka, Dotonbori is the ideal place to start . Since the Doton Canal’s completion in the 1600s, Dotonbori has been a major place for commerce, trade and entertainment. It still serves the same purpose today but much more focused on food culture. Dotonbori is teeming with stalls, shacks and restaurants selling street food, ramen and other specialty dishes– from Osaka ramen, takoyaki, kushikatsu, pufferfish, desserts and many others. Dotonbori is truly a gastronomic utopia. And how do one spot the best restaurants? The long waiting line does.
Are you ready for a magical adventure? Spending a full-day at Universal Studios Japan is a must when in Osaka! And what excites me the most on every visit is ….. cues Harry Potter theme song , The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – the nearest Hogwarts to visit for Potterheads in the Philippines. Get your wands ready and learn the proper way of swishing and flicking to get the magic spells right. Ready? ‘Incendio’
Assuming you passed the wand lessons, why not celebrate with a feast at Three Broomstick with a mug of cold, or hot, butterbeer. Then head to Hogwarts for “The Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey” attraction. Be sure you let the food settle down for a bit first though, the ride can be a bit extreme.
And before going back to the muggle world, bring back some magical goodies with you. A can of ‘Butterbeer drops’ and a box of ‘Every Flavour Beans,’ perhaps?
The New Wave Kyoto Ramen
If you are arriving in Kyoto via train, you’d notice how modernly beautiful the station is, which is very contrasting with what you are about to see when you visit the temples and shrines of the city. But today, let’s not talk about the familiar charisma of Kyoto, and talk about fresh takes on my all-time fave Japanese soup -RAMEN!
Ramen is seemingly the most famous Japanese dish we Filipinos know of, would you agree? Whenever I visit a new city in Japan, I don’t fail to try their version of ramen. In Kyoto, a traditional ramen is made with soy sauce based broth and features straight noodles in a thick heavy soup. And since, I’ve tasted the traditional ramen from my previous visits, I felt a bit adventurous and tried two modern, new-wave ramen houses in downtown Kyoto .
There was an upcoming typhoon enroute Kyoto during the first day of my recent visit. It was predicted to hit the city late at night but it was already pouring in the afternoon. The weather was definitely calling for a warm and spicy big bowl of ramen. The original plan was to eat at the ‘no name ramen’ but it was close that night due to the approaching storm. Disappointed and hungry, I dropped by a convenient store to pick up some munchies and water, and enroute the bus stop, luckily spotted an open restaurant.
The menu says “Here we introduce another face of Kyoto Cuisine – the Kyoto Hotness – Kyo Kara Ramen!” Totally fits the bill of what I was craving for that night! Kyo Kara Ramen menu instructed me to do the three-step-custom-your-ramen to order. The broth is made with Konnyaku noodles and sweet soy sauce, from Kyushu, broth topped with egg, leek, garlic, minced meat and they secret original blend of spices I ordered the mega-size Kyo-Kara Ramen with konnyaku noodle and at spicy level 5 . You can choose the chili hotness level from zero to the maximum 25. A spoonful sip of Kyo-kara Ramen gave an initial hint of lightly sweet soy, creamy smooth textured broth which progressed to a sharp chili bite that lingered for a minute. That’s a bold version of Kyoto ramen indeed.
On my second night, I was finally able to try the nameless ramen. The ‘No Name Ramen’ place interestingly, and ironically for being unnamed, made a name for itself in Kyoto for outright good quality of ramen. I was dining with my Japanese friend who lived in Kyoto for sometime and mentioned that this place, like many other good ramen spots, has waiting time that can stretch to over an hour, or two, during meal times. We strategically went right after the peak hours, and had to wait for only 15 minutes to be seated. It sure looked like a posh café than a ramen shop with club music playing but thankfully not crassly loud. And hey, the ticket machine is touch screen! Most ramen places have the big, many-buttoned ordering machines, but this restaurant has touch screen. I ordered the layered-soup Charsu Ramen which I absolutely loved – the broth tasted like it’s made from a combination of fish and chicken broth, and ends with a note of tangy lemon. The charsu was flavorful and the smoky hint mixes well with the soup too. Very interesting! Will definitely go back with friends on my next visit!
Starbucks Ninenzaka is worth checking out as well! Dubbed as “Starbucks from the past,” the coffee shop is set in a traditional shophouse in the Edo period. Very coo! It’s super lit to come by in your traditional Japanese clothing. 😉
From the modern Osaka attractions to Kyoto’s old cultural charm, these two destinations are a favorite pair when visiting Southern-central Japan. Osaka and Kyoto may have contrasting charisma, but when it comes to food – both offer a delectable spread that will not disappoint. And if you get extra days in the Kansai region, Kobe is just waiting to be explored as well.