When my husband, T, and I moved back to his hometown of Osaka from my home in Boston, he set a few ground rules for our new life in this country where cappuccinos can cost 700 Yen a pop. I don’t remember any of them (who likes to listen when their spouse is talking budgets?) except the one that threw shivers down my spine: no more eating out every night at restaurants. Knowing that his argument, fiscally at least, made sense, I did the only sensible thing: buckled down and investigated the cheap chic food scene in Kansai. (Who has time to take language classes when there’s a culinary—no a lifestyle—crisis on hand?)
Luckily for our wallets—and our marriage—I found a perfect option: Okonomiyaki, the traditional Osakan pancake made from yam potato flour instead of wheat, then topped with meats, vegetables, and seasoning sauces. It may not seem chic, but when you eat it at Fusaya Shou Gekijou, in the Karahori outdoor mall, it is. Fusaya is known as a hangout for Osakan musicians, and it’s a great window onto the local scene.
We’re seated next to a young woman in a bright green skirt, an elaborate tattoo snaking down her arm; and a group of twenty-somethings playing quarters. We start with kimchi-yakisoba, fried noodles and tart Korean cabbage with crisply cooked shallots, onions, and chicken, all topped with sweet pickled ginger. Next we order three okonomiyaki, one layered with pork, potato paste, egg, and the traditional Worcestershire and creamy sauces; another tiered with melted cheeses and spring onions; and a third stuffed with a curious but appealing mixture of squid-ink pasta and pungent fish flakes.
Later, we’re honored with a visit from the owner, a smiling, laughing older gentleman speaking in emphatic bursts of Japanese that I cannot understand, but that nevertheless make me grin along with him while T translates. He explains that “okonomiyaki” means “as you like,” suggesting a freedom to experiment with ingredients and cooking methods. He has funneled this into a global culinary vision, using creative ingredients from around the globe. This, he explains, is why all the world’s citizens enjoy and feel at home with his food. “I have many dreams,” he says, “but my final one is to journey into a black hole, a new universe, and make okonomiyaki in another world.” He once more laughs expansively, and I once more nod my head with mirth—not understanding a word until T explains it. Then, our plates are whisked away and replaced with the meal’s stunning final act: rich vanilla ice cream nestled into a steaming mound of earthy-flavored sweet potato.
As we leave, T turns to me, takes my hand, and asks, “why the huge grin?” “I think I’m going to make it in Osaka,” I tell him. Plus, I think to myself, now that we’re budgeting, I can afford that great pair of heels I saw the other day, calling out to me from a sparkling Umeda window.
Fusaya Shou Gekijou
No English menus, although the staff speaks a bit of English. Set-menu meals from \1600 per person.