Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dotonbori: A Gastronomic Paradise in Osaka, Japan

Dotonbori is insane. It’s an over-the-top, flamboyant, neon-lit mecca of a gastronomist’s paradise, with oversize illuminated billboards and screens. A gigantic crab almost seven meters long marks the Kani Doraku Restaurant, which sells everything crab—from charcoal grilled crab to boxes of crab legs and crab sushi.

It has been called the heart of Osaka’s nightlife, and I could see why as tourists milled about in this place called Dotonbori, running between theaters and clubs, and stopping by eateries galore that offered takoyaki, gyozas, munificent plates of crab (I have never seen so much crab in my life) and weird sushi.

There, between the fatty bluefin tuna sushi and king crab sushi in the refrigerated case of a random shop, was the ajitsuke kazunoko, looking fake and strange beneath its see-through wrap. I knew I had eaten this once before—this was herring roe sushi. I had tried it once at Kabuki in Pasadena, thought it was too salty despite Kabuki’s attempt to mollify the taste by serving it with ponzu sauce, a lemon slice and shaved bonito. It wasn’t one of my favorites, for sure, but this kazunoko looked so rubbery and nubbled that it intrigued me. I was stuffed full of charcoal grilled crab, but so what? At only ¥350 (about $3), it was worth a shot.

“It’s intense,” admonished my travel companion. She also explained to me that kazunoko is generally eaten during a New Year’s celebration in Japan, as the roe symbolizes fertility, but it’s an acquired taste.

I considered myself forewarned.

After one small bite, I unceremoniously spat it out. Then I took a deep breath, applied some of the soy sauce and wasabi that came in the package with it, and attempted it again, but still did not like it. It was definitely intense. And too salty-bitter-rubbery, or something. The texture was also a lot tougher than Kabuki’s version of the herring roe sushi I had tried years ago.

Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0076
Osaka Prefecture, Japan

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