When we learnt that we were headed to Osaka, we asked ourselves, “what must we eat?”
Because Osaka is affectionately known as the Kitchen of Japan, and the Osakans worship their washoku (Japanese cuisine) – the ones who prepare dedicate their lives to perfecting the dishes they lay out on the table; the ones who savour spend their time learning and understanding every history and style of the different kinds of washoku. It is almost like a religion for Japanese (and quite possibly people from all over the world) to live and breathe the art of washoku.
So when we say ‘eat’, it is in every way an artistic indulgence, one that has us completely enveloped in the soul of Japanese expressions. The chefs pay so much attention to every step of the preparation and presentation, and there are always rich histories behind every style of dining; ingredients used are very much based on seasons, and the style of cooking has their own stories to tell too.
All that intrigue to speak about, but for now, we will begin with kappo – the definition of Osaka’s culinary glory. Like how Kyoto has its kaiseki, Osaka takes pride in their cutting and cooking, hence making up the word ‘kappo’. But do not be intimidated by the language if you do not understand, because if any, it is really a very affectionate way of dining.
An open kitchen surrounded with counter bar seats, and a team of chefs preparing your dishes right before your eyes; every course is delicately presented and speaks of the season’s highlights – this is kappo. In case you are linking this to kaiseki, it is quite actually the opposite. Kaiseki is a lot more elegant and formal – usually combining art and cooking – and served in polished ryotei, in elaborate private dining rooms. Kappo is a lot more casual, emphasises on cutting and cooking, and the relationship between the chefs and the patrons is build on interaction from the close proximity.
It is believed that kappo restaurants become popular in the 19th century. Today, top tables around the world like David Chang’s Momofuku Ko and Water Library Thonglor are said to emulate the style of kappo.
We chose to do our first Osakan lunch at Kigawa – an institution for naniwa-kappo, where many of the city’s best chefs trained. Stepping in to Kigawa is a fascinating journey on its own. Elusively hidden in a back alley near the Hozen-ji, Kigawa looks just like one of those ancient houses that are better known as machiya.
Follow the narrow stone path that leads up to the wooden door, slide it open and be greeted by the team of chefs, and a kimono-clad server will usher you to your bar seat(s). Take a minute to settle yourself down as she helps you with your coats and bags. Freshen up with warm towels. Unwind to the classical music that fills the space and seek inspiration from Chopin’s Nocturne No.2 in E Flat Major and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Study the menu and choose your preferred course; we went for ‘Flower Course’ – 10-course lunch at ¥5,500.
The cozy outlet is nothing fanciful, but is every bit minimalistic – in the Japanese way of course. You have the kitchen that is fully equipped with knives and chop boards, steamers and fryers, huge freezers and whatnot. The chefs work together with a silent synergy, and the server moves around to attend to every single patron – always with her lips curved to make you feel at home.
The Flower Course began with a portion of potato soup, and was succeeded by the other courses simultaneously with a lovely pace. Take your time to enjoy every creation, ask questions, chat with the chefs. And be rest assured that you will know what you are putting in to your mouth because they have English translations for each ingredient.
We were truly delighted to have experienced the myriad of textures, flavours and colours. The menu differs every day, but if you asked us, we would tell you without hesitation that the cream croquette took our breath away. So did the conger eel with Henon bamboo and meat-miso.
And the biggest take-home of the day? We can proudly say that we have tried and fell in love with Osaka’s kappo.
1-7-7 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku
Tel: 06 6211 3030
Daily: 11.30am – 3pm, 5pm – 10.30pm
Nearest Station: Osakananba/Nipponbashi