Everyone knows about the local specialty takoyaki and even the Osaka-style okonomiyaki, but one of the most delicious treats to try in Osaka (aka Japan’s kitchen) is kushikatsu!
Taking the idea of fried snacks to a new level, the delicacy of kushikatsu is a simple concept: bite-size chunks of meat and vegetables battered and deep fried before being dipped into a dark sauce. Kushi refers to the traditionally bamboo skewers and katsu refers to a deep-fried meat cutlet (like katsu curry for example)—although it is also known as kushiage. As with most fried-foods, it’s typically more of a fast food, so counter service is common.
Depending on the restaurant, you will either have your selection delivered to your table piping hot or you’ll place your order directly to the chef—or even be served the chef’s choice.
While you will be able to find restaurants serving this up in all corners of the city, it is associated strongly with the slightly shabby but charming area of Shinsekai. Alongside the area’s sumo traditions, there are countless street-side restaurants and standing bars serving fried everything.
Kushikatsu may seems similar to the nationa -favorite of tempura, but the difference is in the batter. While tempura batter uses flour, water and egg, kushikatsu involves panko: crispy Japanese-style flakey breadcrumbs that give it more bite. Another difference is that kushikatsu is more of a beer-and-snacks deal—less refined than tempura, but no less delicious.
The golden rule of kushikatsu
In fitting with the simplicity of the meal, there is only one golden rule to follow when it comes to eating kushikatsu: NO DOUBLE DIPPING. When you’re seated at your table, you’ll more than likely find a plate of roughly cut cabbage and a metal tub of dark, glistening sauce. This is the special tonkatsu dipping sauce, sweet and sticky with added ponzu. It is incredibly moreish and helps cut through the deep-fried flavor you can easily get sick of. When you first pick up your fried morsel, dip freely in the sauce—but after your first bite, that’s your lot.
As pots are shared and simply topped up rather than being thrown out after each set of customers, you have to follow the rules, and hope everyone else does too. There is a way round this though… that torn up cabbage on your table can be used to scoop up some sauce to drizzle on your food.
If you’ve wandered through Dotonbori and seen the angry grimace of Daruma staring down at you (seen in one of the photos below), double dipping is the reason why. This now-famous face is a warning to all customers that the rule must be adhered to, or else you risk the wrath of Daruma himself—and no one wants that!
The menu may look a bit overwhelming at first glance as there will be dozens and dozens of items available. Some places will have English menus, but if not, it’s really easy to use the Google Translate photo app, as there is little room for error when it comes to translating things like “corn”, “chicken skin” and “shrimp”.
Some establishments will offer sets, often a meat or veg set, so you can try a bit of everything without having to painstakingly work your way through the menu. Although that does require an ability to not question the animal parts you find yourself chewing on, so it may be best avoided for squeamish eaters. This is a great opportunity to try some of the seasonal specialties like bamboo shoot in spring or oysters in winter. Keep an eye out for specialty menus or ask your waiter for help.
There are four main groups to choose from: meat, vegetables, fish and processed food like cheese or crab sticks, but some places also offer dessert items like donuts or strawberries! Some popular options to look out for include:
- Quail egg うずら卵
- Lotus root レンコン
- Bamboo shoot たけのこ
- Octopus たこ
- Sweet potato さつまいも
- Garlic にんにく
- Pumpkin かぼちゃ
- Beef tongue 厚切り牛タン
- Red ginger 紅しょうが
- Gizzard ずり（砂肝）
- Grilled riceballs 焼おにぎり (These are a great way to add a little non-fried bulk to your meal)
Top 6 Osaka kushikatsu restaurants
If you’re in the Shinsekai area, you’ll be spoiled for choice just wandering through the streets, with plenty of standing kushikatsu bars and restaurants to pick from. One of the things to consider is whether you want to sit down and relax, or grab a quick snack, as places are usually geared to one or the other.
For more of an izakaya-feel, head to a branch of Daruma as they have enough space to allow tables. Alternatively, at small counter restaurants they tend to serve it as fast food, so you shouldn’t loiter here as there will be people waiting.
Here are some of the best spots in Osaka to try out this delicious treat:
1. Daruma Kushikatsu | Multiple locations | ¥120+ | English menu
One of the most famous places in the city, there are several branches to choose from, with the original restaurant opened in Shinsekai in 1929 and one on the main drag of Dotonbori. Easily spotted by the statue of angry Daruma, these restaurants will cook the skewers for you and have a variety of seasonal specialties as well as sets available.
Sets cost between ¥1,300 and ¥2,200 and are based on locations, like the Shinsekai set (¥2,200) which includes a choice of side and 15 skewers or the Dotonbori set (price amount=1400) which has a choice of one side and nine skewers.
Prices start from ¥120 per skewer and they have English menus available. There is a ¥300 cabbage charge per person if your order is below ¥800.
If you are in the center of Osaka, the line at the Dotonbori store can be pretty long and you’ll have more luck at the branch around the corner, close to Hozenji Temple.
2. Yakko | Shinsekai | ¥100+ | Japanese menu only
This is a counter-only restaurant in the Shinsekai area, so you may well have to line up at lunchtime, but the chefs are quick and you won’t be waiting long for the food. The focus here is on fresh and seasonal ingredients and they have options like pufferfish that you wouldn’t see at some of the larger places. The bill is calculated by the number of skewers left on your table and you order as you go, with prices starting at ¥100 per stick.
3. Yaekatsu | Shinsekai | ¥100+ | Japanese menu only
Serving skewered treats for over 50 years, this is a small counter-restaurant serving around 30 fresh ingredients all freshly battered to order. The cabbage is freely available and they serve the famous doteyaki—a beef tendon stew that’s an Osaka staple.
The restaurant is famous for their light batter and generous skewer-fulls and they serve seitan (a soy-free “wheat meat”) which is an unusual option great for vegetarians.
This place is popular with locals so you’ll likely have to line up. And given there will always be people waiting, they encourage people to order and finish quickly, as it is traditionally a snack. There will be a few chefs behind the counter, so you can make your requests directly to them
4. Shinsaibashi Karatto | Shinsaibashi | ¥80 + | English menu and staff
With some of the cheapest options in town, this large kushikatsu joint is located in a renovated warehouse and has a trendier vibe than most places serving this fast food. With a good variety of set-courses and all-you-can-drink this is a great option for groups or those looking to make an evening of it. They have a more playful attitude to food and there are a range of more unusual options like avocado and banana to try. They also differ in that rather than dipping sauce, they offer salt here instead.
5. Ueshima | Shinsaibashi | No prices | No Menu
This is a traditional counter-service space where the food keeps coming until you say stop—which sounds great, but it can get pricey quite fast. There’s nothing like it for a quality experience though, as all skewers are cooked by the owner and selected for you based on the best produce of the season and day—as he buys fresh at a local market each morning.
Due to the quality and service though, this can easily go above ¥10,000 and well beyond. So while it may be suitable if you’re celebrating, it may not be great for a normal meal out.
6. Kushikatsu Murafuji | Shinsaibashi | ¥30+ | Japanese menu only
The cheapest option in town, this place starts off at ¥30 per skewer and even has an all-you-can-eat set for ¥1,000! For this option, you can order 8 sticks at a time, and more when you’ve finished until you fill up or an hour passes! The only condition is that you have to order a drink, but at ¥200 for a soft drink, it still makes the whole deal super affordable.
Despite the low prices it’s still an independent store with a nice traditional feel, though it is not counter seating, so they will bring your food to your seat. You can order à la carte too, but at such a good price it’s almost worth doing all-you-can-eat just to try the maximum amount of options!