Anything coated in crunchy panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried has to be irresistible. Known as “food for the common people,” Kushi-katsu is popular among young and old in the neighborhood of Shinsekai, home of Tsutenkaku Tower – the symbol of Osaka.
Tsutenkaku means “tower reaching heaven.” It was built in 1912, but was taken apart in 1943 because the iron was needed for the war. Later in the 50s, the local people of Osaka rebuilt it and now it’s a symbol of Osaka and its citizens.
We took an elevator to the top of the tower and were greeted by Billiken, the cute god of good luck (and the god of the common people in Osaka). He mysteriously appeared in the dream of a female American artist in 1908, but exactly how he came to be a mascot in Osaka, we have no idea.
Rumor has it if you rub the soles of Billiken’s feet, your wish will come true! People lined up to give it a try.
We walked down busy streets, past street vendors selling necklaces and Hello Kitty purses, karaoke shops, rooms of old men playing an ancient game related to chess, pachinko parlors (Japanese pinball/slot machines), and many kushi-katsu shops in search of the perfect one for lunch. When my students decided they had found it, we squeezed into the tiny booth in the far corner of the long and narrow shop. The menu conveniently doubled as wall paper. Almost every surface of the wall was covered with writing describing all the delicious fried things to eat, and refreshing things to drink. Japanese sensory overload.
My students didn’t waste any time ordering beer and sake. If you drink 2, the 3rd one’s on the house. What a deal!
One of my students immediately ordered an appetizer for us. Then he proudly told us it was stomach stewed in white miso. The texture of the stomach was soft and easy to chew, but it was a little slimy. I thought the miso masked any offensive tastes that the stomach might have had.
Overall it wasn’t that bad, but if we hadn’t been told what we were eating, it would have tasted even better.
There were so many kinds of kushi-katsu to choose from on the vast menu, but we tried the quail eggs, shrimp, eggplant, onion, pumpkin, asparagus, lotus root, shitake, squid, and beef.
As we waited for our fried skewers to arrive, we snacked on fresh raw cabbage leaves dipped in the tangy brown sauce – complimentary on every table. The kushi-katsu arrived steaming hot and we consumed them quickly after dipping them once into the sauce.
There’s an important rule that’s actually posted on a sign outside on the street: no double dipping kushi-katsu!