OSAKA — As soon as you exit the station wickets, sometimes even before that, the aroma hits you.
Welcome to Tsuruhashi, it says, the town of yakiniku.
Located on the border of Tennoji and Ikuno wards in eastern Osaka, Tsuruhashi, for locals, has become almost synonymous with Korean barbecue because of the abundance of restaurants and shops here specializing in it and other Korean cuisine.
Here you don’t have to worry about making the wrong choice on where to eat. Almost all of the establishments clustered west of the JR Kanjo Line tracks and north of the Kintetsu Line tracks are worth a try.
For a good first taste, try Tsuruichi — the most famous and one of the oldest yakiniku restaurants in town. One of the reasons this place is so popular — in addition to its matching of reasonable prices with generous portions of good-quality meat — is because of its charcoal grills.
While all branches of the Tsuruichi chain use charcoal rather than gas for their table-top grills, the main restaurant is special in that it is equipped with shichirin, rather than modern smoke-free grills. So, though it’s rather smoky, it’s a more genuine barbecue experience.
As for the taste of the meat, that’s pretty much guaranteed, as is the queue outside Tsuruichi’s doors. Still, unless there are more than 10 groups in line, you should get to table without too long a wait. It’ll be worth it.
Here are some other eateries to check out in the Tsuruhashi area:Yoshida — A slightly more upscale yakiniku restaurant, Yoshida is neat and so is the food. And you don’t have to worry about smoke.
Sora — This is the place for people who eat everything. A yakiniku establishment with most seating at the counter, Sora offers 30 different unusual cuts of meat from the intestines on down — and up.
Hakuundai — Hakuundai is for those who want to experience a genuine Korean royal course dinner without forking out the airfare to South Korea.
Taikyuya — This rather posh restaurant also offers more traditional Korean fare. A 4,000 yen set dinner includes some 15 different small dishes.
Pusanya — Located on an alley off the main drag, Pusanya is rather cozy. It serves up homemade Korean soup and pot dishes, which, when eaten with a bowl of rice, will fill you up for under 2,000 yen.
Ajiyoshi — Both the main restaurant and annex of Ajiyoshi are equal in popularity to Tsuruichi. But though yakiniku is served, the real specialty here is reimen noodles, which are homemade and very chewy, as is characteristic of Korean noodles. Some regulars come to Ajiyoshi for noodles after eating barbecue elsewhere.
Feel like trying your hand at cooking up some Korean cuisine at home? Visit the Korean market on the other side of the JR Kanjo tracks. Here, there are more than 30 shops selling a variety of Korean products, mainly foodstuffs, ranging from kimchi to Korean instant noodles.
All the kimchi is homemade, using Korean chili powder and even some fresh vegetables imported from the Korean Peninsula.
The shops’ main customers are the local restaurants, as well as Korean and other residents of Osaka. For tourists, there are a number of ethnic items available. Just don’t go on a Wednesday; all the shops are closed.
Snacks are readily available in the area. Chijimi (Korean pancakes) are sold at stalls in and around the Korean market. The Rock Villa cafe, meanwhile, serves up a good cup of coffee and its original kimchi sandwich. Priced at 500 yen, this is a toasted sandwich with ordinary fillings such as cucumbers, eggs and ham topped with kimchi pickles. Delicious!
Back on the other side of the JR tracks, north of the Kintetsu Line, is the Tsuruhashi Shopping Arcade. Here, you can buy traditional Korean clothes and ethnic works of art, making it a good area for browsing. Just be careful not to get lost among the 180 shops lining the narrow alleys. But if you do, you know what to do. Just follow the smell of barbecue back toward the station.