Early morning sushi in Osaka that’s a cut above the rest

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Special To The Japan Times

If someone were to ask me where the best place in Osaka to go for sushi at 5 a.m. is, I would answer — immediately and unequivocally — that it’s Endo’s. Of course, it might also be the only place open at such an ungodly hour, owing to its location at the Osaka central market.

On a recent visit one frigid Monday around lunchtime, the market was empty. In fact, the only signs of life were at an eastern flank of the market near a channel of the Yodo River, where a line of people had formed outside a small parade of restaurants. Typically, the queue was for my destination. I can’t stand waiting, but I suffered it for the sake of culinary journalism — and a good meal.

I’m not the best at math, but I calculated that the time I spent waiting outside was three times the length I spent eating inside. That is to say, except for the line, Endo’s is fast-food.

The restaurant launched in 1907 at the tail end of the Meiji Period (1865-1912). In 1931, Endo’s moved to its current location — a small, unfussy spot inside the market. I imagine the interior hasn’t changed much since then: four tables, and as many seats again at the counter, facing a kitchen of sushi chefs. It’s informal dining and the staff doesn’t mind tourists, which is a good thing, because they’re often the cause of the long lines.

There may be a possibility that you can order a la carte, but don’t waste any more time. Instead, just go with the jomaze (mixed plates), a selection of five pieces of nigiri sushi. There are four courses, or plates, and whether you proceed to eat all four, or just one or two, is your choice. Each course works out at about ¥1,200. While waiting in the queue, I acquainted myself with a family from Takatsuki in Osaka. We waited together so it only felt right to eat together.

The first plate consisted of hamachi (yellow tail), toro — the fatty tuna cut — sea bream, uni (sea urchin) and anago, an eel that is currently less endangered than the freshwater eel. The sushi, without exception, was delicious. It had that delicacy that only comes with fresh fish. However, I was on my guard with the sea urchin: It’s an unappetizing blob, and I am not enamored by that “brilliant iodine tang,” which critic Jay Rayner loves. Rayner also said that a taste for urchin and oyster is a mark of adulthood and a healthy sex life. With that in mind I attacked it. Also, I didn’t want to leave anything behind. And you know what? I see what Rayner means. About the iodine tang, that is.

With the first plate came a steaming bowl of akadashi (red miso soup), loaded with clams and myoga (ginger), which combined to give a rich, dense taste. The next plate had crab, akagai (red clam) more tuna, scallop and tachiuo (hairtail fish). The scallop was the standout on this plate. After these two courses our group called a halt to the proceedings. A lovely meal with a lovely family.

Noda 1-1-86, Osaka Central Wholesale Market, Fukushima-ku, Osaka; 06-6469-7108; www.endo-sushi.com; open 5 a.m.-2 p.m., closed Sunday; nearest station JR Noda, Subway Tamagawa; no smoking; lunch around ¥3,000; English menu; some English spoken.