OSAKA – Daimon Okonomiyaki Dojo, a late-night restaurant specializing in Osaka comfort food, has an unheard of 450 items on its menu.
The small restaurant, located near Takidani Station in Tondabayashi, sits just 10 people. It’s owned by Yukimasa Tanida, 73, who sports dyed brown-orange hair and dresses like a stylish teenager, and his fashionable wife, Misuzu, 70, whose impressive, towering hairdo brings to mind Marie Antoinette. I ask Yukimasa where he learned to make okonomiyaki (savory cabbage pancake).
“In prison,” he replies, deadpan. “I’m just joking. When I was a young man, I was a bit of a ne’er-do-well. I used to frequent a local okonomiyaki restaurant in Kawachinagano. The owner was a stubborn, moody geezer from Kyushu who told me that I was wasting my life playing around. So he offered to teach me his secrets if I opened up my own restaurant.”
Yukimasa and Misuzu opened Daimon in 1970. After three unprofitable years, the couple decided to shake things up by creating a unique menu of “strange and foolish” items that reflected the skewed sense of humor of Osaka’s Kawachi area.
Yukimasa has meticulously lettered and illustrated hundreds of menu items on hand-cut wooden boards. After almost five decades, the entire restaurant is filled from top to bottom with his colorful designs advertising original creations, such as the massive “Metabolic Syndrome Okonomiyaki” (¥1,800) and “Jigoku Hell Yakisoba” (¥2,000). The latter is made with a combination of habanero and the world’s hottest chili pepper, bhut jolokia (ghost pepper), which is 400 times spicier than Tabasco sauce. It can only be prepared after midnight since the ultraspicy fumes often drive regular customers away.
Yukimasa says that he has fun coming up with playful menu items, but notes that Daimon wouldn’t have lasted 49 years if the food wasn’t any good. Three okonomiyaki in particular come highly recommended: The Korean-influenced “Tsuruhashi-yaki” (¥1,800), made with horumonyaki (fried offal) and kimchi; “America-yaki” (¥1,500), which contains corned beef and corn; and “The Cheese Okonomi Pizza Oops!” (¥1,700), smothered with melted cheese and topped with tomatoes and green peppers. These prices may seem a bit high upon first glance, but keep in mind that portions are large and meant to be leisurely shared by two or even three people over drinks.
The most expensive item on the menu has a ridiculously long name and sells for a wallet-busting ¥50,000! Its menu card depicts an epic battle between a giant squid and lobster atop Mount Fuji. “I need a week’s notice because it’s made with an entire lobster and squid,” explains Yukimasa.
I ask if anyone has ever ordered it, and Yukimasa says no. “One of our customers sent a letter to the TV show ‘Tantei Knight Scoop’ to see if they would order it, but didn’t get a reply. I am still hoping to make it someday,” he says.
I ultimately decide on a dish whose name, “Jukujo no Umi,” roughly translates to “Attractive Middle-Aged Woman of the Ocean” (¥2,000). It’s a large portion of yakisoba (fried noodles) topped with a pot of white cream stew that’s densely packed with seafood, meat and vegetables. It’s delicious, but far too much food for one person — I eat the rest for lunch and dinner the next day.
In recent years, Daimon has been featured on several national television programs and, in 2018, the restaurant appeared in the pages of the manga “Mononoke Soul Food” by Tatami Kanzaki that runs in the magazine Morning Two. The media attention has brought in new customers from all over Japan. I point out that the late-night hours are inconvenient for tourists because they have to be on the last train back to Osaka by 11:20 p.m.
Yukimasa feigns indignance: “Well, if they’re not going to show up, I might as well dump a pile of wet cement mix on the grill and call it ‘Concrete-yaki,'” he says, laughing. “Who’s gonna ever know?”
Suga 2-20-7, Tondabayashi, Osaka 584-0062; 0721-53-3857; open Mon.-Sat. 9 p.m.-4 a.m.; closed Sun., hols.; drinks from ¥700; food approx. ¥2,000/head; nearest station Takidani; smoking; cash only; Japanese menu; Japanese spoken; reservations strongly recommended