OSAKA – Doner Kebab Chao is a tiny shop at the edge of Den Den Town in Osaka near Ebisucho Station. Don’t let the nondescript “take-out joint” decor fool you. Chao, which seats five, serves some of the most innovative chicken and beef doner kebabs in Osaka, and there are other delightful items on the menu.
Owners Toshiyuki Takeho, 69, and his wife, Asagiku Chao, 71, who is originally from Taiwan, met at a sushi restaurant in Taipei in 1977. He was running a wholesale meat distribution business in Osaka and she was a friend of the wife of his Taiwanese business partner. There was a brief blackout, and Takeho spilled soy sauce on Chao’s new white dress.
“He took my number and offered to buy me a new dress, says Chao. “After he returned to Japan, he called me every day for 10 months. Three years later, we got married in Taipei.”
Chao and Takeho encountered doner kebabs (where the meat is cooked on a vertical rotisserie) during visits to New Zealand, where their son and daughter lived for 5 and 10 years, respectively. “My son was crazy about doner kebabs and gained 10 kilos from eating so many,” Takeho says with a smile.
After their children moved out, Chao and Takeho decided to open a restaurant four years ago to keep active. “We thought that a restaurant that specialized in doner kebabs might work because only a few places in Osaka sold them at the time,” says Chao.
Chao offers chicken and beef kebabs as a tortilla wrap, on pita bread or baguette, or as a donburi (rice bowl). Other than the bread, they do everything in-house, including seasoning and preparing the meat for the vertical rotisserie, which, according to one account, was invented in Kastamonu, Turkey, approximately 150 years ago. Chao’s kebabs come with cabbage and onions, and tomatoes can be added at no additional charge.
While the delicious chicken kebab (¥500) made from momoniku (thigh meat) is outstanding, the beef kebab takes the flavor to a whole other level and often sells out. I recommend topping it with Chao’s homemade garlic yogurt sauce and a squirt or two of the original hot sauce. When I order the beef kebab baguette (¥700) for the first time, I can’t stop raving about how incredible the meat tasted, and press Chao to reveal the secret.
“It’s wagyu brisket,” Chao explains. “(Takeho) personally selects the best cuts. He knows the meat business inside-out, and won’t settle for anything that doesn’t measure up to his high standards.”
Wagyu, a special breed of Japanese beef, is highly sought-after and can often be very pricey, especially abroad. A quick search on Google reveals that a restaurant in Switzerland sells a doner kebab made with wagyu for 91 Swiss francs (about ¥9,977). I tell Chao that there would be a line around the block if more people knew that their kebabs contained wagyu.
“A big crowd would be troublesome!” Chao replies with a laugh. “But we are always very happy when our customers recognize the quality of our meat and let us know.”
When Chao’s first opened, it only served kebabs, but after a while the pair began taking requests from regular customers and added over a dozen new menu items, such as an 18-centimeter kebab pizza (¥890) and a tasty pork sandwich made with two kinds of melted cheese (¥600).
Chao has also found a way to fuse kebabs with traditional Taiwanese dishes, including kebab fried rice (¥600), which is topped with a fried egg and two pieces of chicken. I order the chicken kebab egg tortilla roll (¥400), which is based on a Taiwanese popular breakfast item called dan bing (egg crepes with assorted fillings): It’s so simple and good that I can see myself eating this wonderful treat every day for a month.
As I make my way home, fully satisfied with my meal, I realize that I forgot to ask Chao a very important question: Did Takeho ever buy her that new white dress?
Kebabs from ¥500; English, Chinese and Japanese menu/spoken
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5