Stick to Taste

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A selection of kushiage at Ichiban in Osaka’s Shinsekai district. Vegetables, shrimp, chicken and even ice cream (right) are impaled on a skewer, battered, deep-fried and served piping hot. (Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

A selection of kushiage at Ichiban in Osaka’s Shinsekai district. Vegetables, shrimp, chicken and even ice cream (right) are impaled on a skewer, battered, deep-fried and served piping hot. (Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Travel Editor

OSAKA.–Any jaunt through Osaka would simply be lacking if a quick stop for some kushiage wasn’t part of the itinerary.

Literally “stick deep fried,” it refers to basically anything battered, fried, skewered and served piping hot. Osaka is famous for large restaurants as well as out-of-the-way shops that specialize in this quick and easy grub.

The deep-fried ice had a satisfying warm crunch without being a melted mess.

The deep-fried ice had a satisfying warm crunch without being a melted mess.

Tucked away in the historic and  – let’s be fair – somewhat outdated southern district of Osaka called Shinsekai (New World), a smallish eatery called Ichiban is a favorite with the locals and show-biz types. Walking in, you’re welcomed by signature cards on the front door bearing the autographs of movie, TV and sports stars.

Perhaps as interesting as the simple and tasty fare is the decor at Ichiban. It’s like a moment frozen in time, with its early 1960s furniture and vintage advertisements on the walls.

Much of Shinsekai, which was first developed around 1912, seems to be stuck in the ’50s and ’60s. Alongside the dust-filled shops and dive bars are some of the city’s best “secret” eateries sharing the narrow avenues with adult movie theaters and transvestite hangouts.

Ordering at Ichiban is pretty straightforward; no Japanese language really necessary. Just point at what you want on the menu, and they’ll jab a stick into it and fry it.

The selection is more or less what one might expect: chicken, meatballs, vegetables and even cheese. The surprises really come when it’s dessert time. I had a deep-fried slab of ice cream that had the most satisfying warm crunch on the outside without being a melted mess inside.

Prices range from 100 yen (as of last year) for simple choices like yam or chicken katsu to 280 for asparagus wrapped in pork.

The walls at Ichiban are adorned with 1960s-era vintage advertisements, records and memorabilia.

The walls at Ichiban are adorned with 1960s-era vintage advertisements, records and memorabilia.

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