For cheap and cheerful homestyle Japanese cooking, Futsu no Shokudo Iwama in Namba is the place to go. It's ultra-local and ridiculously good value for money. Just don't sweat the minor things - like the mild stuffiness inside.
The kasujiru set with omelette and fried chicken. - image © Florentyna Leow
Travelling to Osaka often gives me the sensation of travelling back in time. Much of Tokyo - my current home - is shiny and new or on the way to it, patches of the city abuzz with construction in the pre-Olympics years. Osaka, too, is busy changing - but to a slightly lesser degree than its eastern counterpart.
For instance, I love that central Osaka still has an abundance of electric wires criss-crossing the sky-spaces between buildings. This is a comparatively rare sight in Tokyo. A greater number of old restaurants and buildings, many of which are probably fire hazards and should be earmarked for destruction and redevelopment, continue to cling on in Osaka. Futsu no Shokudo Iwama strikes me as one such place.
Inside Futsu no Shokudo Iwama. - image © Florentyna Leow
Why do I say this? For one, Iwama takes up prime real estate on a narrow street just to the side of Doguyasuji or Kitchen Tool Street. Thankfully, it is not yet going the way of somewhere like parts of Kyoto, but I nevertheless pray they won't be replaced by a convenience store anytime soon. Another reason is that the restaurant itself is in need of some structural upgrades that won't be happening anytime soon. Sitting at the counter can be hot and stuffy - all the cooking takes place right across, and there's a sign apologising for the heat! Ventilation is not what it could or should be. There is a distinct whiff of grease in the air when you walk in.
he soy sauce is for pouring on the daikon next to the egg. - image © Florentyna Leow
I note all this as a warning to those who might prefer more conventional, pleasant surroundings for food. But the main point of eating at Iwama is, of course, the food. Its name translates to ‘A Regular Canteen Iwama.’ That in itself should tell you everything you can expect here: simple, hearty food in generous portions. Fantastic if you're on a budget, great even if you aren't.
The chef himself. - image © Florentyna Leow
Not too many non-Japanese visitors venture in off the cuff. Perhaps it is too intimidating, too local - you can't look into the restaurant from the outside. Don't be put off. They won't shout this from the mountaintops, but there's an English menu outside with photos. Come inside, and you'll hear 80s pop from the likes of honey-voiced Seiko Matsuda and Yumi Arai. If you need further convincing, the walls inside are plastered with celebrity signatures - the sign of a well-loved institution here in Japan.
Sake lees soup. - image © Florentyna Leow
There's plenty to choose from, and it is quite difficult to go wrong here. But if you are visiting in winter, one to try is the kasujiru set meal.
Kasujiru, or sake lees soup, is an extraordinarily warming dish. There's a dash of miso paste in there, but the cloudiness is by and large all due to sake lees. It's sweet, savoury, and funky, with a hint of booziness from the sake. This is to say nothing of what's inside: a soup stuffed with salted salmon, konnyaku strips, carrot, squid, fishcake, and topped with rings of Japanese leek.
Beautiful slabs of omelette. - image © Florentyna Leow
I might have been happy with soup and rice alone. But for JPY970, you also have several side dishes - like these lovely slabs of tamagoyaki (Japanese-style omelette), far better than what I can turn out in my own kitchen. Or large hunks of fried chicken - the better to help the rice go down. This isn't Instagrammable food porn. It's solid homestyle cooking. This is what I wish I could make for lunch, but can't for the lack of time - so I'll settle for someone else making it instead.
Hunks of fried chicken. - image © Florentyna Leow
If you have a very limited number of meals in Osaka and you want each one to hit the high notes, skip Iwama. This isn't that kind of restaurant. But if you want somewhere central, super local, and reasonably priced, Iwama is your go-to. This is a salaryperson sort of place. This is where you can sit at the counter and leech off the free WiFi to zombie scroll through your phone along with everyone else while you eat. It is reliable and comforting. Perhaps this is a form of happiness.
Outside Futsu no Shokudo Iwama. - image © Florentyna Leow
Directions: From Namba Station on the Nankai Line, take East Exit 2 from the Southern Building. Cross the road and walk straight - you’ll pass a Mizuho sign on your right as you enter this street. Iwama is located just after the second intersection.
Futsu no Shokudo Iwama
Name in Japanese:
9-12 Sennichimae, Namba, Chuo-ku, Osaka 〒542-0075
Subway: 2-minute walk from Namba Station Southern Building East Exit (Nankai), 3-minute walk from Exit B21 of Kintetsu Nippombashi Station, or 4-minute walk from Exit 1 of Namba Station on the Midosuji Line
:: Read customer reviews of Futsu no Shokudo Iwama on TripAdvisor
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