Kushikatsu: The Lesser-Known Delicacy of Osaka | CoolJapan

The love for fried things on a stick is almost universal, and in Japan, they are on another level of deliciousness. Battered chunks of meat and vegetables on skewers, deep-fried to golden perfection. Sounds familiar? At first glance, Kushikatsu might easily be mistaken for the much-loved Tempura. The difference lies in the batter.

A tray of Kushikatsu

Deep-fried skewers of Kushikatsu served with raw cabbage on the side. (Photo from: kimishowota via Flickr)

While tempura is delicate and refined, kushikatsu is hearty and satisfying. Tempura uses a light batter made with water, flour and eggs. Bite-sized nuggets of food are individually deep-fried and presented with a beautiful pale yellow-gold colour crust.  As for kushikatsu, skewers of meat or vegetables are dipped in a thicker batter and then coated with panko (breadcrumbs), before deep-fried to a golden crunch. 

Although the cooking methods are similar, the texture and the taste of both fried delights are different. A true Japanese food connoisseur will know that eating Kushikatsu is a unique food experience.

From The Streets Of Osaka

Osaka streets at night

The vibrant streets of Shinsekai in Osaka. (Photo from: Petr Meissner via Flickr)

This underrated Japanese fried skewer is an Osaka specialty, outshone by other more famous Osaka street foods such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki. 

Going way back to 1929, kushikatsu got its humble beginnings when a street food vendor began serving skewered meat covered in a crispy thick batter for the local labourers. It became popular because it was cheap and easy to eat and filled the stomach. From the boisterous streets of Osaka, these scrumptious kushikatsu skewers made their way to Tokyo, and the rest is history.

Nowadays in Japan, you can find kushikatsu even in upscale restaurants. But nothing beats the atmosphere in authentic kushikatsu stalls found in Osaka, where you get to eat at counter seats surrounded by lively chatter. Typically bustling, this communal dining experience is a rather subdued affair now because of coronavirus social distancing restrictions and sorely missed by Kushikatsu lovers.

The Right Way To Enjoy Kushikatsu

In the past, kushikatsu was typically made with tummy-filling ingredients such as meat, onions, and potatoes. Now, you can find a mind-boggling array of ingredients used to make this deep-fried goodness. Pork, beef, chicken, octopus, fish, lotus root, gingko nuts, mushrooms, quail eggs, fruits and even mochi — no matter what’s inside, they are all lip-smackingly good. 

Kushikatsu in a restaurant

Kushikatsu goes beset with raw cabbage and cold Japanese beer. (Photo from: Hideyuki KAMON via Flickr)

Authentic kushikatsu eateries serve the skewers with raw crunchy cabbage on the side, accompanied by a dipping sauce that tastes a little like Worcestershire sauce. The secret success of this dish lies in the sauce. Savoury and tangy, this watery sauce elevates the flavours of the fried skewers. In between the deep-fried rhapsody, take a bite of the cabbage for a hint of fresh sweetness (it helps to aid digestion too)!

Before you tuck into the skewers, the golden rule here is “No Double-Dipping Into The Sauce”. Yes, everyone shares a tub of that delightful sauce so it is common sense that you do not want it to be contaminated with saliva. It is highly frowned upon in Japan to flout this dipping rule so do keep this in mind if it’s your first time eating at a kushikatsu restaurant.

If you are one of those who love to soak your food in sauce, don’t worry. Do as the locals do and use slices of the cabbage to scoop more sauce out to drizzle onto your food.  

However, this unique Japanese food culture of eating Kushikatsu is sadly facing some obstacles now. With fear over the spread of the novel coronavirus, restaurants have removed the signature silver tub of dipping sauce and replaced it with an individual small bottle of sauce for every diner instead.

As we wait for dining restrictions to ease up, here is another tip on how to enjoy kushikatsu.  Order just a few skewers at a time, so that they are always hot and crispy. Ordering a huge amount at once is tempting because everything looks so good, but that will leave them turning slightly soggy. To complete the kushikatsu experience, wash it down with some cold, thirst-quenching Japanese beer. Yums… this is pure bliss!

Where To Try Authentic Kushikatsu

What better place than the birthplace itself, which is the renowned Shinsekai district located in food haven Osaka! At a pocket-friendly price of JPY60 to 200 per stick, this quintessential Osakan is a favourite food of the locals, especially for after-work dinner-cum-drinking sessions among the working-class. 

Kushikatsu Daruma restaurant exterior

The signature angry man mascot of the famous Kushikatsu Daruma chain of restaurants. (Photo from: George N via Flickr)

There are plenty of kushikatsu restaurants all over the city. One place you have to try is Kushikatsu Daruma, the original creator of this Osaka soul food. With more than 10 outlets across Osaka and more branches found in other regions of Japan, Daruma is undisputedly one of the most popular kushikatsu chain restaurants. They are easy to spot as well, just look for the mascot of an angry man holding two skewers in the shape of an X, which is meant to remind customers of the “No Double-Dipping” rule.

Another place that specialises in only kushikatsu, for more than 50 years now, is Yaekatsu. The no-frills decor and noisy ambience do not deter the long queues patiently waiting outside at all. It is good-quality skewers they came for. There is a wide variety of kushikatsu here but if you are feeling adventurous, they have dessert skewers such as strawberry with condensed milk and scorpion skewers for the brave souls. 

For a cosy local atmosphere, head to Echigen. Located conveniently near Osaka’s iconic Tsutenkaku Tower, this small eatery with only counter seats serves up tasty kushikatsu and a welcoming vibe. They are famous for their chicken cutlet skewer which is reputed to be delightfully juicy on the inside. If you love Japanese-style runny eggs, you also have to try their soft-boiled egg skewer. Bite into the golden crispy exterior and the richness of warm egg yolk oozes out. It is so simple but yet, such a brilliant contrast of flavours and textures.

(Cover photo from: kimishowota via Flickr)