Residents of Osaka don’t have to go all the way to Kobe for Chinese food. Osaka is known throughout Japan as the nation’s kitchen, but the great variety of authentic foreign food available goes largely unnoticed. Immigrant-run and serving the diaspora, there are numerous noteworthy Chinese restaurants around Osaka City, many located in or near the iconic Dotonbori-Shinsaibashi area. Whether you like spice, are vegetarian, or just need something hot and savory to soothe your soul, these three authentic options have something for you.
大東北 Da Dong Bei
Da Dong Bei, or Great Northeast is, as the name suggests, a restaurant serving northeastern Chinese cuisine. Rice is a large part of Chinese culinary culture, but a northern diet is heavy on dough-based carbs. Those doughy options are available at Da Dong Bei: scallion pancakes, meat-filled lao po bing pastries, and dumplings are favorites. The basi, which is sweet potato covered in a hard, sugar coating and is similar to the Japanese daigaku-imo, could work perfectly as either a side or as a dessert.
The restaurant is close to the bustling Dotonbori and nestled between other Chinese restaurants. It’s hard not to feel at home at home here — the interior design is sparse with long tables reminiscent of a dining hall. The workers chat amongst themselves as they serve customers. There’s a nearly imperceivable hum of fridges placed in the dining space, creating a soft, white noise. Somehow, Da Dong Bei provides a feeling of belonging for even first-timers.
Nihonbashi 4-2-20, Naniwa-ku, Osaka City
朋友雑穀食府 Pengyou Zagu Shifu
Pengyou, meaning “friend” in Mandarin Chinese, provides an experience that lives up to its name. The dishes served here are classics that have been go-to comforts for many, playing a supportive role in people’s lives very much in the way friends do. Notable dishes served here include finely sliced vinegar potatoes, fried tomato and egg and pig ear with cucumber. Though these options are reason enough to plan return visits, Pengyou offers much more. Huiguorou, or “twice cooked pork” is a must for pork belly lovers. The specialty noodle dish, biangbiangmian or yaodaimian is from the Shaanxi Province located in the middle of China. To combat the frigid winters, these noodles are thick and spicy, which is perfect for vegetarian diners who are looking for authentic dishes.
Located off a side street, this narrow restaurant would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the glowing red lanterns cascading alongside the entrance. If the lanterns weren’t obvious enough, the caricature of a girl holding a large bowl of biangbiangmian that’s printed on the awning should certainly catch your attention. The restaurant has its regulars who often infuse the intimate space with joviality and warmth. In contrast to the above Da Dong Bei, Pengyou’s bustling energy is thanks to its compact size and it is recommended to anyone who enjoys the feeling of a communal dining experience.
2- 6-16, Shimanouchi, Chuo-ku, Osaka City
中華料理店 龍麺坊 Ryu Men Bo
Ryu Men Bo may not be a restaurant per se, however, its proximity to Tennoji and the quality of the food make it a great alternative to comparable sit-down options. The small shop has a selection of Chinese favorites, but their Beijing duck is what draws in their customers. In fact, the awning boasts the dish as its specialty. Choose the amount of duck and Ryu Men Bo can provide you with all the essentials — julienned cucumber and spring onion, sweet bean sauce (tian mian jiang), and thin, steamed pancakes (chun bing) for wrapping. Ryu Men Bo is perfect for those who would prefer not to eat in a restaurant but still want crispy, savory duck from a first-rate shop.
Calling ahead is recommended. The shop is primarily take-out. Paying with cash is acceptable, but like many Chinese businesses, it is also possible to use WeChat. Because of Ryu Men Bo’s size, expect to wait outside. Though there aren’t any suitable places to enjoy the Beijing duck in the immediate area, Tennoji Park (which houses the famous Tennoji Zoo as well as the Osaka Museum of Fine Arts) is within walking distance.
3-1-31 Shimoji, Naniwa-ku, Osaka City
Rest assured that though there may be many unfamiliar names appearing on menus, most dishes will have a photograph beside it. Each of these three eaterires are located close to other Chinese businesses as parts of gradually expanding enclaves. By visiting one of these spots, you will also quickly discover Chinese supermarkets, convenience stores, as well as KTV and other restaurants focusing on regional cuisines — an underground layer of Osaka that can’t be missed.