It's late on a Sunday afternoon. I'm spending my final few days in Japan in Osaka before flying off to Thailand. I show up with no plans of where to stay or what to do, but thanks to the new wealth of travel knowledge at my disposal, I'm not phased at all. I have a team of experts working for me.
I poll my experts a few days before going to Osaka to see if they have any recommendations. One of them tells me I have to check out a restaurant called
The owner/chef wipes his crooked, strong fingers on his stained shirt and grips my hand with a toothy grin. Something about him makes me feel we've met before; he seems to share the sentiment, but it doesn't hamper the formality of his greeting, a Japanese custom. He introduces himself as Hideki and shows me a seat right in front of his cookspace. I sit. It would've been a big mistake not to.
At his recommendation, I order the house special, takasuga yaki: a mixture of bacon, shrimp, rice, mixed vegetables, and a few other things I don't recognize. The English menu pinned to the wall on my left describes it as "flaffy and sticky." Hideki names the various things he tops the dish with as he prepares it just inches from my outspread notebook: "Mayonnaise. A special sauce of fruits and vegetables. Seaweed. Fish powder." Handing me a teko - a metal utensil resembling a pancake flipper - he stands back, beaming. He knows I'm going to like it.
As I take my first bites, Hideki tells the story behind his restaurant, Okonomiyaki Chitose. His mother started the shop in 1959, working there for nearly half a century until 2006 when her ailing health forced her to retire. That's when Hideki took over operations, and it only took him a few months to develop his now-favourite dish, takasuga yaki. He explains its roots with an air of mystique.
"And yaki?" I asked.
"That means 'fried.'"
It all made sense.
I pay my 800 yen, thank him for a wonderful meal, and walk out, the soft sound of a teko scraping against the teppan ringing in my ears. And to think, without my team of experts behind me, I would've never discovered Hideki and his takasuga yaki.
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