Jonathan's Worldly Eats: Confessions of a Foodie - Kouyoshi - Osaka, Japan
It is said in Japan that "People from Kyoto spend all their money on kimono and people from Osaka spend all their money on food." (京の着倒れ、大阪の食い倒れ) As a resident of Kyoto, I often find myself incurious with clothing; deciding instead to take the train to Osaka to obtain a bite of Japan's most elusive morsels. Once in Osaka, the smell of yakisoba, kushikatsu, okonomiyaki, and takoyaki will torture your senses until you give in to their decadence. But surely Osaka has some tasty treats that are not so artery clogging, right?
In a town filled with sushi joints out to make a quick buck off of not so discerning foreigners, one must be careful not to get hooked. Tucked away down a back alleyway in the corner of a nondescript black brick building lies Kouyoshi. Here, Mr. and Mrs. Yano serve up what is undoubtedly the best sushi in Osaka and perhaps the most enticing in all of Japan. Upon entering Kouyoshi, one may notice the minimalist sushi bar absent of the typical hourglass shaped bottles of soy sauce and the containers of green mustard meant to emulate wasabi that usually accompanies them. Instead, Mr. Yano masterly seasons his delicacies as to bring out their surreal essence. At times the ideal complement is not soy sauce, but instead a simple sprinkle of sea salt. I was skeptical at first, but after tasting the salt's power to illuminate the unadulterated attributes of each fish, I needed no further convincing.
Kouyoshi is also very reasonably priced considering the quality of the food and the ambiance of the establishment. The Chef's Choice, お盛り合わせ (Omoriawase) is the best option to try a wide variety of fish, especially when it comes to experimenting with options you may not even have known existed. My most memorable pieces included the unctuous Fatty Tuna 大とろ (Ootoro) and silken Hamo Eel 鱧 (Hamo). With beer or rice wine 日本酒 (Nihonshu) included, expect to pay between 3500 and 4500 yen per person for the same caliber of sushi which would cost tens of thousands of yen at similar establishments in Ginza or Tsukiji. Classic mom and pop osushiyasan are a dying breed and it is only a matter of time before Kouyoshi suffers a similar fate. To put it bluntly, when it comes to sushi like this, there are NOT other fish in the sea. Experience this cultural and gastronomic phenomena of Edo Japan before the inevitable occurs...
Koyoshi is open Monday through Saturday from 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm, except on national holidays. Only cash is accepted. Mr. and Mrs. Yano can be reached from approximately 4:00 pm until closing time at 06-6372-5747, but reservations are not accepted. Access to the restaurant is minutes by foot from JR Osaka Station, Hanshin Umeda Station, and Hankyu Umeda Station.
Osaka-fu, Osaka-shi, Kita-ku, Shibata 1-chome 3-12
Kouyoshi was featured on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
*A version of this review appeared on worldlyeats.blogspot.com on June 20, 2009
I don't think those restaurants are a dying breed at all. I've been to many like that in fishing cities and towns all over Japan. Many have successive generations apprenticing and ready to take over. There was a special about this on television the other day.
I just spent the week scuba diving with several hardcore chowhounds from different parts of Japan, including one incredibly vocal guy from Osaka and another from Kyoto. Interestingly, their conclusion was that Osaka was out of the top five among Japanese cities for sushi.
I just noticed this quotation (** added for emphasis):
"Kouyoshi is also very reasonably priced considering the quality of the food **and the ambiance of the establishment**. "
Koyoshi is actually expensive given the "ambiance of the establishment". The place looks like a dive, and is not a place I'd ever had entered by myself. I'd probably have never eaten there had a friend not taken me. Restaurants with ambiance like Koyoshi's should be charging Y100 or no more than Y200/piece.
But the sushi is good, and the owners are lovely.
'Moriawase' just means assortment, so I suppose they might offer something like that.
I'm trying to remember if I've ever seen an hourglass-shaped bottle of Kikkoman in a sushiya in Japan. Or a container of green mustard, for that matter. Is that common in Kansai? (I'm used to seeing the soy sauce in a pitcher of some sort, and the wasabi already in the sushi.)
re: Robb S
I've never seen it, but although I've spent many years in Kansai, I've not dined at many sushi places here.
Next time I'm at Koyoshi, I'll try to order moriawase, and see if he'll do it for me. They're a very sweet couple, by the way. One of my favourite places to eat (although I don't go there often), just because they're so nice.
One thing I sometimes explain to foreigners visiting Tokyo is that we don't really have much in the way of "tourist trap" restaurants targeting foreign tourists, as one might find someplace like Thailand. Foreigners tend to spend less money than local residents, and they require special handling (English menus, etc.), so why would anyone bother catering to the relatively small tourist market?
So it surprises me to hear Japan's third-largest city described as "a town filled with sushi joints out to make a quick buck off of not so discerning foreigners." I will certainly be on my guard the next time I visit.