Kansai Cuisine: Typical Food From the Region

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Kansai cuisine

Kansai is in the southern end of Honshu island. It is one of the most renowned culinary regions of Japan and is often referred to as “Japan’s kitchen”. As well as being famed for its street food, it also features some of the nation’s most high-end restaurants and ingredients.

Among other features, Kansai region is home to the largest freshwater lake in Japan, 2 historic capital cities, Wagyu beef, kaiseki ryotei (traditional multi-course haute cuisine), a strong fermentation culture, fresh hand-caught seafood, and a rural and farming heritage. All these contribute to the rich culinary tradition of the area, with each of the 7 prefectures (Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Nara, Shiga, Mie, Wagayama) in Kansai having various regional specialities.

The top restaurants to visit in Kansai are Kashiwaya Osaka Senriyama and Taian, in Osaka; and Isshisoden Nakamura, Mizai, Hyotai, Gion Sasaki, Kikunoi Honten and Maeda, in Kyoto, all of which hold three Michelin stars.

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What food is Kansai famous for?

Kansai is internationally famous for several renowned dishes, including takoyaki, grilled octopus fritters; the savory pancake okonomiyaki; kushiage, breaded, deep-fried skewers; the savory custard chawanmushi; and many speciality noodle and sushi recipes.

There are 7 prefectures in Kansai, each of which are known and renowned for different sorts of food specialities.


Osaka is one of the most well known culinary cities in Japan, with a huge array of specialty foods. Although it has plenty of good restaurants, it is most famed for the food available from its street stalls, which provide a range of much-loved, down-to-earth delicacies.

5 of the best known dishes available from the street stalls of Osaka are the following.

  • Kushiage, or kushikatsu: breaded, deep-fried skewers, usually pork or chicken, but they can be made from beef, seafood or even vegetables.
  • Takoyaki: grilled octopus balls, topped with dried flakes of bonito (katsuobushi).
  • Okonomiyaki: a savory pancake made with eggs, flour and shredded cabbage
  • Kitsune udon: udon noodles in a dashi broth, topped with tofu.
  • Ehomaki: thick sushi rolls eaten in celebration of the Japanese holiday Setsubun in February.


Kyoto is home to some of the most refined restaurants in Japan, many of which serve Kaiseki Ryotei, which is a traditional Japanese multi-course meal, with a prescribed order of courses and an emphasis on fresh seasonal ingredients and delicacy of flavor.

5 classic dishes that you may be served in Kyoto are below.

  • Chawanmushi: a savory custard made with dashi stock and flavored with mushrooms.
  • Tofu delicacies, such as yuba, or yudofo, soft tofu simmered in broth
  • Nishin soba: buckwheat noodles in a tsuyu broth with preserved herring.
  • Kyozushi: a special type of rich sushi made with pickled or cured fish.
  • Obanzai: not so much a dish as a concept of making small dishes with local ingredients to minimise waste.


Hyogo is home to the most expensive (and, some say, most delicious) beef in the world: Kobe beef. In addition, the region is known for its breweries, and some specialty ingredients such as black soybeans, freshwater eels, wild boar, snow crab and taro yams.

You can find 5 well-known local delicacies below.

  • Yaki anago: grilled freshwater eel
  • Botan nabe: hotpot with wild boar and taro
  • Akashiyaki: a street food of battered egg dumpling balls
  • Himeji oden: a type of hotpot with ginger and soy in a dashi broth
  • Ikanago no kugini: a snack made from the fry of the ikanago fish, boiled in soy sauce with ginger.


Nara is a landlocked region surrounded by mountains. It is a historic farming region as well as a former capital city, with freshwater fish, nuts, grains, and other preserves. It is also known as the origin point of both Japanese tea and refined sake.

5 dishes that are typical of the region are the following.

  • Noppei: a stew of taro, thickened tofu and seasonal vegetables in dashi broth.
  • Ayu zushi: a type of sushi made with the freshwater “ayu” or sweetfish.
  • Nara-ae: a mix of sweet pickled vegetables (amazuzuke) fresh vegetables and fried tofu.
  • Warabimochi: a dessert made with sweetened bracken starch.
  • Asuka nabe: a hotpot with chicken and vegetables in a milky dashi broth.


Shiga is home to Japan’s largest lake, Lake Biwa, which supplies plentiful freshwater fish, and water for surrounding rice paddies. Additionally, there is a strong rural tradition with well-preserved farming practices, meaning that native crops have persevered well.

5 dishes emblematic of the Shiga region are found below.

  • Funa zushi: a type of sushi made with fermented freshwater fish, like carp, ayu and gudgeon.
  • Masu gohan: a seasonal rice dish in which freshwater trout is mixed with local rice.
  • Ebimame: freshwater shrimp steamed with soybeans
  • Saba somen: a traditional dish of somen noodles cooked in mackerel broth.
  • Junjun: a hotpot made both with beef and fish from Lake Biwa.


Mie has a large inland area, but spreads eastwards to the Kia peninsula and the sea, where a small number of traditional women divers still dive for shellfish, without scuba gear. The region is also known as “Umashikuni” which means Delicious Country, due to its diverse and rich culinary culture.

5 typical local dishes are the following.

  • Somen-nuta: somen noodles that have been clipped at the ends, boiled and mixed with other ingredients
  • Kan mochi: a sweet glutinous rice ball that is eaten as a winter warmer.
  • Asahi gohan: a rice dish mixed with clams
  • Isi ebe: spiny lobster, usually caught by the traditional divers
  • Pickled misono daikon: a local type of daikon radish that is dried before being pickled.


Wakayama is known as the land of trees, due to its plentiful thick forest. It is considered to be the birthplace of miso, and the first place where sansho (pepper tree) was cultivated. The traditional way of life included fishing, farming and forestry with plums, rice and persimmons commonly cultivated, and a variety of species fished from the sea or foraged from the woods.

5 renowned local dishes are the following.

  • Sechiyaki (also gobou-sechiyaki): a creamy fried dish of yakisoba and eggs, similar to okonomiyaki, but without wheat flour.
  • Kaki no ha Zushi: persimmon leaf sushi
  • Umeboshi: pickled plums, made from the local Nanko plum variety
  • Igami: Japanese parrotfish, usually simmered in a stew.
  • Kinzanji miso: miso made from barley, soy and rice, eaten as a side dish rather than a condiment.

What restaurants do you go to when eating in Kansai?

The regions in Kansai with the best restaurants are Kyoto and Osaka, which hold third and fourth place as the cities with the most Michelin stars in the world.

Kashiwaya Osaka Senriyama and Taian, in Osaka, and Isshisoden Nakamura, Mizai, Hyotai, Gion Sasaki, Kikunoi Honten and Maeda all hold three Michelin stars, the highest honor and considered to be the pinnacle of fine-dining experience. In Nara, Tsukumo, Oryori Hanagaki and Nara Nikon are two Michelin star restaurants.

Kyoto also boasts a number of excellent, but less formal restaurants. Japan Airlines recommends visiting Izuji, which has been serving sushi for over 100 years, Girogiro Hitoshina for a more informal kaiseki experience, and Honke Owariya Honten, whose owner is the 16th generation of her family to serve soba noodles. The local guide Inside Kyoto strongly recommends Daitokuji Ikkyu, a 500 year old Buddhist temple housing a vegetarian restaurant.

The website Inside Osaka suggests one of the following establishments for Takoyaki: Yamachan, Takoya Dotonbori Kukuru, Takohachi, and Doraku Wanaka. It claims that the best Okonomiyaki can be found at Ajinoya, Kiji, Jibundoki or Chibo.

The Japanese restaurant guide Savor Japan recommends Kitsune and Yakiniku Shinjo in Nara, Sakura or Sai Dining for Kobe steak in Hyogo, Sennaritei Kyara or Sennaritei Shikabou for meat dishes in Shiga, Tofu-ya or Sazanami in Mie, and Serafu and Shunzi Tomo as excellent izakayas in Wakayama. Additionally, the restaurant Yamashita in Wakayama is credited with being the inventor of Sechiyaki.

How does Kansai differ from other regional Japanese food?

Kansai cuisine is different from other regional Japanese food in that it is runs the gamut from the highest end Kaiseki Ryotei restaurants in Kyoto to the cheerfully informal street food of Osaka.

Other regional Japanese food is known, like Kansai, for speciality produce or particular ingredients, but Kansai offers the most diverse range of dining experiences.

How does Kansai Osaka sushi differ from other sushi?

Kansai Osaka sushi differs from other types of sushi in several ways. It is formed by being pressed into a mold, rather than by hand. The rice in Kansai sushi is sweeter, using mirin and kombu-dashi. Other ingredients are cooked or marinated, like local fish such as mackerel, eel and shrimp.

Does Kansai really differ that much from Kanto cuisine?

Yes, Kansai cuisine differs significantly from Kanto cuisine. The two regions have distinct taste preferences, ingredients, and cooking methods. Kansai cuisine is characterized by milder and sweeter flavors, a stronger emphasis on beef and the frequent use of kombu dashi. Kanto cuisine is heavier, saltier and uses more pork.

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Caroline first opened the doors to her own apartment in Berlin to guests, which was soon sold out. She then became the head chef of Muse Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg, for eight years, renowned for “international comfort food.”