2 Chome-9-5 Nishishinsaibashi
Chuo Ward, Osaka
I was walking along Osaka’s Doguyasuji (essentially a street filled with shops selling cooking tools) when I met Eric, a loud Jewish American lawyer from New York who was living and working in Osaka. This tall epitome of all the stereotypes I could think of was off to watch a baseball game at New Japan Hotel which has one of the very few, if not the only rooftop bar in Osaka – and he asked me to come along. I know jack shit about baseball and this was my first extended encounter with a stranger in Japan. In accordance with my promise to be spontaneous and meet new people on this trip, I accepted Eric’s invitation.
Although I didn’t quite get into the game as much as Eric and his mate Dennis did (as well as the twenty or so Japanese patrons cheering with us on the rain-drenched roof), I had a good time. Dennis then decided to call it night, whereas Eric and I worked up quite a bit of an appetite. Having lived in Osaka for a few months now and befriending quite a few locals, Eric knew his way around the area and suggested we go to one of his favourite okonomiyaki bars in Osaka.
The place was called Très Bon, a rather odd name for a tiny 12-seater okonomiyaki bar in the depths of Namba. Translating to ‘very good,’ the little hole-in-the-wall joint is owned by a grumpy 85-year-old Japanese man simply known as ‘Jefe’ (Spanish for boss). He was a funny man yet got on my nerves by saying that it was bad enough that an Asian like myself couldn’t speak Japanese but inexcusable a Chinese person like myself could barely speak any Chinese (of course, the fact that I can speak fluent Bahasa meant nothing). That aside, he was great to talk to in bits of broken English, Japanese and Mandarin over a few beers – that is, when he wasn’t muttering phrases like ‘silly Australian’ and ‘what a pretty lady, shame she doesn’t know her own language’ to his head chef, Mitsuru-san.
Très Bon is hard to find, purely because it doesn’t have much of a web presence. However, if you can find Ganso Ajiho, then you should be able to find Très Bon – just look for the little corner bar across the street. Like most mama and papa joints in Japan, Très Bon does not take bookings so you need to rock up either early or late. They are open every day except for Wednesdays so don’t organise hump day drinks here.
Everything at Très Bon is cooked right in front of you though there is no Benihana-type theatrics or lame onion volcanoes here. There is no strict menu here either – you just tell Mitsuru-san what you want or get him to suggest a few recommendations and off he goes. Having been here plenty of times, Eric knew what was good so I sat back and let him order for us.
We started off with some very lightly battered Moroccan beans, served piping hot and crispy. I’m not sure why they were called ‘Moroccan beans’ – they were not like any other bean I’ve tasted, though they looked like snow peas but had a taste similar to broad beans. They were seasoned with a lovely and bloody addictive umami seasoning that could best be described as just as addictive as Red Lea hot chip salt but possibly with more crack.
Our next dish was Mitsuru-san’s take on an Osaka speciality. If you like okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pizza), then you should give the tonpei yaki a spin. It’s an omelette served with okonomiyaki sauces (creamy mayo and tonkatsu sauce) and bonito flakes. The omelette itself is also filled with shredded cabbage and sliced pork but Mitsuru-san does his own bacon version.
It was shit good. It was lighter than a typical okonomiyaki as batter is being substituted for egg, which obviously contains less carbs. The bacon also gave it a lovely salty edge. If I can have this for breakfast every day, I’d die a happy woman.
Our final dish was the okonomiyaki. Diners can either choose what they’d like in their okonomiyaki or leave it up to Mitsuru-san. Because we rocked up late, there wasn’t a lot of ingredients for us to choose from by that point – we got cabbage, egg, squid crab though, which was enough for me.
Well, this okonomiyaki threw Ganso Ajiho’s one out of the window. It was not at all soggy, the batter wasn’t dense like the ones you get at many suburban food courts in Australia and best of all, I could still taste a slight crunch blended in with a lovely hint of smokiness underneath all the sauce on top. It was fresh, delicious and full of flavour – just how an okonomiyaki should be.
I don’t know how much each dish was, the final bill came to approximately AUD$35 including a few glasses of cold beer. In terms of Japanese mama and papa joints, it’s not the cheapest but it was worth every yen – the okonomiyaki was probably the best I had on my trip, the atmosphere was electric and even Jefe’s gruff demeanour was strangely endearing. I highly recommend Très Bon for a fun night out – but if you’re a non Japanese-speaking Asian, be sure to cop a bit of shit.