The biggest question we regularly face as travellers is, what are we gonna eat today? Our hostel in Osaka was in close proximity to popular streets and alleyways of many eateries, so going hungry was never an option. Yet the plethora of restaurants also caused us to be paralyzed by the paradox of choice.
One Sunday morning we decided to return to a ramen place with yuzu flavored pork broth that we had enjoyed down to the last slurp the day before. So much for trying new things, but it was delicious and we knew we’d be guaranteed a good meal. Unfortunately when we arrived at their doorstep, we found they weren’t open for another hour. With our tummies growling to be fed the first meal of the day we had to quickly look for another alternative or else suffer from a case of being hangry.
After almost settling for a Chinese style ramen place, we turned into another alleyway and found a tiny restaurant. It had a sandwich board outside with a few Japanese characters written on it, but no pictures, prices, English, or any indication of what they served. Curious, we poked our heads in through the noren.
It was small shop with three of the five countertop seats occupied. The customers all turned to look at us while Pop, presumably the owner of the shop, said something to us in Japanese. One of the customers also chimed in with rapid fire. Simon and I stood there dumbfounded and all I knew how to say was “wakarimasen” (I don’t understand). And in typical foreigner fashion I squeaked, “Menu?” accompanied by my best charade of flipping through the pages of an imaginary menu. They laughed and one of the customers held out his bowl while Pop pointed to it and said something again. We didn’t understand him but food needs no translation: the bowl of rice topped with crispy shrimp tempura looked mouthwatering. We nodded, held up the peace sign to signify two orders and quickly sat down.
They made our bowls to order. Pop fried shrimp as the batter sizzled in the hot oil. Mom scooped the rice into the bowl and passed it to her son. He in turn placed the crispy shrimp along with a piece of fried nori on top of the steaming white rice. He drizzled tempura sauce into the bowl, causing a crackling sound over the freshly fried shrimp I won’t ever forget.
Once I got past swallowing my pride and digested the minor embarrassment that just occurred, I was able to relax and enjoy the meal.
We ate without saying a word. The small enclosed space and countertop seating made it feel like we were eating face to face with Mom, Pop, and Son. The sizzle of oil from the deep fryer as well as the subtle crunch from munching on the yummy tempura was the only sound to break the silence.
I was kind of shy to whip out the iPhone in such an intimate setting but I managed to snap some photos, including one with the son smiling into the camera before we left.