Dining Out in Japan
It has the potential for more embarrassing moments than Candid Camera. San Francisco's Kevin Boynton, who lived in Osaka, offers up a few bits of advice.
Osaka is the reputed birthplace of the okonomiyaki, or "Japanese pancake." It's a joy to eat but requires some mastery to prepare since diners often have the honor of flipping their own pancakes. The ingredients—usually cabbage with seafood or pork—are mixed into the batter and poured onto a griddle in the center of the table. In Osaka, the best place for okonomiyaki is Sennichimae Hatsuse. After you place your order, a DIY kit will arrive. Combine the ingredients with the batter and pour the mix onto the griddle. Wait for the pancake to bubble and brown at the edges. Flip it once with the spatula and then dress it with okonomiyaki sauce and dried-bonito flakes. And don't even think about using your chopsticks—the custom is to cut a small piece off with your spatula and bring it right to your mouth. Namba Sennichimae 11-25, 011-81/06-6632-2267, hatsuse.net, from $7.
Most tachi-nomiyas, or "standing bars," are inside train stations. At Shochu Dojo Irifune, within Osaka's Hankyu Umeda terminal, the rumbling overhead is the sound of trains rushing salarymen home. The house drink is shochu, a grain alcohol served on the rocks. Shochu Dojo Irifune also has appetizers such as the Okinawa specialty of fried bitter melon. If a neighbor passes you a dish—as is the custom here—accept it with both hands. With so many plates coming and going, it can be hard to find a place for your chopsticks, so do as the locals do—make a holder. Fold the chopsticks' paper wrapper lengthwise and then fold it in half twice. Pinch the center crease between your thumb and forefinger and fold the ends so the paper resembles an M. Rest your chopsticks in the crease. Kakudacho 9-25, 011-81/06-6367-6464, from $3.
Breaded and fried kushikatsu (a few bites of meat and vegetables impaled on a small wooden skewer) is best eaten at a restaurant that's dedicated to the dish. The decor at Tengu is simple: fluorescent lighting, white counters, and stools arranged in a horseshoe around the fry cooks. To order, point at the skewers you want and hold up fingers indicating how many. (If you're feeling adventurous, try the dote-yaki, tripe simmered in miso.) The various sauces are shared, so there's no double-dipping! And when you're ready to go, say "oaiso" (oh-ah-ee-so, "bill, please") and then make way for the people in the line that always seems to be snaking down the block. Ebisu-higashi 3-4-12, 011-81/06-6641-3577, from $1.