Eat your fill in Osaka where food is a 24-hour obsession, recommends Lincoln Tan.

My adventure in Osaka started at 4am, the morning after a 16-hour flight from Auckland via Seoul.

I'd given up trying to sleep and was thrilled to see life on the neon-lit streets outside my hotel in Shinsaibashi.

As Rotorua, is marked by the smell of rotten eggs, here - even in the early hours of the morning - the scent of delicious food fills the air.

Osaka is known as Japan's kitchen and, in a city divided into four distinct districts, the people share one common interest: eating.

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It's a couple of hours to sunrise, and street food carts can be found at nearly every corner and ramen noodle bars are packed with diners.

Kuidaore, literally meaning "to eat oneself bankrupt", is an expression used to describe Osaka people's obsession with food.

The city had traditionally been populated by rich merchants who would wine and dine their clients with elaborate feasts.

This resulted in a way of life, and something you should not miss is the local speciality, takoyaki, or octopus flour dumplings.

I bought my first sampling from a street cart, and at just 500 yen ($5.50) for 15 piping hot pieces - a real bargain.

Octopus pieces are added to batter and fried as sphere-shaped dumplings.

You get a strong burst of seafood flavours in your mouth when you bite into one of these soft battered balls.

Within half an hour, I succumbed to my second street food temptation - shio tonkotsu chashumen - at a 24-hour ramen noodle bar.

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Osaka local Yuri Sasaki, 29, who works at the Osaka Tourism Bureau, said people in Osaka are extremely proud of their food culture.

Noodles, Osaka style. Photo / Lincoln Tan
Noodles, Osaka style. Photo / Lincoln Tan

"This is the city where you get the best food in Japan and maybe even the best food in the world," Sasaki said.

Osaka's principal tourist destination, Dotonbori, is famed for the huge Glico Man sign and the Kuidaore Taro clown.

But it is also where you will be enticed by the smell of food spilling out from the hundreds of snack bars, cafes and restaurants that line the district streets.

Takoyaki stalls are easy to spot; huge octopus signs clearly adorn the front.

The Kani Doraku Honten has a giant 6m-wide crab sign and is famous for its grilled snow crab.

In Osaka, almost anything is put on a wooden skewer, battered and deep fried, and these are served as another popular street food called kushikatsu.

By lunch time, I arrived at the conclusion that local Osaka fare is not only delicious, but inexpensive.

Dotonbori also has themed cafes, such as a cat cafe, where for 1000 yen, customers get a drink and the company of about a dozen cuddly cats.

The Ebisu Bridge connects Dotonbori to the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade, a covered walkway stretching 600m with trendy boutiques, international and local fashion labels and retail stores.

Another favourite, okonomiyaki, often described as Japanese pizza pancake, was what we had for dinner at Teppanyaki En E-ma Umeda.

The flour-based grilled-on-the-table okonomiyaki pancake with squid, meat and cabbage, was part of an eight course meal that included yakisoba (fried noodles), karaage (fried chicken), tonpei yaki (pork omelette) and foil grilled ponzu sauce pork and vegetables.

Preparing okonomiyaki, a local speciality. Photo / Lincoln Tan
Preparing okonomiyaki, a local speciality. Photo / Lincoln Tan

Of course there's more to Osaka than food, and one of its structural wonders is the Umeda Sky Building, also known as the Floating Garden Observatory.

The unique building, said to be ranked among the best 20 in the world, has a 170m-high observation platform which serves as a bridge connecting its two 40-storey towers.

It gives you a perfect view of the city's skyline and a 360-degree view of Osaka City from the top of the building.

A river cruise on board the Aqua Liner takes visitors to Tenmabashi Pier, Yodoyabashi Pier and the Osaka Castle Park.

Osaka Castle, a reconstruction of the original, is one of Japan's most famous castles and a reminder of the city's feudal past.

Osaka is a city of contrasts, with ancient castles, temples and ultra-modern state-of-the-art skyscrapers.

But it is also a 24-hour city that offers a gastronomic experience like no other where you can totally immerse yourself in culture and food.

Osaka is a city where you've got to let yourself and your tummy loose - and best enjoyed in the true spirit of kuidaore.

Osaka Castle. Photo / Lincoln Tan
Osaka Castle. Photo / Lincoln Tan

10 things to love about Osaka

Food:

Found in almost every street corner, delicious and inexpensive.

Osaka Castle: A majestic historic building with gardens and a moat.

Namba: Best shopping area, where you'll find huge Daimaru, Takashimaya and Namba City department stores.

Dotonbori: Bustling district with loads of food establishments.

Umeda Sky Building: For 360-degree views of Osaka.

Universal Studios: A popular theme park.

Nipponbashi "Den Den" town: A town for "otakus" or anime and manga fans, offering pop culture items such as electronic games, comic books and cosplay costumes.

Themed cafes: Cats, maids and cosplay.

Instant Noodle Museum: Make your own noodles at the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum.

Glico Man: An enduring icon of Osaka and no visit is complete
without a photo with it.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Korean Air flies daily from Auckland to Osaka via Seoul.

Details: For more information on JTB tours in Japan, go to jtboi.co.nz.

The writer travelled as a guest of JTB and Korean Air.