A style of cooking, called "Kappo" is a style of cooking, which involves making dishes cooking in front of guests and it s, and was born in Osaka, in the west of Japan. It is, so to speak, something that stimulates your five senses. The aroma of ingredients comes wafting from close quarters, and your eyes are busy with the elegant handling of food by the chef, fresh color of ingredients, and a very beautifully served plate. While pleasant sounds of roasting and frying are making you feel hungry, your tongue first begins to indulge in talking with the chef before you start eating your food. What could be the reason for such cooking culture to be born here in Osaka, and continuing to be loved?
Where nature meets cultures
Osaka emerged as trade center when the political power shifted to Edo in 1603. People who came to Osaka by road or by merchant ships that sailed the Japan Sea during Edo period for trading brought many commodities as well as a lot of information from their region. This mood became vibrant and the city was called “Nation’s Kitchen”. It further invited more people and the city became livelier.
Yoshitaka Sasai, Representative Director of "Naniwa Gyosai-no Kai", explained the characteristics of the culture: "It was very messy, but everything is blended together in a harmony. It was like a stew of mixed ingredients if I were to describe it as a cuisine.”
“Food culture often shows the temperament of people of that area. Tokyo was a city of Samurai; Kyoto, that of aristocrats and Osaka was a city of merchants. After all, it must have been a big deal to incorporate business in food. The Osaka cuisine is broadly divided into two; Kaiseki (会席, banquet) and Kappo. Firstly, Kaiseki in Osaka (会席) is not a Kaiseki (懐石) cuisine that came with tea culture in Kyoto, but apart from self-enjoyment, Kaiseki (会席) had an important role of entertaining your business partner."
"As all preparations for the business partners were made many days in advance, in a way, you can say that the restaurants and the host were business partners as well. On the contrary, Kappo is a style developed from Kaiseki with the thought “Eat when you want to eat” and is detached from the business. It’s more about personal delight.
It fits perfectly into the practical mindedness of Osaka people, "If I am paying, I would like to do it my way". For example, even today, if someone from the Eastern part of Japan is not happy with the cuisine, he will not say anything on the spot, but will never visit that restaurant again. However, people from Osaka are different. In spite of all the grumbling and complaining about food to the chef, next week they will pop up in that restaurant again as if nothing happened (Laugh). In a way, it can also be said that the guests helped raise the chefs”
While talking Sasai showed us a very pretty light-colored book. It was a cooking guidebook featuring paint-colored photographs, published in 1897.
“This photograph shows the Kappo culture of Osaka very well. This chef is making filets of sea bream in front of the customers. Although this region is often bundled as “the West”, this kind of situation is not seen in Kyoto, next to Osaka. To begin with, cooking would not be done right in front of the customer, and the natural environment is also different. Unlike Kyoto that has a strong image of mountains; Osaka boasts an image of many rivers flowing into the rich Osaka gulf. Therefore, the culture of the kitchen knives, which "make use of fish as much as possible”, prospered”
Conversations add another flavor
Knife handling is regarded as a factor that shows the level of the chef in an instant. A sight of knife handling by the chef in front of customers with a sharp eye, is rather rare even at exclusive restaurants in the world. For a cook, wouldn’t a style of cooking that requires paying attention to many different things, be something that he would want to avoid if possible?
“Initially I was not accustomed to it,” says Osamu Ueno of "Naniwa Kappo Kigawa" located in Hozenji Yokocho, an alley that has retained a taste of Edo period.
“Making conversations while allowing customers to see how you’re preparing the dish, is not possible unless you’re an expert at the job. In case of Kaiseki, since reservations have been made, it is possible to make preparations beforehand, but in case of Kappo, improvising becomes essential for walk-in customers.
In old days, only names of the ingredients like sea bream, squid, octopus etc. were written on a shingle board (thin board used as a substitute for paper). Conversations are exchanged like "what do you recommend to do sea bream?", “Sashimi must be nice today” . Even today, I change seasoning or making it suit taste of the customers by listening to their conversations. Furthermore, the philosophy of “Shimatsu no Ryori” which refers to making full-use of the ingredient is also a chance to show off skills.
The rational people of Osaka have liked fancy sea breams because it is delicious in a variety of ways- cooking it with rice, serving it raw as sashimi, frying the scales and gills, and even making soup stocks with the backbone and inner parts. If all parts of it are used, it will result in low cost. If you feel you are too inexperienced to try Kappo style, you may begin with the course. It’s also alright to come when you’re already a bit full. I can try to work out with allergy issues as much as possible”
Feeling “Naniwa” sprit in a dish
The cooking style is not termed as "Osaka Kappo", but as "Naniwa Kappo". "Naniwa" can be referred to the geographical area but also is sometimes written as 浪花 (Naniwa, means flowers in waves) and sometimes as 難波 (Namba, means hard waves). What does it really mean to local people in Osaka?
"Naniwa" can be written as “Naniwa (魚庭, means garden of fish)” or as “Sainiwa (菜庭, means garden of leaves)”. This is because fish and vegetables are obtained in close areas. Osaka alone is blessed with enough ingredients, even without the ones which comes from other regions.
It feels like "Naniwa" has more local spirit or feeling than just name of the city "Osaka". You end up thinking that "Naniwa" dishes can be cooked only at "Naniwa". Everything, the ingredients, water and even the language are peculiar to Osaka. Even if a restaurant is opened at any place other than Osaka, over time, gradually, the language and food get the color of that place. And when this happens, it becomes something different little by little. It is important to be flexible, and adopt elements of French cuisine or cuisine from other countries, but I want future generations to inherit the peculiarities of "Naniwa”
A touch of humanity as a secret spice
Hozenji Yokocho alley has an ambience, which completely takes you to a different time zone, even though it is just a lane away from the lively Dotombori street. Hozenji temple, which local people fondly call it by its nickname, was transferred here in 1637. Comedy and play theaters gathered there, and it is said that Kagetsu, the theater of Yoshimoto Shinkigeki comedy, was also there. Even now, when festivals are held together by the neighboring shops, visitors gather here to relish the atmosphere of warmth, and atmosphere of local people connecting with each other with a long history.
“Only Acalanatha (Buddhist deity), made of stone, remained after the devastation of war. In 2002, Naka-za (one of the major theatres in Osaka) caught fire; and it spread to the neighborhood. I have touching memories from before, of eating very delicious Onigiri (rice balls) that we carried in my Bento boxes to the mountains. But when the fire broke out, everyone from the surrounding places could only stare vacantly at the fire.
At that time, one person was giving Onigiri to us. When I ate it, I realized that it was more delicious than anything else I had ever eaten. On top of that, the person distributing onigiri was an employee of the restaurant that had already burnt to ashes. His boss had asked him to do so. I did think nature was amazing, but felt that humanity was even more amazing than nature. The point is that human beings are the weakest of all species. A large number of people act like they are well-off without others, but unless you feel supported by others, you can’t even enjoy the best food because you cannot appreciate it”
After moving everyone with this touching story, Ueno made everyone laugh with a remark, "I’m talking cool, ant I?", and made a cute pose in front of an Ise shrimp. Hiding his shyness in this typical Osaka way feels indeed gentle and comfortable.
After all, a restaurant needs both sides of one that cooks and the other that eats. A warm connection and atmosphere can be born if both sides support each other. That’s why Osaka has restaurants that will make you think, “let’s eat there to meet the chef”.
Association of non profit organization Naniwa Uosai
Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau
Photos: Misa Nakagaki
Text: Makiko Oji
Edit: Saori Hayashida
Production: Skyrocket Corporation