How much luck can you have when asking a cab driver for recommendations in Japan?

On a recent trip to Osaka, our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun decided to let the gods guide him to some of the city’s best gourmet destinations, by jumping in a cab and asking the driver to take him to the best ramen restaurant in the area.

Like the cab ride itself, that journey turned out to be a series of stops and starts, but in the end it led him to a fantastic meal, so he decided to try his luck again, this time hopping in a taxi in Osaka and asking the driver to take him to the best takoyaki joint in town.

▼ Takoyaki is an Osaka specialty, so P.K. had high hopes that the cab driver would share his local knowledge and take him somewhere special.

However, P.K.’s cab ride turned out to be another rollercoaster ride of surprises, starting with the very first exchange he had with the driver, which went like this:

P.K.: Hello, driver! Please take me to the most delicious takoyaki shop in this area.

Driver: “Hmm? A takoyaki shop? I don’t eat takoyaki.”

Well, that didn’t bode well for P.K.’s culinary adventure. He spent a quick second wondering if he should jump out of the cab and try another one, but the driver, who appeared to be in his fifties, seemed amiable, and when he stopped the car and put the hazard lights on so he could search for a good takoyaki shop on his smartphone, P.K. decided to stay and trust the the gods that led him here.

After a few moments of searching, the driver lifted his head suddenly and said:

“Oh, that’s right — there was a takoyaki shop on the corner here…I think it was next to a tobacco shop…”

P.K.: Is that the most delicious?

Driver: “I don’t know if it’s number one, but it’s a shop so shouldn’t it be delicious?”

P.K.: Hmmm. Then let’s go there!

P.K. realised that the driver had a point — any takoyaki shop in Osaka ought to be good, especially to outsider palates, given that it’s a local specialty. Still, P.K. is a pretty astute taste-tester so he had his doubts, but he kept them under wraps and once again placed his trust in the culinary gods.

They set off, but in less than a minute the driver had stopped again, because the takoyaki shop on the corner wasn’t there. There were closed shutters next to the tobacco stand, suggesting the takoyaki vendor was taking the day off or had gone out of business.

This prompted P.K. to ask the driver:

“Can you take me to another store?”

The driver thought for a moment, and then his eyes brightened as he appeared to remember something.

Driver: “Ah, that’s right — there’s another store across the main street…behind the police station…”

And without another word, they were off again, and that’s when P.K. noticed something odd.

P.K.: “Ah, Mr Taxi Driver, it looks like the meter isn’t running.”

Driver: “Oh, it’s only a few hundred metres so I’ll do your ride for free. And your request is pretty unusual!”

P.K. felt a little bad for the driver, telling him he wasn’t after a free ride and didn’t want to put him out, but the driver wouldn’t hear another word of it, saying:

“No, no, we’ll be there when we just cross this main road.”

P.K. was filled with gratitude for the driver’s kind efforts to fulfil his strange request, and when they arrived at the takoyaki shop, P.K. thanked the driver, who smiled and replied:

“Enjoy Osaka!”

▼ Thank you, kind driver!

After being dropped off, P.K. turned around and found himself outside this colourful joint, which turned out to be the Nakatsu branch of the Jumbo Sohonten takoyaki chain.

According to an acquaintance of P.K.’s, who lives in the Osaka region, Jumbo Sohonten is a well-known takoyaki chain that’s had local comedians star in its commercials. While most of the stores are located in and around Osaka, they even have branches as far afield as Kanagawa, Tokyo and Saitama, suggesting this is one very successful takoyaki chain.

P.K. loved the look of the store, and after perusing the menu, he saw the most popular options were a pack of six takoyaki for 350 yen (US$3.08) and a pack of nine for 450 yen. He went for the larger portion, and when he received it, he found it was absolutely slathered in sauce and mayonnaise — just how he likes it.

As for the flavour, well, it was hot, juicy and mellow. P.K. wasn’t sure if it was the best takoyaki in the area, but it was certainly satisfying and it hit the spot, and its casual, homely look and flavour really gave him the sense that he was in Osaka, the hometown of fried octopus balls.

What made these fried balls even more special for P.K., though, was the journey that led him to them. As with all good culinary finds, it’s often the word-of-mouth and the help of locals that add a special dose of magic to the meal, so next time you’re looking for a place to eat in an unfamiliar town, you might want to try asking a cab driver. It’ll be an adventure you won’t forget, especially if you happen to hail down one of these seven secret lucky cabs in Tokyo!

Restaurant information
Jumbo Sohonten Nakatsu / じゃんぼ総本店 中津店
Address: Osaka-fu, Osaka-shi, Kita-ku, Nakatsu 1-10-1
Open 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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