A fun and tasty way to support the local economy.

Whenever our reporter Seiji Nakazawa tells someone from Osaka that he used to live in Tsuruhashi, they often reply with, “Oh, yakiniku!” That’s because one of the characteristics of Osaka’s Tsuruhashi Station is that it smells like yakiniku, due to the proliferation of yakiniku stalls there.

The area around the station is a maze-like conglomeration of shopping streets with a lively atmosphere, but once local businesses close their shutters for the night, the lights of the nearby vending machines invite you over for a gander, and that’s what happened to Seiji on a recent trip back to the neighbourhood.

One vending machine had a particularly strong allure, and as he sidled up to it, Seiji found it was filled with a selection of unusual products.

The sign above it revealed that the bottles inside the machine weren’t drinks — they were filled with ponzu! Tsuruhashi ponzu, to be exact.

That wasn’t the only surprise here — the sign clearly said that if you think the sauce is no good, you’ll get your money back.

Taking a look around, Seiji couldn’t see any way you could possibly get your money back from the machine if you didn’t like the sauce, so he figured this must be one of the slogans for the product, with a traditional phone or email returns system in place instead.

He did find the words “Japan’s first!” on the side of the machine, though, which indicated that this is Japan’s first vending machine dedicated to Tsuruhashi Ponzu Sauce sales.

Despite having lived in Tsuruhashi, Seiji had never heard of Tsuruhashi ponzu, so he decided to right this wrong and find out more about it by making a purchase.

▼ 300-millilitre (4.2-ounce) bottles were priced at 750 yen (US$5.48), while 200-millilitre bottles cost 450 yen

▼ Seiji decided to support the local economy by purchasing the larger 300-millilitre bottle.

The bottle landed with a clunk in the tray at the bottom, and when Seiji picked it up he found it was nicely chilled.

According to the blurb on the side, the sauce was made by Kou Heiretsu, who ran the Tecchiri Toraya fugu (pufferfish) specialty restaurant in Tsuruhashi for ten years. After that, he switched to ponzu making, perfecting the art for five years before releasing a selection of ponzu for sale online and through four vending machines in Tsuruhashi.

When Seiji lived in Tsuruhashi, he was a penniless student so he could never afford to eat pufferfish hot pot, but he does remember hearing about Toraya. He was sad to hear the restaurant had closed, but glad that he was able to buy this ponzu, as it was the same sauce that diners used to enjoy at the restaurant.

▼ Seiji would finally get a taste of Toraya, years after he moved out of the neighbourhood.

Ponzu tastes similar to soy sauce, but it has a delightful acidic kick, usually due to the addition of citrus. Seiji didn’t have any pufferfish on hand to pair it with, but he did have some salad and a pork hotpot lined up for dinner, so he splashed a good serving of sauce on both of them.

The sauce really made the ingredients sing, with the tartness of yuzu and sudachi citrus giving the salad a refreshing aftertaste. This fresh flavour helped to enhance the flavour of the meat in the hotpot as well, and it was the zingiest ponzu Seiji had ever tasted.

If you like your ponzu with a sharp zing, then this is the ponzu for you. Seiji usually likes a more mellow-tasting ponzu, but now that he’s tried this one, he thinks it’s going to become his new go-to staple.

▼ He might also return to buy the mysterious “Golden Ponzu” (1,500 yen for a 365-millilitre bottle) and Kimchi Ponzu (450 yen for 200 millilitres)

So next time you’re enjoying the sights and sounds of Tsuruhashi, be sure to keep an eye out for the Tsuruhachi Ponzu Sauce vending machine. And don’t forget to try the two-foot tall parfaits while you’re there!

Reference: Toraya Bussan
Photos © SoraNews24
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