This super cheap find is open to the public, so join us as we walk you through how to eat there.

With so much being written about Japanese restaurants, we’ve decided to go a different route lately, by exploring a relatively unexplored aspect of the local dining scene staff cafeterias.

These cheap, no-frills cafeterias are great for getting a real taste of Japan, as they introduce you to homely dishes while giving you a glimpse into the workday of a local employee. Our latest staff cafeteria discovery is located in Osaka, inside the Osaka Prefectural Government Office, where they serve up a mysterious dish called “Prefectural Office Rice“.

▼ All we knew about this meal was that it was new (“新”), and came served with salad and miso soup for 650 yen (US$4.66).

Our reporter K. Masami was in the neighbourhood to check it out, walking towards Osaka Castle from the ticket gate at Temmabashi Station to reach the prefectural building, which was undergoing renovations when she visited.

Although the staff cafeteria is ultimately designed to serve staff, it’s also open to the public, so if you’d like to visit, simply enter through the entrance, where your temperature will be taken — a COVID-19 countermeasure required for every visitor — and you’ll be given an admission pass.

Masami asked the guard where the cafeteria was — simply use the word “shokudo“, which means “cafeteria” — and was told it was on the first basement level.

▼ So she took the stairs one flight down.

One tip when visiting staff cafeterias like these is to go a little outside of the 12:00-1:00 p.m. peak lunch hour period to avoid the inevitable crowd of employees. Masami visited just after 1:00 p.m., but it was still packed with patrons, so she had high expectations for the food here.

Despite its popularity, there was still a lot of food available — a selection of set meals (“定食”), rice bowls (“丼物”) and noodles (“麺”) were advertised on the board outside, along with a katsu curry for 700 yen, and that mysterious Prefectural Office Rice.

▼ If it’s on the board, it’s still available, as staff take signs for meals away once they sell out.

Masami stepped inside and placed her order for the mysterious dish, opting for white rice when staff gave her the option to choose between white or five-grain rice. Her heart pounding with excitement over what the meal might contain, Masami was handed this beautiful plate of food, with salad and miso on the side.

It looked to be omuraisu (omelette-covered rice), but with a big hunk of tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) on the side. This was a whole lot of food for 650 yen, and Masami couldn’t wait to taste it.

Upon first bite, she was totally won over to the humble ways of the cafeteria, even feeling a slight twinge of envy towards the staff who were able to eat here on the cheap every day.

The tonkatsu had been drenched in a delicious wine-based sauce but still maintained a slight crispiness to the fried exterior. Both the sauce and the cutlet were the perfect complement for the omelette-topped rice, making for a hearty, moreish, delicious meal.

Masami couldn’t help but wonder, though — why had this combination of ingredients been given the illustrious title of “Prefectural Office Rice”? Was it meant to look like the prefectural office or something?

Upon enquiring with staff, Masami expected to receive a deep and meaningful reply as to the meaning behind the dish. However, the workers at the cafeteria simply laughed and replied with local dialect inflections, saying:

“We don’t know! Wouldn’t it be because you’re eating it at the prefectural office?”

Their blunt yet friendly response made for a typically Osaka-style conversation, and being a resident of the region herself, Masami appreciated their kind frankness. Friendly banter with locals is one of the many reasons why she loves Osaka so much, and now that she’s discovered one of the city’s best kept secrets, she has yet another reason to love it.

Masami will definitely be visiting the prefectural office again for lunch, and highly recommends it to anyone looking for a cheap yet delicious meal in the area. And if you’re passing through nearby Namba Station, there’s a secret staff cafeteria there you ought to try too.

Cafeteria Information

Osaka Fuchou Shokudo / 大阪府庁食堂
Address: Osaka-fu, Osaka-shi, Chuo-ku, Otemae 2-1, Osaka Prefectural Government Main Building B1F
大阪府大阪市中央区大手前2-1 大阪府庁本館地下1階
Hours: 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. (last order 1:45 p.m.)
Closed: Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays

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