No, it’s not kaninabe, although it’s technically correct to refer it as “crab hotpot” The correct term should be kanisuki or “crab sukiyaki”. Osaka’s love for crabs started long before Kani Doraku, a crab specialty restaurant that made the kanisuki dish popular. Osaka has always been the crab capital of Japan. And this was where it all began.
Where It All Began
Located at Dontoburi in Osaka, Kani Dōraku (かに道楽) is a Japanese restaurant chain that specialises in crabs, different kinds of it. Aptly named as “Crab Paradise”, you cannot miss its huge mechanical crab moving menacingly in their Honten (main branch) in Dontoburi right opposite the famous Glico Man.
Osaka is not too far from the fishing ground of king crabs, which are Tottori, Hyogo, and Kyoto. It is also close to the fishing ground of queen crabs (also known as snow crabs), which is Fukui. This geographical advantage made crabs easily available for Osaka. A decadent and expensive way of eating crabs at that old time was kanisuki or crab hotpot. Immediately it became a popular dish in Osaka, the city known for kuidaore 食い倒れ or “eat until you drop”. For the record, Doraku is not the inventor of kanisuki, but it was because of Doraku Osaka became the capital of crab cuisine.
Since this visit, they have upgraded their utensils. Instead of a pair of disposable chopsticks and a disposable crab digger, they have incorporated the digger with the chopsticks. I guessed too many diggers were broken along the way. For me, I don’t even used that.
If you love crabs like I do, you have entered paradise. Tonight’s dinner was all crab. Everything except the dessert has crab in it.
Crab vinegar salad かに酢 サラダ
The sweetness of the crab was the main attraction here with the starters. The vinegar dip is a sweet ponzu like vinegar, for someone who may be afraid to eat seafood. For me, the vinegar was unnecessary, The “salad” was simply boiled broccoli and cherry tomato with shredded boiled crab with a sesame wafu sauce on the side.
Crab sashimi かに刺身
Lightly poached crabs were served with raw crab so that you can taste all the different types of crabs (snow crab ズワイかに, king crab タラバかに, horsehair crab 毛かに), different textures but all served on a cold bed of ice.
Crab Chawanmushi かに茶碗蒸し
Crab egg custard was delicious. Shredded crab meat was added to the glaze of the egg custard. The chawanmushi was not as memorable as the other courses in this wonderful meal.
Crab tomalley sushi かにみそにぎり
Crab tomalley sushi かにみそにぎりis an acquired taste. Kani miso (かにみそ) is a grey/green coloured paste, and usually you’ll get a good-sized spoonful or two from a single crab. Ask a Japanese person what they think kani miso is and more often then not the word ‘nou miso’ (脳みそ) will come up (i.e. crab’s brain). However this is a common misconception.
The truth is far more horrific, the brain size of an average size crab is little more than that of a pea, and kani miso is whatever is left after all the white meat is taken out of the crab – a nasty looking concoction of internal organs such as livers and pancreas, intestines, their contents and just a little bit of the actual brain. And if you are keen on these, you can buy them from the restaurant in canned format for enjoyment at home.
Deep-fried Crab かに唐揚
Usually it was tempura, but here we were presented with a deep-fried style that was usually associated with chicken. If this was Singapore, we would have suspected that the crab used was substandard. But it’s Kani Douraku, the crab was still the high-quality live crabs from their crab farms.
Grilled King Crab タラバかに炭火焼
This is my favourite way of eating crab – grilling them over charcoal fire releases all the flavour profiles of the seafood. Maillard effect works in crustaceans as well. In fact, I think they work even better with crustacean. They sell this to passing tourists at their doorstep. The smell of the grilling crab just invoked the appetite for the passer-by to stop at the restaurant. These days they are so popular, so this may be the only way for the tourist to try their famous crabs.
Kani miso korayaki かにみそ 甲羅焼き
Crab ‘miso‘ cooked in the shell with plenty of sake over a mini charcoal hibachi right at your table. Korayaki 甲羅焼き Grilled crab in shell is the way crabs are enjoyed by crab fishermen who know the most delicious method to prepare crabs. These crabs are grilled over charcoal and served hot. The umami notes of the crab from its shell will blend into the Japanese sake and give rise to an exceptional combination of flavours.
Kani paper suki かにつみれ紙鍋
Kani suki is simple but also elaborate in do’s and don’ts. One should not dump everything into the nabe – but we did it anyway because that’s where Chinese and Japanese hotpot differ. We like to cook everything together, much to the chagrin of the Japanese waitress.
Crab sushi かに寿司
Kani usually refers to imitation crab, which is a staple in authentic Japanese sushi and which please many western palates. In Japanese, this imitation crab meat is called ‘surimi,’ which actually means ground meat and in this case grounded fish meat. However, that’s not the case in high end sushiya and here at Kani Douraku. All the sushi were with real crab.
Three pieces of crab sushi (from right to left) – crab nigiri かににぎり made with the crab leg, crab battera かにバッテラ and crab futomaki roll かに太巻 (with boiled crab and tamago). Battera sushi (also referred to as oshisushi 押し寿司) is a style of sushi from Osaka and is traditionally made with vinegar mackerel and other cooked fish. The ingredients are stacked in a wooden box and then pressed to shape and cut to size. The name ‘battera’ comes from the Portuguese word ‘bateira’, which means small boat.
Zosui (rice porridge) pickles 雑炊 (ぞうすい) 香の物
This was my favourite part of the meal, zousui 雑炊 rice porridge cooked with the kani soup left from the hotpot. Aptly named “mixed cooking”, it contained bits of mushrooms, good Japanese rice and a scrambled egg thrown in for good measure. And you still have leftover kani, they will also add them it to luxe the porridge. But it was not the stock that made it so satisfying. Unknown to my fellow diners, I saw the whole process of preparation and the waitress added a saucer of white powder. This magic powder that gave the porridge all its umami is MSG.
Akadashi miso soup is a miso soup made from a blend of Hacho-style (soy bean and rice) miso paste. It is mainly produced in the Tokai and Kyoto regions. Contrary to its appearance, Hacho miso contains less salt and is rich in arginine that improves the circulation and strengthens the immune system. It is said that the famous shogun, Tokunaga Ieyasu (1543-1616) loved this miso and it contributed to his strength and longevity. He lived until he was 75 when the average life expectancy was 37-38!
Kani Douraku Honten has several floors with nice views on the street and the river. Higher floors rooms are japanese tatami style, with option for small private rooms. Reservation is really necessary: if possible with 1-2 weeks in advance as the place is now so famous among tourists.
Kani Douraku Dotombori Honten かに道楽 道頓堀本店
Tel : 06-6211-8975
Date Visited : Jul 2017