Okonomiyaki is often called Japan's soul food. Its name, consisting of "okonomi," meaning "to one's liking," and "yaki," meaning grilled, illustrates its versatile and customizable nature perfectly. Whether you eat it in the tight alleyways of Tokyo, the bustling streets of Osaka, or the scenic landscapes of Hiroshima, okonomiyaki promises a satisfying dining experience. And it delivers.
What is Okonomiyaki?
A signature dish in Hiroshima and Osaka, okonomiyaki is made with a wheat flour batter, fresh cabbage, and an array of delicious toppings. It is skillfully prepared right before the customers' eyes on an open grill, adding an immersive element to the entire experience. Often called a Japanese pancake, the savory-not-sweet okonomiyaki is more like the adaptable frittata you never knew you needed.
History of Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki traces its origins to Hiroshima in the early 1900s. At that time, an inexpensive Western-style meal called issen yoshoku was being marketed to school children. This one-piece-for-one-yen meal featured a thin flour crepe, cabbage, and simple toppings. However, the modern incarnation of okonomiyaki only took shape after World War II when Japan received foreign aid, including a surplus of wheat flour. This flour became a key ingredient in the development of okonomiyaki.
Presently, Hiroshima stands as the okonomiyaki capital, with more than 2,000 restaurants dedicated to this dish. With endless options to choose from, this culinary destination ensures a memorable okonomiyaki experience for every visitor. Choose from our list of okonomiyaki restaurants in Japan to enjoy this comfort food wherever you are.
Types of Okonomiyaki
- Hiroshima Okonomiyaki
- Osaka Okonomiyaki
- Hashimaki (Okonomiyaki on Chopsticks)
- Shobara Yaki
Hiroshima okonomiyaki features a base mixture of flour, grated yam, dashi, eggs, and a generous serving of shredded cabbage. Each component is cooked separately and then layered together. Yakisoba and a fried egg make this okonomiyaki variation stand out. If there were a battle between Hiroshima and Osaka okonomiyaki, I would put all my money (and yours) on Hiroshima okonomiyaki.
Osaka's okonomiyaki has the same base ingredients as the Hiroshima variation. The key difference is that these ingredients are mixed before hitting the grill. Osaka-style okonomiyaki is primarily known for its use of mayonnaise, a condiment commonly found in its other quintessential street food, takoyaki.
Hashimaki (Okonomiyaki on Chopsticks)
Hashimaki is a popular dish in some areas of Tohoku. It's prepared by rolling the okonomiyaki onto disposable wooden skewers or chopsticks, making it easy to eat on the go. The toppings and some base ingredients may vary depending on regional specialties. If you're attending a matsuri in Yamagata or Sendai, you'll spot some hashimaki at one or more food stalls.
Shobarayaki is a unique variation of Hiroshima okonomiyaki, where noodles are swapped for rice. And instead of the traditional okonomiyaki sauce, shobarayaki is topped with ponzu for a citrusy kick. This distinct combination of ingredients gives shobarayaki its special place in the world of okonomiyaki.
Okonomiyaki toppings range from seafood delights like octopus, shrimp, and squid to delicate pork belly or bacon slices, cheese, and even mochi (Japanese rice cake). Kansai and Hiroshima styles typically incorporate okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and aonori (dried seaweed).
It's possible to cater okonomiyaki to dietary restrictions with a few tweaks. Vegetarian okonomiyaki can easily swap meat toppings for tasty substitutes like mushrooms, beansprouts, and tofu. This food tour adventure in Hiroshima at night is perfect for those with dietary restrictions and an empty stomach.
Where to Eat Okonomiyaki in Tokyo
You can find okonomiyaki anywhere in Japan, at restaurants that will prepare it for you, or even at grill-it-yourself establishments. Here are some restaurants in Tokyo that serve authentic okonomiyaki:
Okonomiyaki can also be made at home if you have access to Japanese ingredients or don't mind using some handy substitutes. But you might feel confident to try cooking okonomiyaki with some guidance.
Okonomiyaki Cooking Classes in Japan
Want to learn from a professional? Join any of the okonomiyaki classes available in Japan. These Tokyo okonomiyaki classes are great for ease of access. Alternatively, enjoy a truly unique experience with this okonomiyaki cooking class at Hiroshima Station hosted by one of the top brands of okonomiyaki sauce, Otafuku. You even get some freebies to take home with you!
Although made with simple ingredients, okonomiyaki provides a surprisingly robust mix of flavors and ingredients. Its ability to be easily customized adds to the general appeal, making it a dish everyone can try. Don't forget to add okonomiyaki to your bucket list in Japan!