Thanks to Naoki Fukuma (aka Max), who is originally from Hiroshima. He showed us around his city and taught us about Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.
(Thanks to Max too for some of these pictures)
Okonomiyaki is a popular savory pan-fried food in Japan that consists basically of batter and cabbage. Selected toppings and ingredients are added, which can vary a lot (anything from meat and seafood to wasabi and cheese). The name comes from the words okonomi, meaning “what you like” or “what you want”, and yaki meaning “grilled” or “cooked”. Okonomiyaki is mainly associated with the Kansai or Hiroshima areas of Japan, but is widely available throughout the country. Toppings and batters vary according to region, with each area claiming that their version is best!
Okonomiyaki is sometimes translated into English as “as-you-like-it Pancake”. However, this is misleading: Okonomiyaki does consist of batter cooked on a griddle, but it is not sweet or puffy like pancakes, and is usually filled with octopus, shrimp, pork, yam or kimchi, fillings not common in western-style pancakes. A more accurate comparison might be between okonomiyaki and pizza. Some people also call it an omelette, or even “Osaka Soul Food”, as it is said to have originated in Osaka, the main city of the Kansai region.
In Japan, people usually eat okonomiyaki at restaurants that specialize in the dish. They may have a diner-style counter where the cook prepares the dish in front of the customers. Or, at some of these restaurants the dining tables each have an iron griddle (“teppan”), where customers may be given the ingredients to cook the meal themselves if they wish.
Osaka-style okonomiyaki is the most common version of this dish, and is found throughout most of Japan. A thick batter (made of flour, grated yam, water or dashi, and eggs) is mixed with shredded cabbage, and a choice of other ingredients such as green onion, meat (usually pork or bacon), octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, mochi (rice), or cheese.
A large scoop of the batter and other ingredients is fried on both sides on either a teppan or a pan using metal spatulas that are later used to slice the dish when it is cooked. The cooked okonomiyaki is topped with brown okonomiyaki sauce, usually with a brush (similar to Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter); aonori (seaweed flakes); katsuobushi (bonito flakes); Japanese mayonnaise, squeezed out of a plastic bottle in thin lines, and pickled ginger (beni shoga).
The Himeji-style okonomiyaki is similar to the Osaka-style, but the batter is softer and fluffier and there seems to be less of the fillings.
In Hiroshima, the ingredients are layered rather than mixed together. This style is also called Hiroshima-yaki or Hiroshima-okonomi. They begin with a thin layer of batter, then add handfuls of cabbage, pork, bean sprouts, and optional items such as squid, octopus, and cheese. Noodles (yakisoba, or udon) are also used as a topping with fried egg and the whole is lathered with okonomiyaki sauce, and dusted with aonori.
The amount of cabbage used is usually three to four times that used in the more common Osaka style. It starts out piled very high and is pushed down as the cabbage cooks. The order of the layers may vary slightly depending on the chef’s style and preference, and ingredients vary depending on what the customer chooses. People from Hiroshima claim that this is the correct way to make okonomiyaki.
And we have to agree! The very best okonomiyaki we had in Japan was in Hiroshima. Thanks to Max, one of our students, who took us to Takaya, a wonderful little local okonomiyaki restaurant, with an expert team of cooks, creating the tasty meal in front of us on a large diner-style griddle. We sat at the counter with our beers, while the cooks made our okonomiyakis. It’s hot, steamy and noisy as the cooks shout out commands to each other, but a great atmosphere and such fun to watch the cooks in the cramped space working together as a team, their movements almost orchestrated, to produce a memorable meal.
(The web site is all in Japanese, but the live cam gives an idea of the actions: www.takayanet.com )
Click on any picture below for a larger view.