Okonomiyaki is a food that started in Kansai, the region around Osaka. Translated, “to ones liking”, it’s a dish that cannot be explained easily. The first time I ever had this dish it was explained to me as a Japanese pancake. While this is true for some people, it’s not how I would explain it. For me, I chose the second most popular way, Japanese pizza. The dish itself has a base of cabbage and batter. From there, things get very complicated. You can add sliced meat, typically bacon or you can add soba noodles, egg, or pretty much anything you want. There are hundreds of different ways you can prepare it, and various regional styles.
The first thing to notice is the atmosphere of the restaurants themselves. The typical restaurant can look very dirty, and it tends to be a little intimidating as many of the staff won’t speak any English. You will often sit at a table with a large black teppan in the middle. This is where you will cook the okonomiyaki. There are higher class shops where you will be served in a teppanyaki style. Instead of a teppan in the middle of your table, you might sit at a counter where a chef will stand. Separating you and the chef will be a large teppan where the chef will cook up all of your food. The final style is almost exactly like a restaurant. All you have to do is sit, order, and possibly watch the chef make your okonomiyaki which is cooked in an open kitchen.
If you choose to enter a shop where there is a teppan at your table, you can usually get someone to make the okonomiyaki for you, but it can be more fun to do it yourself. Generally, the kansai version is the only one that people make at their table. You will get a small bowl with batter at the bottom, and various vegetables, meat, and seafood on top. To make this, all you have to do is mix it up very well, add oil to the teppan, and pour it on into a pancake shape. Once the okonomiyaki is brown on one side, flip it over and add the various toppings. The brown sauce is first, followed by dried green onions, and finally, bonito flakes. Typically, you eat the okonomiyaki on the table, straight from the teppan. You don’t really need to use a plate, but if you are like me, you need to because eating from the teppan is too hot!
The second most popular style of okonomiyaki is the Hiroshimayaki. It’s a Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. This version of okonomiyaki is very different. Rather than mixing everything together, they tend to put things in layers. You will usually add a fried egg and noodles, but this isn’t always the case. This style of okonomiyaki is more popular in festivals where you can fold it in half and it looks a lot better when on display. It does take a lot more time to cook, but for myself, I enjoy this more than the traditional Kansai version.
There is also a Kanto, Tokyo area, version of okonomiyaki, but they don’t say okonomiyaki. They call it monjayaki, or monja for short. This is very different from okonomiyaki; it is similar to a cousin. The food itself is not like a pancake, but rather closer to slop. Unlike okonomiyaki, you generally only get this with a teppan, as you must eat it directly from the teppan. When served, you have to start a little differently. You start off taking all of the vegetables and meat and placing it into a ring shape. As it cooks, it will form a small barrier. You should also add a little liquid to help “seal” the bottom. Once it’s mostly cooked, you add the rest of the liquid to the centre of the ring and cook it for a few more minutes. Once it has reduced a little, you can mix everything and you’ll have a sloppy mess. You will have your own personal spatula to eat with. You can either scoop a bunch up into a plate, or eat like a Japanese person “should”. There is a technique that must be seen to understand, but basically, you bake it onto your spatula and pick it up in one scoop. It’s kind of like eating the burnt bits, or the browned bits, of any baked dish. It’s actually very nice, but it isn’t good as a meal, more of a snack to accompany a drinking party.
If you have a choice, do try to eat okonomiyaki. Monja is good if you are living in Japan, but not necessary. Feel free to ask about some places if you’d like a recommendation, or just look for it yourself. It’s good to have an adventure.
Kansai style Okonomiyaki:
Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki:
To continue reading the Top 10 Foods to Eat in Japan, follow the links below:
- Okonomiyaki & Monjayaki
- Takoyaki & Yatai
- Fast Food Hamburgers (Japanese Style)
- Fast Food Hamburgers (Japanese Fusion Style)
Guide to make Okonomiyaki: http://www.sakuratei.co.jp/en/okonomi-yaki.html
Okonomiyaki (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/r/e100.html
[Japan Guide has a step by step instruction manual with pictures on how to make Okonomiyaki, Kansai style]
Okonomiyaki (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okonomiyaki
Guide to make Monjayaki: http://www.sakuratei.co.jp/en/monja-yaki.html
Monjayaki (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monjayaki
Okonomiyaki Restaurants: [Note that all sites are in Japanese]
Foo Moo by Hot Pepper (Japanese): http://www.hotpepper.jp/A_11100/smd0_svcSA11_grcG016_grf1.html
Gournavi (Japanese): http://sp.gnavi.co.jp/search/theme/z-AREA110/t-SPG110218/p-1/s-new/c-1/