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The Complete Guide to the Popular Japanese Dish, Okonomiyaki: How to Eat it, Recommended Restaurants, and More!

Okonomiyaki is an iconic dish that represents Japan's food culture. Okonomiyaki comes in a variety of forms with different ingredients and cooking styles, and some regions even have their very own okonomiyaki. Here is a comprehensive guide to okonomiyaki, including everything from its history and origins to popular restaurants, tips for making and eating it, and information about local okonomiyaki around the country.

What is Okonomiyaki?

Okonomiyaki is a popular Japanese dish made by mixing ingredients such as vegetables and meat in a batter made of flour and water and cooking them on an iron griddle. The basic ingredient is chopped cabbage, and a variety of different ingredients such as pork, seafood, mochi (pounded rice cake) and even cheese can be added. It is often enjoyed at home in Japan, and even at okonomiyaki restaurants it is common to sit at a table with a griddle in the middle and to mix and cook it yourself. Once it's cooked, enjoy it with whatever toppings you want, such as special okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and aonori (green laver).

The Origins and History of Okonomiyaki

It is said that the way that okonomiyaki is made, with a batter of flour and water that is cooked on a griddle, has its origins in funoyaki, a snack that was served with tea during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (approx. 1568-1600 CE). Funoyaki, which was miso covered in a batter made with flour, evolved into "sukesoyaki" with an (sweet azuki bean paste) replacing the miso during the closing years of the Edo period (1603 - 1868). "Monjayaki" (savory pancake with various fillings, thinner than okonomiyaki​) and "dondon yaki" with vegetables instead of an appeared in the Meiji period (1868 - 1912) and a version of them called "Issen Yoshoku" with negi scallions and sauce on top became a popular snack for children to buy at the local candy store. It is said that cabbage was added to "Issen Yoshoku" after the war to make them filling, leading to the creation of "okonomiyaki", which quickly spread throughout the country.

[Types of Okonomiyaki]

There is a wide variety of okonomiyaki depending on the way it is cooked and what ingredients are in it. Cabbage is the basic ingredient in all okonomiyaki, and depending on what other ingredient is added, the name changes to xx-tama ("tama" means "ball" in Japanese), such as buta-tama for pork and ika-tama for squid. Okonomiyaki are also differentiated into Kansai-style and Hiroshima-style based on how they are cooked.

Characteristics of Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is made by stacking ingredients, such as fish powder, cabbage, and pork on top of a thin pancake of grilled batter which is then flipped over so that the ingredients are steamed in the batter. While the ingredients are being steamed, Chinese noodles are grilled on the side and placed on top of the pancake. An egg is cracked onto the griddle and spread into a circle and the batter, ingredients and noodles are stacked on top of it in that order. Finally, the whole okonomiyaki is flipped over again and topped with sauce and other condiments. In essence, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is layered like a lasagna.

Characteristics of Kansai-style Okonomiyaki

In contrast to Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki that is layered, Kansai-style okonomiyaki is made with all the ingredients, such as cabbage, tenkasu (crunchy bits of deep-fried dough produced as a byproduct of cooking tempura​) and egg mixed into the batter and grilled together. If pork is being added, the batter and other ingredients are first formed into an okonomiyaki on the griddle, then the pork placed on top of it. Once the okonomiyaki is half cooked it is flipped over. Kansai-style okonomiyaki is characterized by a soft texture and grated Japanese yam is often blended into the batter to make it even fluffier.

Popular Okonomiyaki Recommended for First-timers

There is a wide variety of okonomiyaki, ranging from the standards to unusual ones, but if you are having okonomiyaki for the first time, try one of the popular standards such as "buta-tama" with pork or "ika-tama" with squid. If you can't choose between the various ingredients, why not go with the "mix-tama" that has an assortment of ingredients in one okonomiyaki?

[Where to Eat Okonomiyaki: Popular Recommendations]

If you want to try okonomiyaki, the best place to go is a restaurant specializing in okonomiyaki. Many izakaya (Japanese pub) and restaurants don't serve okonomiyaki, and even if they do, they may only have one choice or serve it cooked so you may not get the full okonomiyaki experience. Restaurants specializing in okonomiyaki will have a wide selection and the okonomiyaki will either be cooked for you right in front of your eyes, or you'll be able to cook it yourself. There is even the added fun of choosing the condiments, such as okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, aonori, or katsuobushi.

Micchan Sohonten Hatchobori Main Store: A Popular Hiroshima Okonomiyaki Shop,

Micchan Sohonten Hatchobori Main Store is a popular restaurant that started in 1950 as a yatai (food cart). The okonomiyaki here is made by Mitsuo Ise, who was instrumental in the development of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki made with cabbage and Chinese noodles mixed with flour and enjoyed with a rich sauce. The okonomiyaki that Ise has been making for over half a century is fantastic. The okonomiyaki sauce that is used around the country today was also developed by Micchan. The top recommendations include the standard OKONOMI-YAKI Chinese Noodles (790 JPY (excl. tax)), the DX Special OKONOMI-YAKI (1,550 JPY (excl. tax)) with mochi in it, and Oyster OKONOMI-YAKI (1,440 JPY (excl. tax)) with oysters that Hiroshima is known for.

Micchan Sohonten Hatchobori Main Store: A Popular Hiroshima Okonomiyaki Shop,

Churis Hatchobori 1F, 6-7 Hatchobori, Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima

Botejaya Dotomboriten: An All-you-can-eat Okonomiyaki Restaurant in Osaka

Botejaya Dotomboriten is located in the center of the popular tourist district of Dotonbori, just five minutes on foot from Namba Station. It is on the 3rd floor of the Cui-daore Building, which is filled with restaurants that represent the rich array of food that Osaka has to offer, and serves all-you-can-eat okonomiyaki, monjayaki (loose form of okonomiyaki0, and yakisoba (pan-fried noodles). It is just 1,980 JPY (excl. tax) for a basic set of bottomless cabbage, tenkasu and yamaimo (Japanese yam), with which to make a standard okonomiyaki, and a plate of six additional ingredients including cheese and mentaiko (seasoned cod roe). There is also a course with bottomless soft drinks (limited to 90 minutes) for 2,480 JPY (excl. tax). Add 300 JPY (excl. tax) and you can get bottomless servings of 11 other Osaka specialties, such as takoyaki (octopus dumplings) and kushikatsu (deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables​).

Botejaya Dotomboriten: An All-you-can-eat Okonomiyaki Restaurant in Osaka

Nakaza Cui-daore Bldg. 3F, 1-7-21, Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka

Mojiyakiya Kandaten: All-you-can-eat Okonomiyaki in Tokyo

Mojiyakiya Kandaten is an all-you-can-eat okonomiyaki shop in a great location just outside the East Exit of Kanda Station. It is a popular restaurant where you can enjoy healthy okonomiyaki made under the direction of a dedicated nutritionist using carefully selected farm fresh ingredients. All-you-can-eat options start at 2,580 JPY (excl. tax) per person. You can have a variety of different okonomiyaki, including the standard okonomiyaki enjoyed with a house sauce and an unusual version made with homemade chili oil. There are seats at a counter, tables, and semi-private rooms, and the okonomiyaki will be made for you at the table. There is also a trial plan for those who want to make the okonomiyaki themselves, so if you're interested, be sure to ask.

Mojiyakiya Kandaten: All-you-can-eat Okonomiyaki in Tokyo

JR Kanda Guard-shita, 2-13-25, Kaji-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Okonomiyaki Arata Shijo Horikawa Branch: A popular Okonomiyaki Restaurant in Kyoto

Okonomiyaki Arata Shijo Horikawa Branch is a popular restaurant not to miss if you are in Kyoto. The restaurant has the feel of a traditional Kyoto townhouse and is a wonderful place to relax and enjoy your meal at the counter seating where you can see the food being made up close or private rooms and tatami seating with views of the back garden. All okonomiyaki here include squid. Each okonomiyaki is cooked to perfection depending on the ingredients. There is a wide selection to choose from, such as Mix-tama (1,190 JPY (excl. tax)) and Curry Okonomiyaki (890 JPY (excl. tax)). The Specialty Arata Okonomiyaki (1,280 JPY (excl. tax)), which has beef cheeks in it, is also recommended.

Okonomiyaki Arata Shijo Horikawa Branch: A popular Okonomiyaki Restaurant in Kyoto

7, Shijo-dori Horikawa Higashi-iru Kashiwaya-cho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

[Regional Okonomiyaki You'll Want to Try]

In addition to the Kansai-style okonomiyaki and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki introduced above, there are many more regional okonomiyaki. Once you've enjoyed the Kansai-style and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, why not try some other regional ones?

Kakioko (Okayama)

Kakioko is an okonomiyaki packed with oysters and is a local dish of Hinase in Bizen City, Okayama, which is one of Japan's leading producers of oysters. It started as a dish for local fishermen who put small oysters they couldn't sell into okonomiyaki, but gradually spread across the town so that the small town with a population of approximately 7,000 now has more than 20 restaurants offering kakioko. It is made with fresh oysters, so many of the shops serve it only between late October and March.

Fuchu-yaki (Hiroshima)

Fuchu-yaki is a type of okonomiyaki that originates in Fuchu City, Hiroshima. It's key characteristic is that unlike Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which is made with boneless pork rib, it contains ground beef or ground pork. Bean sprouts, which is a standard ingredient in Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, is also not used so there is less water and the Chinese noodles are fried by the fat from the ground meat to achieve a crunchy texture. There are about 40 restaurants in Fuchu City serving Fuchu-yaki. It is popular among locals as a regional dish that is a unique take on Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.

Dondon-yaki (Yamagata)

Dondon yaki is a comfort food for the people of Yamagata Prefecture and is made by wrapping a batter made with flour and ingredients such as fish sausage, nori and beni shoga (red pickled ginger), on a chopstick. It is called dondon yaki because it used to be sold from yatai (food stalls) with taiko drums that were played making "dondon" (Japanese onomatopoeia for drumming) sounds to attract attention. At first, dondon-yaki were served on paper-thin sheets of wood, but they were eventually wrapped on chopsticks because they were too hot for children to handle. They are enjoyed with condiments such as okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise, so they taste like okonomiyaki, but because they can be eaten with one hand, they are popular at festivals in Yamagata.

Tonpeiyaki (Osaka)

Tonpeiyaki is an omelet-style okonomiyaki that is made by frying boneless pork rib with vegetables and a flour batter then wrapping them in a fluffy egg. It is a popular standard at okonomiyaki restaurants and izakaya in Osaka and other parts of the Kansai Region and like okonomiyaki, is usually enjoyed topped with sauce and mayonnaise. It originated at Hontonpei, a restaurant in Kita Ward, Osaka City. It was modeled on a dish that Russian soldiers ate during the war and got the name "tonpei" (flat pig) because the pork is layered flat.

Hirayachi (Okinawa)

Hirayachi is an Okinawan okonomiyaki made by mixing ingredients such as garlic chive in a batter of flour and frying it. It is a popular dish made at home to enjoy as a snack. Hirayachi means "flat fried" in the Okinawan dialect so it is thinner than a standard okonomiyaki and is similar to Korean pancakes. Like okonomiyaki, it is often enjoyed with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise, but is also tasty with lighter sauces such as ponzu (citrus-seasoned soy sauce) or a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar. It is often served at izakaya in Okinawa.

How to Make the Perfect Okonomiyaki

At some okonomiyaki restaurants, the staff will carefully prepare the okonomiyaki for you, but it can be fun to try making them yourself. So here is a recipe for okonomiyaki and tips for grilling them.

Standard recipe

◆ Ingredients (serves 2)
Boneless pork rib 100g
Cabbage 4 leafs (300g)
A. 2/3 cup flour
  A pinch of salt
1 egg
1/4 cup or more dashi (broth) or water
※Mix the ingredients in A in advance
Dash of beni shoga
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Dash of okonomiyaki sauce
Your choice of toppings such as katsuobushi, aonori, and mayonnaise

◆ Method
1. Finely chop the cabbage. Cut the pork into large pieces.
2. Add the cabbage to A and mix lightly
3. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan at medium heat and gill the pork prepared in 1. Once it is cooked halfway, add all of 2 and flatten.
4. Cover and cook at medium heat for three minutes. Flip and heat at low heat for another three minutes.
5. Cut 4 to serve, top with sauce

【When cooking yourself at a restaurant】

When you order an okonomiyaki at a restaurant, you will be served a bowl with the batter, raw egg, and ingredients. If you are making Kansai-style okonomiyaki, take out the pork then mix the rest by lifting from the bottom so you can fluff it up with air. Oil the griddle and pour the batter in a round. Put the pork on top and flip after three to five minutes so that both sides are thoroughly cooked.
If you are making Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, don't mix the ingredients, but place them on the griddle in the following order: Batter, bonito powder, cabbage, bean sprouts, negi scallions, squid tempura or meat. Once it is cooked through, flip it over. Grill Chinese noodles on the side and once the noodles are cooked, place on top of the okonomiyaki. Crack an egg on the side and spread into a round. Place the okonomiyaki on top of the egg and flip.

Standard Okonomiyaki Ingredients and Toppings

Indispensable to okonomiyaki is a large amount of chopped cabbage. Cabbage will be included in the basic set at any okonomiyaki restaurant. Standard ingredients to add to the cabbage are pork, squid, and shrimp. Recently, cheese, mochi, and kimchi are also becoming standards. Toppings include okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, aonori, and katsuobushi. The toppings will be in containers on each table.

Cooking Tips

The key to a good okonomiyaki is in how it is cooked. When you are flipping the okonomiyaki, don't hesitate and flip it quickly. If a Kansai-style okonomiyaki falls apart, you can nudge the pieces to adjust the shape, but don't try to push them back together. If you push them, the okonomiyaki will be deflated and lose its fluffiness. In contrast, if you are making a Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, press it all down with a spatula after flipping it. You are steam-frying, so the excess water is pushed out by pressing down so you can get a crunchy okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki Upgrades: Ingredients and Tips for Even Better Okonomiyaki

Following the above introduction to standard okonomiyaki, here are some ingredients and tips to enjoy them even more!

<For a crunchy texture>
Mix in Baby Star Crispy Noodle Snack, potato chips, or senbei (rice cracker) broken into small pieces to achieve a crunchiness different from the cabbage.

<For a chewy texture>
In addition to the mochi, which is becoming a standard, you can add chikuwa (tube-shaped fish paste cake) or konnyaku to achieve a chewy softness among the fluffy batter.

<For a fluffy texture>
Mix in grated hanpen (pounded fish cake), potato, or lotus root and you'll get a fluffy texture similar to when you mix in grated yamaimo.

<Vegetables>
Add aromatic vegetables such as tomato, bitter melon, and shiso to enjoy flavors that are a little different from the standard okonomiyaki.

<Others>
Add cheese, which is almost as popular as the standard ingredients, and you'll get a mild, soft taste that evokes Western flavors.

This was a comprehensive guide to okonomiyaki including its history, origins, regional okonomiyaki starting with Kansai-style and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, popular standard ingredients, and unusual ingredients. Take this opportunity to go to an okonomiyaki restaurant and enjoy this fabulous dish!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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