Some of Japan’s cuisine is really unique. From sushi to natto, you can find a lot of diversity in the food that Japan enjoys. One dish that I have come to love is Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き). It’s called by some the “Japanese pancake,” but there’s much more about it that needs explanation. And by any measure, it’s delicious!
Okonomiyaki really isn’t too much like the Western idea of pancakes or hotcakes as they are also known, but there’s some slight similarities. They are both circular in shape, flat, made with egg and flour, and are best enjoyed hot. But that’s where the similarity ends. One of the biggest ingredients in okonomiyaki is cabbage, which provides much of the insides of the dish, but you usually don’t notice it too much. Some versions of okonomiyaki also have soba noodles inside, which are usually firm and not cooked to crispiness.
There are all sorts of other fillings to choose, including pork, octopus, shrimp, squid, and sometimes even cheese. Most of the time, when it is finished, it is covered in many condiments, like Japanese style mayonnaise, flakes of the bonito fish, seaweed, green onion, and a sweet syrupy sauce, but these too are optional if you want them.
The special thing about okonomiyaki is how it is served. It is usually cooked in front of you on a teppan style grill, which in most restaurants is a hot plate that takes up most of the table (and it is hot, so don’t put your hand on it!). Either the server, or in some places, the customer themselves, prepares and grills the okonomiyaki in front of them. Controls for the heat of the teppan are available for adjustment, and it’s really important to grill it properly and not to let it burn. When it is ready to eat, it is served with small steel spatulas that are used for actually eating, as well as cutting the okonomiyaki into pieces, though chopsticks are available, as well.
The origins of okonomiyaki go back to Osaka, where it is considered a hometown favorite. Hiroshima has a famous version of it too, which is much larger than the varieties you can get elsewhere. Tokyo okonomiyaki is said to be smaller than both, but no less tasty.
Okonomiyaki is a fun and tasty meal that I enjoy trying at every opportunity. It’s fun to watch it sizzle in front of you, and the toppings and filling is limited only by what the restaurants have at hand. Make sure to try this “pancake” with any chance you have!