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Okonomiyaki is a pizza-like pancake, famous in Osaka and Hiroshima. Find out what it is, how to make it and where you can get the best okonomiyaki, not in their birthplaces, but in Tokyo! Once you try this, we are sure you will come back for more.
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Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) is a food resembling a “pancake” made with lots of ingredients mixed into a batter. It is often called "Japanese pizza" or "Japanese pancake" as comparisons but it’s not a dessert as it’s eaten for meals.
Okonomi means "how or what you like" and yaki means "cooked", so basically it means “cooked as you like”.
As the name suggests, Okonomiyaki can have various ingredients, and the choices keep growing as people keep experimenting! You can eat okonomiyaki almost anywhere in Japan and you might find regional differences in ingredients. However, the two top contenders are the Osaka/Kansai style okonomiyaki and the Hiroshima-style one, with each being incredibly proud of their take on the popular food. We’ll be focusing on the Osaka one in this article.
Osaka-style (大阪風 Osaka-fuu) or Kansai-style (関西風 Kansai-fuu) okonomiyaki is prepared with the batter mixed with cabbage and other ingredients pan-fried on both sides and later topped with different toppings. It’s something that people go out to eat as well as make at home.
Is it really that different from the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki? Yes! The ingredients of the Osaka-style one are mixed together into the batter and then cooked instead of like the Hiroshima-style one where things are cooked in layers and include noodles and usually a topping of fried egg.
The ingredients mixed into the batter usually include thinly sliced pork belly (but menus often include other choices of meat and/or seafoods like shrimp), vegetables with topping options including seaweed flakes, bonito flakes, mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce and pickled ginger. More adventurous and non-standard ingredients include cheese, mochi, kimchi and mentaiko (spicy cod roe).
Before you go to an okonomiyaki restaurant, you might want to check what kind it is. You might find yourself at a restaurant where the waiter will hand you the ingredients in a bowl and you cook the okonomiyaki yourself on the hotplate at your table. Or the chef may make it for you either right in front of you or just bring it out when it’s ready. If you want the experience of cooking it yourself, make sure you check that you can!
So of course you can get amazing okonomiyaki in Osaka, but how about in Tokyo? Here’s some of the best and our favorites!
Kiji is one of the most popular and famous restaurants in Tokyo which delivers the real taste of Osaka okonomiyaki - because it’s a shop already famous in Osaka! One branch is just about a 5-minute walkable distance from Tokyo Station. They are open every day.
Sometaro is known to be one of the very first okonomiyaki restaurants in Japan. This place allows you to cook or grill your own pancakes as you sit on the tatami floor. Asakusa Sometaro is famous for both Osaka and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki so if you wanted to try both, this is a great traditional option.
Sakuratei is a spacious restaurant predominantly famous for Osaka style okonomiyaki in Tokyo. The restaurant has a beautiful interior and exterior with various artistic paintings, and if you want to check out more art, you can always visit the gallery in the same complex, Design Festa Gallery. One great thing about this restaurant is that they serve vegan and vegetarian okonomiyaki.
Well, it's not a restaurant but a full street in Tsukishima dedicated to serving monja, a similar type of food, in Tokyo. But if you prefer to eat okonomiyaki, most shops also offer it on the menu! This street has over 75 restaurants that specialize in monja (and okonomiyaki) with very friendly and helpful staff; just in case if you don't know how to cook it. This is one of the best places to go and experience cooking it yourself. Plus you can try monja too!
Naniwa is a Bib Gourmand status restaurant for its Osaka-style okonomiyaki and is always crowded so it's better to call them beforehand and book a seat (Note: They’re only open in the evenings from 5 pm). This restaurant has a casual ambience and offers other choices like takoyaki and yakisoba.
If you are unable to go out and you are craving okonomiyaki, here is a simple recipe to make your own okonomiyaki at home.
The amount depends on how much you're making.
Okonomiyaki flour (Note: if you live in Japan or have a Japanese store nearby, you can buy this pre-made flour and you don’t have to add dashi or the baking powder so you can skip the next two ingredients). You can make flour at home by mixing the below ingredients with regular flour.
Pinch of baking powder, salt and sugar
Chopped cabbage - about 1 cm in size
Oil - Sesame or Olive
Thinly sliced pork belly, squid, shrimp or any meat of your choice (no meat is okay too)
Tenkasu (crunchy tempura batter - can be bought at Japanese shops)
Okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, seaweed flakes
Pickled ginger and bonito flakes
Place the flour in a large bowl and add salt, sugar, baking soda and dashi stock(If you have the okonomiyaki flour, you can just add the flour and skip the rest)
Mix the chopped cabbage, green onions, tenkasu and egg(s) into the flour, then pour in water and mix well to make the batter.
Heat the hot plate or frying pan to 200 degrees and pour the mixture onto the hot plate. Don't flatten the okonomiyaki.
Once the mixture starts cooking, place pork belly and/or other main ingredients on top
When the bottom side is firm enough, flip it over. You will flip at least twice to make sure both sides have cooked through.
When it’s done, pour some okonomiyaki sauce, mayo (if you like it) - hint; use a brush or spoon to make the sauce even and aesthetic - and top with bonito flakes, seaweed flakes, and pickled ginger if you wish.
Voila! Your okonomiyaki is ready to serve.
If you are ever planning to visit Japan, then Okonomiyaki must be on your list to try if you haven’t already. There are plenty of good places to eat it with family or friends. Hopefully, you will be able to enjoy both styles of Okonomiyaki even if you are a vegetarian or vegan. And if your Japan trip is a ways off, it’s always fun to try to make it at home. Enjoy!
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