Whether you found it being sold on the streets or in restaurants, okonomiyaki is perhaps one of the most loved dishes in Japan. It’s a versatile dish made from a fluffy flour-based pancake batter, cabbage, and literally, anything else you like to add but the most common ingredients chosen by people are seafood, vegetables, and meat. People call it food for the hungry soul, which you can make easily almost any time of the day!
The earliest origin of okonomiyaki was during the Edo period, wherein a crepe-like dish made from a pancake batter called funoyaki was served during Buddhist ceremonies as a special dessert. Funoyaki evolved then to a sweeter dish called sukesoyaki during the Meiji period. To give the dish a more emphasized and distinct taste, Japanese people started adding sauces in it and during the early 1920’s to mid 1930’s, it was called yoshokuyaki. They only started using the name okonomiyaki in the late 1930’s in Osaka. A similar dish was also found in Hiroshima, but it was more on a savory side where they topped the pancakes with onions and was folded over. It was inexpensive and had a nutritious filling, it became a popular snack item for children back then. Because of the scarcity of rice during the war, okonomiyaki then became the go-to dish to prepare and eat because of how easy it was to find available ingredients to make the dish. They also started adding other ingredients such as cabbage, protein like pork or beef, and eggs. Mayonnaise was then only added during the 1940’s in Osaka and has since become a staple topping.
With its versatility and availability, okonomiyaki is your go-to dish to prepare and make. It’s one of Japan’s most sociable dishes, great for sharing with family and friends.
Variations and Styles
Being that okonomiyaki is a versatile dish, almost anyone can put anything in their pancake batter. But there are two significantly different versions of okonomiyaki, which is popular among people: Kansai style and Hiroshima style.
Claimed as the best version to make okonomiyaki, Kansai- or Osaka-style is wherein you put all the ingredients in the batter and is grilled on both sides. The basic ingredients of this version of okonomiyaki are flour, grated nagaimo (a type of yam), water or dashi, and shredded cabbage. Other various ingredients such as meat (your choice of thinly sliced pork or beef), seafood such as octopus and shrimp, vegetables, and even cheese are added to the batter. This version is always compared to omelette or pancake and is often called Japanese pizza. It is then pan-fried on both sides to achieve that golden brown color and is topped with ingredients such as its iconic sauce called otafuku sauce, aonori or seaweed flakes, katsuoboshi or bonito flakes, Japanese mayonnaise, and pickled ginger. In restaurants, you may opt in ordering the classic okonomiyaki dish they have or make and cook your own.
On the other hand, although the ingredients are still the same, they are layered after one another in Hiroshima style. It starts with a thinly layered pancake batter on the pan, topped with a large amount of shredded cabbage (which is three to four times the amount of cabbage in Kansai style which are pushed back until it’s cooked), and then your choice of other ingredients. Noodles and fried egg can also be added as a topping for the okonomiyaki. Of course, the layering can be altered depending on the chef’s preferences and also depending on the customer; the ingredients can also be different. This style is called Hiroshima-yaki.
We also have other versions such negiyaki, which is similar to a Korean pancake called pajeon. Green onions are used instead of shredded cabbage in this version. Monjayaki, which is called Tokyo style okonomiyaki, is made by grilling the ingredients first before adding the batter. It can be a bit runny in texture and is eaten directly off the grill using an okonomiyaki spatula.
Popular Okonomiyaki Restaurants in Tokyo
Because of popularity among tourists and local, okonomiyaki is found in easily in the streets and restaurants. You may always opt to order the classic or give your preferences to the chef. Delicious and definitely the kind of soul food you like, here are the popular restaurants that serve okonomiyaki. Warning: okonomiyaki can be addicting so best come to these places with family and friends. It’s great for sharing!
- Kiji Marunouchi – it’s a popular okonomiyaki restaurant in Osaka which now has a branch in Tokyo. They make their okonomiyaki with freshly shredded leeks, topped with crispy pork and noodles. It doesn’t hurt that they also serve it with a generous amount of crunchy bean sprout. From there, you can watch the chef make them for you, the golden colors of freshly cooked okonomiyaki glistening right before your eyes. Located in TOKIA Building B1F, 2-7-3 Marunouchi Chiyoda Tokyo.
- Ushio – this high-end okonomiyaki restaurant only has one branch and they make their okonomiyaki without using oil and are full of vegetables, making it a healthy option for people. It’s been featured in various magazines and television programs, making it one of the most popular okonomiyaki restaurants in town. Located in Kajikawa Seishido Building 2F, 3-10-9 Roppongi Minato Tokyo.
- Osaka Kitchen – located in Ginza, this popular restaurant lets you make your own okonomiyaki with fresh and quality ingredients. Because it’s easy to go here, there are a lot of returning customers who can’t get enough of their okonomiyaki, as well as other dishes like teppanyaki. Located in Great Building 2F, 4-14-19 Ginza Chuo Tokyo.
- Hiroki – popular among young crowd, this small place can be filled with people in no time. They serve cheap but authentic okonomiyaki dishes that many customers keep on returning to. Their friendly staff will help you choose and make your own okonomiyaki. It’s considered one of the best okonomiyaki restaurants in town. Located in 2-14-14 Kitazawa Setagaya Tokyo.
- Hasshou – this admired restaurant just opened a second branch in Tokyo and customers claim they make and serve some of the best Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. Aside from their okonomiyaki, they also serve a vegetable stew that is popular among the crowd and is recommended by the owners. Located in HARADA Building 2F, 1-21-18 Kyodo Setagaya Tokyo.
She’s cooking and baking for her family and friends. She finds grocery shopping therapeutic, always takes the longest time in the Asian section and debates with herself whether she needs that extra pack of instant ramen. A lover of sweets, she dreams of owning a patisserie and publishing her book but most of the time, she’s just really thinking of what to eat for breakfast the next day.