Okonomiyaki is often described as a ‘Japanese pizza’ and the name literally means ‘cook it how you like’. It is a sort of savoury pancake that is cooked on an iron hotplate, containing egg, chopped vegetables and usually meat or seafood. It is found all over Japan, however Hiroshima’s version includes noodles and lots of vegetables. Rather than mixing the ingredients together, as is done in other parts of Japan, in Hiroshima they are layered and the ‘pancake’ is topped with a savoury-sweet sauce.
Okonomiyaki, popularly known as Hiroshima’s ‘soul food’, began to be eaten widely during and after the war, when rice was in short supply. People added extra ingredients to simple wheat pancakes and this dish was created.
In other parts of Japan guests often mix and cook their own ingredients on hotplates that are built into the tables however, in Hiroshima, okonomiyaki is cooked by chefs in front of the visitors.
The whole experience of ordering and eating okonomiyaki is one that is not to be missed. First you must choose the type of noodles – thin soba noodles, or thick udon noodles. Next, choose your toppings from a selection that usually contains negi (onions), seafood, mochi (rice cake), cheese, ikaten (fried squid), tempura crisps, meat and dried fish powder. Vegetarian okonomiyaki are often available but most places do use lard or pork stock, and all contain eggs.
Once cooked, the okonomiyaki will be served onto the hot plate in your table and traditionally eaten straight off the grill. Those who do not wish to burn their mouths might like to try out the expression “nekotita nanode”, which is translated as “I have a cat’s tongue”, meaning that you cannot eat hot food, and ask for a plate.
Nagata-ya is a well-known okonomiyaki restaurant situated at the end of the Hondori shopping arcade, close to the A-bomb dome and the Peace Memorial Park. It offers a large variety of toppings, including vegetarian okonomiyaki.
- GetHiroshima – The Spring Issue 2017 #13