This spring we stayed for four days in Hiroshima and then had a couple of days at the end of the holiday in Osaka. In Hiroshima, we stayed at the World Friendship Centre, which I’m going to blog about separately, but round the corner was a lovely local okonomiyaki place that served these delicious eggy pancakes Hiroshima style.
The word okonomiyaki is made up of two elements – yaki means grilled and okonomi means how you like it. It’s basically a pancake filled with anything you like and grilled on a hot plate. At the Hiroshima restaurant, you could sit at the bar and watch the chef make up your okonomiyaki. The menu was vast, and it didn’t matter that we were vegetarian. There were lots of pre-set options as well as a list of ingredients that you could combine to create your own masterpiece. After a brief conversation where I used good enough Japanese to explain that we didn’t eat meat, chicken or fish and wanted our okonomiyaki without any of these elements (肉のない、鶏肉のない、魚なしで), our chef cracked on.
Hiroshima style okonomiyaki is made by cooking a crepe on the hot plate and the other ingredients separately. At a certain point, the partially cooked ingredients are layered on top of the crepe, which is then flipped over. An egg is fried on the hot plate before being scrambled into the layered okonomiyaki. Once the dish is cooked, okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise are spread on top and then sprinkled with aonori.
This was the very first time that we had eaten okonomiyaki. For a long time, I’ve had an egg intolerance which, combined with my lactose intolerance, has rendered me pretty much vegan. Our hosts at the WFC were so enthusiastic about the local purveyor of okonomiyaki, and my husband was so keen to try it, that I decided to risk the ill effects of the eggs and join in. Miraculously, I suffered no ill effects at all. It seems that 18 years of not eating eggs has given my stomach chance to recover. And let me tell you, that first okonomiyaki was delicious.
Our second experience of okonomiyaki was in Osaka. Here we had it Kansai style. The difference is that the ingredients are mixed together in a bowl before being poured out onto the hot plate to form a thick circular pancake.
We ate at a restaurant called Yukari, which is in the Ohatsutenjin Dori covered arcade a short walk from the JR Umeda station. We were shown to a booth and handed picture menus. We chose the vegetarian option with tofu and cheese and explained that we didn’t eat meat, chicken or fish to our server. He went away and then returned with two bowls containing the uncombined ingredients. He showed us each thing, I think to check that we were happy with them, then proceeded to mix the ingredients together in front of us.
After a good mixing, he put the mix onto the hot plate and laid the slice of processed cheese on top.
He then went away for a bit, telling us he would be back when they were ready to be flipped over. He was true to his word and came back for the flip, then said something that involved the words three minutes. I took this to mean that the pancake would be ready in three minutes, so when the three minutes was up, we started to spread on the okonomiyaki sauce and cut into them. Just at that point, our server came back. He was horrified. In true Japanese style, he tried to cover it up, but we knew that we had done a foolish thing. He salvaged it, and stayed with us to make sure we didn’t go rogue again. The end result was perfection.
Since we’ve been home, we’ve had okonomiyaki a couple of times. First our friend Takashi came round to cook it with us. He showed us how to grate the yam and mix it with flour and eggs to create the batter. We added cabbage, pickled ginger and spring onions. The pickled ginger gave it a lovely pink colour. It was really delicious. There was so much batter left over that we had a second serving the day after.
I don’t think we cooked it long enough – it looked a little anaemic, but it still tasted good.
Making the mix from scratch is good fun, but grating the yam is messy. Grated yam is a little like glue. It gets everywhere and is difficult to clean off. Takashi had found a box of okonomiyaki mix in one of the supermarkets in China Town, so the next time we made it, we tried that. It was a whole lot easier and tasted just as good, so then we ordered some more okonomiyaki mix from Japanese Kitchen, because Japan Centre had sold out and we couldn’t find any in China Town. You can see how we got on in pictures here!
The end result was delicious, especially with the ramen on top.
If you want to try making okonomiyaki yourself, there are lots of recipes out there on the internet, but here’s one from the Japan Centre to start you off.