Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients mainly associated with the Kansai or Hiroshima areas of Japan. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning “what you like” or “what you want”, and yaki meaning “grilled” or “cooked”. Toppings and batters tend to vary according to region. Tokyo okonomiyaki is usually smaller than a Hiroshima or Kansai okonomiyaki.
Kansai- or Osaka-style okonomiyaki is the predominant version of the dish, found throughout most of Japan. The batter is made of flour, grated nagaimo (a type of yam), water or dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage, and usually contains other ingredients such as green onion, meat (generally thin pork belly, often mistaken for bacon), octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, konjac, mochi or cheese. Okonomiyaki is sometimes compared to an omelette or a pancake and may be referred to as a “Japanese pizza” or “Osaka soul food”.
Some okonomiyaki restaurants are grill-it-yourself establishments, where the server produces a bowl of raw ingredients that the customer mixes and grills at tables fitted with teppan, or special hotplates. They may also have a diner-style counter where the cook prepares the dish in front of the customers.
In Osaka (the largest city in the Kansai region), where this dish is said to have originated, okonomiyaki is prepared much like a pancake. The batter and other ingredients are pan-fried on both sides on either a teppan or a pan using metal spatulas that are later used to slice the dish when it has finished cooking. Cooked okonomiyaki is topped with ingredients that include otafuku/okonomiyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter), aonori (seaweed flakes), katsuobushi (bonito flakes), Japanese mayonnaise, and pickled ginger (beni shoga).
When served with a layer of fried noodles (either yakisoba or udon), the resulting dish is called modan-yaki (モダン焼き), the name of which may be derived from the English word “modern” or as a contraction of mori dakusan (盛りだくさん), meaning “a lot” or “piled high” signifying the volume of food from having both noodles and okonomiyaki.
Negiyaki (ねぎ焼き) is a thinner variation of okonomiyaki made with a great deal of green onions (scallions), comparable to Korean pajeon and Chinese green onion pancakes.
In Hiroshima, the ingredients are layered rather than mixed. The layers are typically batter, cabbage, pork, and optional items such as squid, octopus, and cheese. Noodles (yakisoba, udon) are also used as a topping with fried egg and a generous amount of okonomiyaki sauce.
The amount of cabbage used is usually three to four times the amount used in the Osaka style. It starts out piled very high and is pushed down as the cabbage cooks. The order of the layers may vary slightly depending on the chef’s style and preference, and ingredients vary depending on the preference of the customer. This style is also called Hiroshima-yaki or Hiroshima-okonomi.
Okonomi-mura, in Naka-ku in Hiroshima, was the top food theme park destination for families in Japan according to an April 2004 poll.
- Tsukishima district in Tokyo is popular for both okonomiyaki and monjayaki. Monjayaki is a liquid, runny variant of okonomiyaki. The main street of this town is called “Monja Street”.
- In Hamamatsu, takuan (pickled daikon) is mixed in okonomiyaki.
- In Okinawa, okonomiyaki is called hirayachi (ヒラヤーチー) and is thinner than in other areas. People cook it at home, so there are few okonomiyaki restaurants in Okinawa, with none of them serving hirayachi.
- In Hinase, Okayama, oysters (kaki) are mixed in okonomi-yaki, to make kaki-oko.
- In Kishiwada, Osaka, a variation of okonomiyaki called kashimin-yaki is made of chicken and tallow instead of pork.
- In Fuchū, Hiroshima, okonomiyaki is made with ground meat instead of bacon.
- In Tokushima Prefecture, kintoki-mame is mixed in okonomiyaki.
- ½ head Chinese cabbage, finely shredded
- ½ cup tempura batter bits (tenkasu)
- 1 tablespoon Beni shoga - Japanese Red Pickled Ginger
- toppings, such as raw prawns, cooked octopus, thinly sliced chicken or pork, grated cheese, to serve
- 1 cup Otafuku Sauce
- ½ cup Japanese-Style Mayonnaise
- ½ cup finely sliced spring onions
- 1 cup loosely packed bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
- 2 cups plain flour
- ½ cup potato flour (or cornflour)
- ½ teaspoon powdered dashi stock or salt (optional)
- 2 eggs
- 1½ cups water
- To make the okonomiyaki batter, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Stand in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Combine the cabbage, tempura batter bits and pickled ginger, and divide equally between four bowls or mixing jugs. Add any toppings you like to the bowls (it's nice to make a few different kinds). Divide okonomiyaki batter between bowls and mix well.
- Spoon the mixture from each bowl onto a lightly oiled, hot teppanyaki plate or large frying pan, and roughly spread out to a 15 cm circle. Cook on medium heat for about 6-7 minutes or until the base is browned. Turn and cook, poking a few holes in the top of the pancake to allow steam to escape, for a further 5 minutes or until the thick pancake is cooked through.
- With a brush, brush the each pancake liberally with Otafuku sauce and drizzle lots of mayonnaise over the top. Scatter with spring onion and bonito flakes and serve.
History of Okonomiyaki
Food researcher Tekishū Motoyama has pointed out that a sort of thin crepe-like confection called funoyaki (麩の焼き) may be an early precursor, though it hardly includes the bare elements that makes it identifiable as okonomiyaki. Records of the word funoyaki occurs as far back as the 16th century, and Sen no Rikyū writes about it, but what it really was can only be speculated, and may have involved the use of fu (wheat gluten), though certainly by the late Edo Period funoyaki referred to a thin crepe baked on a cooking pot, with miso basted on one side.
This, Motoyama writes, was modified into a form using nerian (練餡) (Sweet bean paste) and came to be called gintsuba (銀つば) in Kyoto and Osaka, then moved to Edo (Tokyo) where it was named kintsuba (金つば), of which Sukesōyaki (助惚焼), a specialty of Kōjimachi, was one variant.
In the Meiji Era, the confection was taken up by the dagashiya (駄菓子屋 “informal confection shop”) trade, which called it mojiyaki (文字焼き). After the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake when people lacked amenities it became sort of a pastime to cook these crepes. This fad gained great popularity, and soon, besides the sweet types, savoury types using fish, vegetables, and various meat began appearing.
A simpler version of Okonomiyaki, made with readily available ingredients, became popular in Japan during World War II when there was a short supply of rice. The wheat pancake was nutritious, filling, and inexpensive and was often served as a snack to children.
The issen yōshoku (一銭洋食 “1-sen Western food”) of Kyoto, started around the Taisho era may have been the primitive form of okonomiyaki, as it uses Worcestershire sauce and chopped scallion.