#99: Japan – Okonomiyaki

I owe my trip to Japan, and more specifically to Hiroshima, as the only reason I would have even heard of the illustrious street food, feed your hanger or your hangover cure: okonomiyaki. But first, let’s take a step back to talk (briefly, I promise) my trip to Japan.

The famed Miyajima Gate

I decided to travel to Japan in the fall of 2015 spending a total of 2 1/2 weeks exploring and eating my way around Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyoto, among other smaller towns along the way. I hit all the hot spots that you’d expect but I was also blown away by the variety of food that extended far beyond the sushi and ramen I was expecting (and I seriously didn’t know how amazing ramen could be until I traveled there.)

Nara is a magical place.

I’ve grown to have a very soft spot for Asian street food but one thing that I really started to get a better sense of on this trip were hawker stalls and food courts that specialized in one particular dish. This was the case when I traveled to Hiroshima and had read a lot about a food court of sorts that served a dish I had never heard of: okonomiyaki. This savory Japanese pancake has an origin story that includes Osaka but the style of its preparation can vary from region to region. I had read that there was a food court that was known by the locals as the place to go when it came to this dish and as one might expect, it wasn’t the easiest to find.

I was blown away by the man who worked in the Yamaha bike store who, after we asked for him to simply point us in the right direction of the hawker court, walked with us there, leaving his store unattended and seemingly not at all fazed by doing so. Needless to say, this was not Washington, DC!

The hawker stall food court did not disappoint. It was a narrow building with several flights of stairs but each floor contained the same set up…a few vendors with large flat top grills making their version of okonomiyaki.

We tried two different stalls but this first one, seemingly operated by a mother and daughter was my favorite. We followed the lead of the older ladies around us and washed it down with a big beer. I opted for extra green onions on mine…it’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?

So I’ve made this dish before, a few years ago when I hosted dinners for friends based on places I’ve traveled to. But I definitely wanted to share this unique dish with Matt so I did a bit of a research and found a recipe that was fairly in line with what I did last time, though it called for pork belly as opposed to bacon. Personally, I find bacon a bit easier for this and would probably do that the next time. I also elected to not have seafood in this version (though the ones I had in Japan included it along with pork). The rest of the dish is comprised of noodles, cabbage, and a bunch of other unique ingredients sandwiched in between an crepe-like layer and an egg layer.

I had some execution challenges with this but it was mainly an issue with the egg layer on top at the very end. Anyone who has tried to make this or reads up on it can see that the layering is essential for the taste and structural integrity to flip this like a pancake, but can be a bit tricky. But the taste took me right back and thanks to my local Asian supermarket, I was able to find many of those critical ingredients to give it that umami flavor, from the Okonomiyaki sauce to the bonito flakes.

Recipe I used: https://www.justonecookbook.com/hiroshima-okonomiyaki/

Overall Level of Effort: 2

Skill Level: Intermediate

Would Make it Again? Yes

Additional Notes: As I mentioned above, I didn’t quite get the pork belly thinly sliced enough for this and bacon (which I’d used previously) would probably be a bit better as I think it would cut down on the cook time and perhaps cook a bit more evenly. Also there are all sorts of recipes out there with different variations on the filling which I imagine were probably regional styles and personal taste buds, which is why the idea of a hawker-style food court focused on just this dish makes complete sense.

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