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Hiroshima Okonomiyaki! Okonomiyaki, a savory pancake cooked on an iron hotplate, containing egg, chopped vegetables, meat and/or seafood is found all over Japan. In Hiroshima, this dish is beefed up by adding noodles and lots of veggies. Rather than mixing all the ingredients together, as in the more common Kansai or Osaka style, here in Hiroshima they are layered. The whole thing is topped with a savory-sweet sauce.
Locals are very proud of their contribution to Japanese cuisine, and regional rivalry, while good natured, is strong. Be prepared to be quizzed about whether you prefer your okonomiyaki Hiroshima or Kansai style. Sitting at the counter of a small okonomiyaki joint (especially if you give the local lingo a try) is one of the best places for the outsider to connect with Hiroshima folk. Okonomiyaki is often described as “Japanese pizza”. The name literally means “cook it how you like” and you can create your own personal okonomiyaki by selecting toppings to add to the standard dish. That’s where the analogy ends however, as the finished dish, while round and flat(ish), tastes nothing like pizza. Described as Hiroshima’s soul food, okonomiyaki began to be widely eaten in the years during and after the war when rice was in short supply, and people
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added extra ingredients to simple wheat pancakes and street stalls selling okonomiyaki sprang up all over the city. Today, there are said to be about 2000 okonomiyaki shops, and a visit to at least one of them is likely to be at the top of any Japanese tourist’s list of things to do in Hiroshima. While it’s fun to mix and cook okonomiyaki on your own hotplate (often possible at Kansai style restaurants), here in Hiroshima, the cooking is left to the professionals. Watching the chef from the counter is like having front row seats at a cooking show.
How to order All Hiroshima okonomiyaki starts with the basic niku-tama, consisting of pork, eggs, cabbage between two thin crepes. Your first choice is which kind of noodles to add - thin soba noodles or thicker udon noodles. State your preference by asking for “niku-tama-soba” or “niku-tama-udon”. If you are really hungry you can opt for a double helping of noodles. Next, choose any additional “toppings” - as likely to go inside as they are on top. Common choices include green negi onions, seafood, mochi rice cake, cheese, korean kimchee, shiso leaf and natto. In winter, local oysters are also often available.
Vegetarians While the eggs rule it out for vegans, at first glance okonomiyaki appears to be promising option for hungry vegetarians. Chefs are generally happy to leave out the pork slices if you ask for niku-nashi (without meat), but most places do use lard and a kind of grease that includes pork stock. Shaved dried fish flakes or dried squid pieces are also likely to find their way into your meal. Strict vegetarians should head to Nagataya at the very end of the Hondori shopping arcade near the
A-bomb Dome; here they have a good appreciation of vegetarian orders and can cook up a completely vegetarian okonomiyaki. Also be aware that Otafuku okonomi sauce contains oyster extract. Seek out shops that use Carp sauce or offer Otafuku’s “From 1 Year Old” (issai kara) sauce.
How to eat Okonomiyaki is traditionally eaten hot (very hot) off the teppan griddle with a metal spatula (hera). The inexperienced diner who takes up the challenge may find their okonomiyaki is dried to a crisp by the time they are finished. It is by no means rude to ask for a small plate and chopsticks. To get a laugh, make your excuses with the expression nekojita nanode. Literally “I have a cat’s tongue” which means you can’t take hot food. It isn’t necessarily a problem to linger at the counter and have some drinks, but be aware of your surroundings. If it is busy and people are waiting to eat, you will be expected to vacate your seats soon after you are done eating.
The best of Hiroshima. In English.