“Okonomiyaki” has been center of “Konamono culture,” which is the food made with flour like Takoyaki in Japan. Wonder why Okonomiyaki, famous local delicacy that has been evolved into various forms in various places, has been loved so much? Let's explore a journey of Okonomiyaki while disclosing its roots.
What is Okonomiyaki?
It is said that the history of Okonomiyaki dates back to the 1500 's. What is the definition of Okonomiyaki in the first place?
Contents to define Okonomiyaki can be seen in various books. Let's summarize them as follows. ① Mix the flour and water to make the dough ② Bake your favorite ingredients such as vegetables, meat, fish and shellfish on the iron plate ③ Eat with seasonings such as sauce, mayonnaise, dried bonito, dried green seaweed and so on. The composed of these three major activities/elements is called “Okonomiyaki” in a broad sense.
It is said that the root of Okonomiyaki is “Funoyaki,” which the prominent tea master, Sen no Rikyu in Azuchi-Momoyama period in the 16th century liked and ate. There is a record that Funoyaki was offered as sweets at a tea ceremony of “Rikyu Hyakkikai (Rikyu’s tea party)” held by Sen no Rikyu. It is said that Funoyaki was a sweet like a crepe, which wheat flour mixed with water was spread and baked thinly on a roasted pan, and miso paste with Japanese pepper was pinched.
After this Funoyaki, in the 19th century, the end of Edo period, the way of eating that grills flour mixed with water on an iron plate became popular, and the origin of Okonomiyaki that spread among people now. And this has evolved into various styles throughout the country in the 1930s.
Various types of Okonomiyaki
In the early 20th century, Funoyaki had evolved into “Yoshyoku yaki” or “Issen yoshoku” in the birthplace of the Kansai area. The name came from the fact that one piece was sold for one sen. This old prototype of Okonomiyaki still remains as “Kashimin-yaki” in Kishiwada, “Nikuten” in Takasago, “negi-yaki”, “kyabetsu-yaki (cabbage)” and so on.
At about the same time, “Dondonyaki” was created in Tokyo, and was spread in Kanto and Tohoku regions. Dondonyaki that can be seen at festival stalls even now, was known to entire East Japan in the 1920s, and the ingredients were added with time been.
In the 1930s, the thing that just grilled flour mixed with water became and being called Okonomiyaki by being added other ingredients. It is said that the reason why it came to be called Okonomiyaki is that “Okonomiyaki-ya” was used for a secret meeting among men and women. To avoid getting involved in the conversation with customers, the store started to let the customers grill as they like(okonomi). And this style became today’s Okonomiyaki.
In the history of Okonomiyaki, when ingredients were added to the dough, the style of “Nose-yaki” and “Maze-yaki” were created. Nose-yaki that puts ingredients on the dough was commercialized as Okonomiyaki in Tokyo and Nikuten in Kobe in 1910s. Then, Maze-yaki that mixes all ingredients at first became popular. Maze-yaki is spread to Osaka by the 1920s, and after the war, the current Kansai style “Okonomiyaki” which grill the dough with cabbage mixed in, was established. At the same time in Hiroshima, they had generalized the Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki, which grilled ingredients put between the thin dough. From before World War II through after the war, Hiroshima had not been influenced by Tokyo or Osaka style, and developed their own style of Okonomiyaki. There is still a village “Okonomi-mura,” which originated as a street stall quarter on Chuo-dori street in the city of Hiroshima. It is interesting that the shops that started business since the street stall quarter where cheap Okonomiyaki stores lined up emerged still remain.
After the war, Okonomiyaki became from the food that customers cook by themselves to the words that represent “Konamono Ryori (made with flour dish)” adding ingredients such as cabbage, leek and so on. In various places throughout the country, “Dondon-yaki,” “Yoshoku-yaki” became to be unified as the name, Okonomiyaki, and it has been taken root in mainly Kinki region.
With developing Okonomiyaki sauce and appearing a table embedded with griddle, Osaka was recognized as the home of Okonomiyaki since the late 1960’s. Inventing various additional ingredients (now, refer to topping), putting mayonnaise, adding yam potato to the dough to make it softy, Okonomiyaki in Osaka has been developed uniquely. And in Osaka, the number of tourists jumped up with the Osaka Expo, Okonomiyaki quickly became a specialty in Osaka. Around this time the value added to the cuisine as famous shops rose and the style that a chef cooks and served in front of the customers emerged.
Thus, Okonomiyaki has evolved with features in each region. Next, let's introduce the feature of Okonomiyaki in various parts of Japan today.
· Features of Kansai style Okonomiyaki
Adding thinly sliced cabbage to the dough that dissolve flour with soup and mix yam and eggs, then grill it, is the mainstream, “Maze-yaki.” And, not mix the ingredients such as meat in the dough similar to Kanto style, and main ingredients are put on the top when grilled, it is the characteristic of Kansai style called “Nose-yaki.” The sauces are blended by shops themselves using several kinds of okonomiyaki sauces, or developing their own original okonomiyaki sauces.
In addition, the first shop that adopted a style using mayonnaise is a long-established restaurant in Osaka, “Boteju.” They started using mayonnaise since 1953. Soon after, in the late 1950s, most of the restaurants in Osaka started to use mayonnaise, and it spread all over the country.
· Features of Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki
Stretching the dough that mixed flour and water, and overlaying ingredients such as vegetables and meat on the grilled dough and turn over, then lid with dough or egg, and steam it. This is Hiroshima style. The crucial difference from Kansai styles is that sprout and Chinese noodle are added as default ingredients. The Hiroshima style that is “Kasane-yaki,” which doesn’t mix the dough and ingredients together, hasn’t been influenced by neither Tokyo nor Osaka, has uniquely developed and continued the original evolution.
It is rich in variations in each region even among Hiroshima Prefecture. In the city of Mihara, chicken liver is added as an ingredient, in Fuchu, using minced meat rather than pork belly is common, in Onomichi, gizzards are added, in Takehara, sakekasu (sake-lees) is mixed with the dough. You can enjoy such edgy Okonomiyaki in various places.
· Features of Kanto style Okonomiyaki
In Kanto area including Tokyo, the originality of Okonomiyaki itself is lacking, but in case of “Maze-yaki,” the style that the customers themselves grill is mainstream, as a remaining from old days. Serving in a bowl or a metal cup containing the dough and ingredients individually, and mixing everything completely and grilling them, is the Kanto style.
Some shops put small scallops or clams, which are unique to Edo(Kanto) style. There is a shop where use white onion instead of cabbage, or shops where have both Okonomiyaki and Monja-yaki on the menus serve sweets such as Anko-maki or Anzu-maki.
· Features of Tokai region Okonomiyaki
In the Enshu district centering on the city of Hamamatsu there is “Enshu-yaki,” which chopped Takuan, pickles, red ginger and leeks are mixed into the dough. In the city of Fujinomiya in Shizuoka Prefecture, there is “Shigure-yaki,” which put their famous specialty, Fujinomiya-yakisoba on Okonomiyaki.
· Features of Shikoku region Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki of Tokushima Prefecture is very unique. You can enjoy ingredients full of originality such as fish cutlet, shrimp tempura, sweet red kidney beans, oranges, and yogurt. In Kagawa Prefecture, “Nikuten” that is said to come from Kobe where is on the opposite shore, is considered to be one of the local specialties.
· Features of Kyushu region Okonomiyaki
In the city of Kitakyushu, it is the classic standard to use aurora sauce made with ketchup and mayonnaise. In Arao of Kumamoto Prefecture, “Dago” that spreads the dough on the full of iron plate and grill is famous. “Dago-jiru,” a local cuisine of Kumamoto gave the name of “Dago.” Because of its volume that uses more flour, it became popular among students, and there is a long-established restaurant since 1963.
· Features of Okinawa region Okonomiyaki
In Okinawa, there are “Hirayachi (Hira-yaki)” similar to “Issen yoshoku,” which adds leek or green onion instead of cabbage, or a dish called “Popo” similar to “Funo-yaki,” which wrapped miso paste or brown sugar with thin grilled dough. It may be the roots of Okonomiyaki, which stopped evolving.
What is the calories and nutrients of Okonomiyaki?
How about actual calories and nutrients in Okonomiyaki? There are various kinds of Okonomiyaki depending on ingredients and toppings. A standard type of Okonomiyaki is generally said to be about 600kcal per piece around 300g. If it is 100g, it would be 200kcal. Compared to other foods, a bowl of rice is about 170kcal, a slice of bread is about 260kcal, fried potatoes is about 388kcal, an instant noodle is about 480kcal, and so on.
Depending on recipes, Okonomiyaki may be used more than 10 ingredients in one piece, some of which contain protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, B1, B2, and C nutrients. In particular, the main ingredients such as flour, cabbage, and yam contain a lot of dietary fiber, and it can be said that it is a balanced diet that properly absorbs nutrition with moderate calories.
How to make (grill) Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki can be made with a hotplate or a pan at home, but in fact, there are so many ways of making and grilling. Let us briefly introduce the recipes that you can enjoy making at home with three representative Okonomiyaki such as Kansai, Kanto, and Hiroshima styles.
■ How to make (grill) Kansai style Okonomiyaki
The characteristic of the Kansai style is to dissolve the dough with dashi (soup stock), add yam and egg. Then mix chopped cabbage with the dough and pour the dough on a hotplate or pan. Put your favorite ingredients, for example, pork belly and grill it slowly. If you want to make Modan-yaki (modern-yaki), pour half of the dough, put on yakisoba noodle (or steamed noodle), and pour the rest of the dough from top and grill it. When it’s done, add Okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, and if you like, add bonito flakes, dried seaweed flakes, mustard, and Japanese red pepper etc.., then enjoy it!
■ How to make (grill) Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki
If you make Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki at home, it is best to use a hotplate. First of all, pour the loose dough that flour dissolved with water on the hotplate, and stretch it thinly in circle. Put fish flakes, cabbage (thinner stripes is better), sprout, and tenkasu (crunchy tempura flakes) heaping on it, then pour a bit of dough from the top, and put the lightly fried Chinese noodle. While grilling the dough and vegetables slowly, put eggs in empty spaces nearby. Then overturn Okonomiyaki that is already cooked one side on the eggs, and press it down from the top of dough with a spatula. Through this process, it makes the cabbage steamed, and you can organize the dough and all ingredients with the moisture coming out from vegetables. Once the cabbage has wilted, overturn it again, and apply Okonomiyaki sauce on the egg side.
■ How to make (grill) Kanto style Okonomiyaki
The characteristic of the Kanto style is “Maze-yaki,” which firmly mixes dough and ingredients and grill. Put the dough, cabbage and other ingredients in a bowl, and mix lightly to put the air into the bowl with a spoon. Then, pour the dough on a hotplate or pan. Choose your favorite sauces and mayonnaise. Soy sauce might also be used at some homes.
The secret of Okonomiyaki sauce
There are many definitions of Okonomiyaki sauce, which is easy to show the characteristics of shops. It is made from vegetables, fruits and spices, and is considered as one of Worcester sauces. Worcester sauces are classified as follows;
Viscosity less than 0.2 pascal-second (pa·s) is Worcester sauce, viscosity over 0.2 pascal-second (pa·s) and less than 1.5 pa·s is Chuno-sauce (medium thick sauce), viscosity over 1.5 pa·s is Noko-sauce (thick sauce). (*Defined by Japanese Agriculture Standard)
Okonomiyaki sauces are classified from medium thick to thick sauce. Sourness and saltiness are less, and having strong sweetness and high viscosity is characteristic of Okonomiyaki sauce. By the way, yakisoba sauce belongs to Worcester and medium thick sauce. Sourness and saltiness are the same as Worcester sauce, and its viscosity is equivalent to medium thick sauce. Using various seasonings such as soy sauce and bonito extract is also characteristic.
In Kinki region, there are local sauces for each area, also original sauce of Okonomiyaki specialty stores can be purchased at supermarkets. In Hiroshima, a single manufacturer's Okonomiyaki sauce including Otafuku sauce is mainstream. The names of the sauce brand are often printed on a shop curtain or flag, so it might be a good reference when you want to imitate the taste of your favorite shop at home.
If you eat Okonomiyaki in Japan, here are some famous restaurants recommended by JOURNEY of JAPAN
Finally, we like to introduce long-established restaurants specializing in Okonomiyaki which represents Japan.
First of all, the originator, “Asakusa Sometaro” in Tokyo. It has been there since 1937, and it is regarded as a birthplace of Okonomiyaki. This restaurant has been loved by celebrities in different fields, and it is the history of this place.
At this place, you should firstly order “Osome-yaki,” which comes with minced meat (mixture of beef and pork), squid legs, sakura shrimp, fried noodles, and eggs as toppings.
Another must-try is “Shumai-ten.” Make a partition with mochi (rice cakes), pour the dough, which mixed the minced pork, garlic, and onion, then grill them. If you drip a pinch of soy sauce, it makes the aroma and becomes addictive.
“Furyu Okonomiyaki Sometaro”
●2-2-2, Nishiasakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Next is the oldest shop in Osaka “Sennichimae Hatsuse.”
This shop was founded in 1945 shortly after the war. It used to be a Japanese style inn, and in spacious rooms, there are seats with iron plates, which are old-fashioned and let you grill by customers themselves.
The original dough that mixed with 3 kinds of flour, which dissolved with Japanese flavored soup and Chinese soup is unique to this restaurant. You can enjoy exquisite Okonomiyaki, which is crisp on the outside and soft inside, with two original sauces.
“Osaka-no-aji Okonomiyaki Sennichimae Hatsuse”
● Hatsuse Bldg. 2F, 11-25, NanbaSennichiae, Chuo-ku, Osaka
● 11:30-24:00 (LO. 23:30)
※ Weekends and holidays open from 11:00
● Open year-round
And Hiroshima's famous shop is “Micchan” founded in 1950. It is the ancestor of the Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki. It has been continuing since the street stall, which later became “Okonomi-mura.”
The sweetness of cabbage and the crispy gorgeous smell of Chinese noodle are mixed with “Micchan special sauce,” you can meet the taste that can’t be offered anywhere else.
“Okonomiyaki Micchan - Hatchobori main shop
● Turris Hatchobori 1F, 6-7, Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima
● 11:00-14:30, 17:30-21:30
※ Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays are 11:00-15:00, 17:00-21:30
● Open year-round
Summary of Okonomiyaki
How was it?
If you dig deep, you will find the deep “Okonomiyaki” world. While traveling in Japan, you will surely find your favorite Okonomiyaki. It will be fun to try localized Okonomiyaki in various places, and explore the local food culture.
*The above information was last updated June 7, 2018. For further information, please contact the facilities directly.
"Like" if you think this article is interesting