Okonomiyaki is kind of like a Japanese pancake, if pancakes were made of vegetables and meat and not at all sweet. In fact, there is very little to compare the two dishes besides the general shape and the fact that both are truly awesome dishes, perhaps Japanese Pizza would be more appropriate, except there is no bread…. hmm…
The name “okonomiaki” is a combination of the word “okonomi,” meaning “as you like,” and “yaki” which means something like grilled or pan fried. The dish originates from the Kansai / Osaka area, but its popularity has grown throughout Japan and at this point you can basically get it anywhere.
While you can get okonomiyaki anywhere, you can not get all kinds of okokonomiyaki everywhere, as a part of its expanding popularity it has been adapted both inside and outside of its original Kansai home into a dizzying array of highly localized and regional varieties.
In its most basic form, the original Kansai dish is prepared with batter made of flour, grated yam, water , eggs, shredded cabbage, and often varied with green onion, meat, seafood, vegetables, mochi, and even cheese. I once ate “American-yaki” which contained tons of pork and cheese, as well as corn. Sounds odd, but it was pretty good.
One excellent regional variation comes from Hiroshima. Hiroshima-yaki features much more cabbage than in Kansai, and noodles which, along with other ingredients, are layered rather than mixed together. Calling this a delicacy would be inappropriate. All okonomiyaki is more like “down home cookin’,” or “soul food,” and, as such, it lives up to the “as you like” portion of its name.
Ordering in Hiroshima requires you choose between a dizzying array of toppings, toppings and noodles, (soba, udon…). The most basic version of Hiroshimayaki is soba niku-tama, and consists of cabbage topped with pork, egg and noodles. But you should also give due consideration to seafood, especially Hiroshima’s famous oysters (kaki-iri).
If you are in the area and fancy the real deal, the home of Hiroshima-yaki is Mitchan Sōhonten, generally referred to simply as Mitchan. If you make the trip, we suggest ordering “the deluxe!”