What is Okonomiyaki?
Japan is well known for its rich culture, and especially for its japanese cuisine, and not only sushi has its place in the rising sun, but also the famous Okonomiyaki. Have you ever heard of Okonomiyaki?
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese fried pancake with various ingredients. Okonomi means “what you want” or “of your desire,” and yaki means “grilled” or “fried”. So the name of this dish means “to cook what you like”. And believe me, the name Okonomiyaki makes perfect sense!
What is Okonomiyaki really made of?
Its base composition is the dough, normally made of flour and water, shredded cabbage or yams, and egg. The ingredients, in its most popular version, contain cabbage, pickled red ginger, fried dough flakes, egg, and thinly sliced pork. However, the interesting thing is that Okonomiyaki can be made with a variety of ingredients such as sliced beef, squid, shrimp or octopus, kimchi, mochi, etc.
Regardless of the style of Okonomiyaki, what gives the true final taste are the sauces. Being made of Okonomiyaki sauce (a dark and thick sauce) and mayonnaise, sprinkled on top with katsuobushi (dried bonito fish flakes) and aonori (green nori seaweed), but always remember that each customer can season it as they wish.
The different types of the Okonomiyaki by region
Okonomiyaki is popular all over Japan, but in some regions, its popularity is greater, especially in regions such as Kansai (which includes Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe) and also in Hiroshima. But in Hiroshima, the Okonomiyaki has a reputation for being more traditional. Hiroshima is sometimes recognized as the home of Okonomiyaki, and one of the reasons is that Hiroshima has more Okonomiyaki restaurants than any other region of the country, there are more than 2,000 Okonomiyaki restaurants there!
Okonomimura (literally Okonomi Village) is in the heart of downtown Hiroshima, and can be considered a castle specializing in Okonomiyaki, a place with four floors and more than 25 Okonomiyaki restaurants, amazing!
But the difference between Hiroshima and the Kansai region is not only in the number of restaurants and Okonomiyaki places but mainly in the way Okonomiyaki is prepared. In Kansai for example all ingredients are mixed together, while Hiroshima uses a “layered” style. However, Kansai is not left behind and is often the choice of the people, as with this variety in preparation Okonomiyaki becomes more interesting to the palate.
Both Hiroshima and Kansai have their treasures when it comes to Okonomiyaki, but one thing we can’t leave out is the history behind the Hiroshima Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is the food that fueled the rebirth of the city after the atomic bomb.
After the fateful day of August 6, 1945, the city of Hiroshima began its restructuring, and in the midst of the chaos and food shortages, the people of Hiroshima found an easier and simpler way to feed themselves, through the beloved food called issen yōshoku. Later, food stalls and other cheap restaurants sprang up around the city, selling issen yōshoku with some extra ingredients, to give more sustenance to the population, and this new approach of pick-and-mix of ingredients is how the dish got its more appropriate name: Okonomiyaki.
From Okonomiyaki to Monjayaki
Monjayaki, or just Monja, is what we can call a by-product of the famous Okonomiyaki. This is due to its similarity to Okonomiyaki, as it is considered a type of Japanese fried dough, but what differentiates one from the other is its structure, as it uses different liquid ingredients.
Besides the Kansai style Okonomiyaki, and Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki, the Monjayaki joins the family as their counterparts. Monjayaki is very famous in the Kanto region and is widely consumed by the Tokyo population.
It is an interesting dish where you start with a bowl of chopped ingredients and then fry them on an iron plate. The Japanese add some liquid ingredients, flour, and sauce to make the final appearance more like a noodle. With all this mixing and using liquid ingredients, the Monjayaki ends up being thinner than Okonomiyaki. However many people argue that Monjayaki ends up being even better than the traditional Okonomiyaki.
The final dish
Regardless of the texture, way of making, or historical origins, one thing is for sure, Japan has a rich culinary culture, and every single one of them is worth trying!
If you go to Hiroshima, don’t miss the traditional Okonomiyaki, but if you are in the Kansai region, missing out on the mixed-style Okonomiyaki would not be a good idea, and if you are in the beautiful Capital Tokyo, experiencing a good Monjayaki is almost a must if you like to feel and eat the best of Japan. What makes Japan so unique is its culture, filled with so many diversities and traditions that putting everything on a plate makes it unique and delicious!
Featured image credits: Guillaume Coué, Unsplash.
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