Okonomiyaki--literally, the things you like, pan fried. While certain variants existed in the early Showa period (1926-1989), it really became a staple for the working class/family diet in the early postwar period (late 40s and 50s), since you could take whatever ingredients were available (not much, immediately after the war), and mix them together into a delicious meal. Today, okonomiyaki can be found in a vast number of specialty restaurants, and they are a mainstay for any Japanese festival or event where food vendors congregate. However, there is an important distinction in Okonomiyaki these days: Hiroshima-style vs. Osaka-style. The ingredients are largely the same, but the manner in which the food is constructed is entirely different.
The Okonomiyaki base is essentially made of flour, egg, and dashi. This creates a sort of omelet/pancake (we'll call it an om-cake). From there, it is a matter of throwing in whatever ingredients you like (hence the name); common ingredients include cabbage and pork, though restaurants will offer all manners of options including squid, beef, assorted veggies, raw egg, among many, many others.. Once the om-cake is done, it is then topped off with okonomiyaki sauce (a sweet, thick, soy-based sauce), seaweed, and mayonnaise. But somewhere in this construction process is where the paths start to diverge:
Osaka-Style okonomiyaki is the type that you are more likely to encounter on your Japan adventures. It is found in most convenience stores and typical Okonomiyaki restaurants offer this option, largely because many of those restaurants have you cook everything at your own table and these are easier to cook! In this version, all of the ingredients are mixed and cooked together. The end product is one solid om-cake topped off with sauce and mayo.
Hiroshima-Style okonomiyaki requires a slightly more complex cooking process. Instead of cooking everything in one big omelet/pancake (aka om-cake), everything is layered. The om-cake rests on top of the meat and veggies which sit on top of an additional ingredient not typically found in Osaka-style okonomiyaki: yakisoba or yakiudon (fried noodles). The Hiroshima-style option is especially good for picky eaters--it is a lot easier to request an ingredient not be included when everything is cooked separately and then layered!
My favorite is Osaka-style, but I'm a messy eater to begin with, so maybe it's just because there's something nice about having everything packed together. If you have a chance to try one or both while in Japan, I recommend it--you can't go wrong with either option, and they offer a truly original Japanese meal option!
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