Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake and is made with vegetables, meat, seafood, and other ingredients, cooked on a griddle with flour-based batter and served with special sauce. It’s a traditional Japanese food that is sometimes called “Japanese Pancake” or “Japanese Pizza”. It’s a savory dish that is a bit more like an omelette or frittata than a pancake and it’s made with okonomiyaki flour, eggs, cabbage, pork (bacon), shrimp or other seafood, and topped with a variety of condiments like sweet sauce (Okonomi Sauce), mayonnaise, dried seaweed and dried fish flakes. Now… that may not sound very appealing, but it turns out to be an INCREDIBLY DELICIOUS dish – crispy on the outside and soft inside. You absolutely must try Okonomiyaki.
It has two style, Kansai-style okonomiyaki is prepared by pre-mixing the ingredients and batter together before cooking, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is made by cooking the batter and ingredients in layers without mixing them on the griddle. Besides these two popular versions, similar dishes are found in other areas throughout the country.
This variability is reflected in the dish’s name; “okonomi” literally means “to one’s liking”. The dish is available all over Japan, but is most popular in the west, particularly the cities of Hiroshima and Osaka. Okonomiyaki was invented, they say, in Osaka, which is a city famous for cheap and good eats. Okonomiyaki is a snack more than a full meal, though it is pretty filling. It’s a quintessential yatai or streetside food stand food, though nowadays you’re more likely to eat it indoors than sitting at an outside stall. It’s a very communal type of food, especially if you cook it on a tabletop griddle.
Okonomiyaki is sometimes translated into English as “As-you-like-it Pancake”. However, this may be misleading. Though it does consist of batter cooked on a griddle, okonomiyaki has nothing of the sweetness or fluffiness of pancakes, not to mention that it is usually filled with octopus, shrimp, pork, yam or kimchi. A more accurate comparison, which is also made, is between okonomiyaki and pizza. The name “okonomiyaki” comes from the Japanese phrase “okonomi de yaku”, meaning grill the ingredients you like in the way that you like. Many places let customers grill their own okonomiyaki on large flat iron grills on top of the table. It is a lot of fun to grill up your own okonomiyaki with a group of friends or family.