Exploring Hiroshima

Vol.03 Hiroshima Okonomiyaki
Why do Hiroshima residents have such reverence for a savory pancake?

Why do Hiroshima residents have such reverence for a savory pancake?

People from Hiroshima rave about “okonomiyaki” as much as their beloved baseball team, Hiroshima Toyo Carp. It’s the staple of home-cooking throughout the region. Walk through the city and you’ll see dedicated okonomiyaki restaurants at every turn. Ask anyone in Hiroshima about ‘soul food’ and there’s only one answer.

It’s all about the layers

There are two distinct schools when it comes to the okonomiyaki. The Hiroshima version and the Kansai/Osaka version. The difference? It’s all in the preparation. The Kansai okonomiyaki mixes all the ingredients together in a flour batter. But in Hiroshima they fry each ingredient separately before stacking the different layers and coating it in the special okonomiyaki sauce.”

The okonomiyaki restaurants in the city cater for all, but are mostly frequented by local residents. It’s a great place to go if you want a taste of an authentic local atmosphere and a glimpse into daily life in Hiroshima.

Building the okonomiyaki

Curious to know how to make an okonomiyaki? Why not give it a try? The Wood Egg Okonomiyaki Museum in Hiroshima run by the Otafuku company offers workshops, where you can learn how to make the dish yourself. A great way to entertain your friends back home with an authentic Hiroshima specialty.

The ingredients come prepared at the okonomiyaki workshop

Learning how to make an authentic Hiroshima okonomiyaki

Watching a seasoned okonomiyaki chef at work might seem daunting. But fear not, experienced instructors at the workshop will help you throughout. At the end, you can sit down and compare notes – and of course sample your own creation.

Instructors at hand to help

Instructors at hand to help

Sitting down to eat the okonomiyaki you made

Sitting down to eat the okonomiyaki you made

The okonomiyaki exhibit at Wood Egg

If you have time, don’t miss the museum in the same building. The exhibit explains the development of the brown sauce and charts the evolution of the okonomiyaki from a prewar market snack to the cultural icon it is today.

A typical postwar okonomiyaki shop

A typical postwar okonomiyaki shop

People set up okonomiyaki shops inside residences in postwar Hiroshima

People set up okonomiyaki shops inside residences in postwar Hiroshima

Messages and wishes written on wooden spatulas

Messages and wishes written on wooden spatulas

Messages and wishes written on wooden spatulas

Messages and wishes written on wooden spatulas

A vast array of Otafuku Sauce products on sale in the Wood Egg

A vast array of Otafuku Sauce products on sale in the Wood Egg

‘Put simply - it’s our soul food,’ says Yoshihiro Ueuchi, coordinator at Otafuku Sauce. ‘In postwar Hiroshima, so many survivors relied on the okonomiyaki as a food source to get through those tough years. It was during that time it turned into sustaining the dish we know and love today.’

Inside the okonomiyaki exhibit

Inside the okonomiyaki exhibit

The museum underlines the reason for the distinctive layering of the okonomiyaki. In the desperate times after the war, the only foodstuff available was white flour imported by the Allies. The locals fashioned the flour into crepe-like pancakes and then grilled them on metal sheets retrieved from shipyard wreckage. Gradually, as more ingredients became available, the layers grew and the okonomiyaki took shape. The cooking process still mirrors this approach, with the most luxurious ingredients cooked at the end.

Inside the okonomiyaki exhibit

Inside the okonomiyaki exhibit

After a trip to Wood Egg, pick a restaurant and experience the real thing. Take a seat by the metal teppan griddle and enjoy the fun as the chef builds the okonomiyaki in front of you. Once it’s ready, the chef will slide the okonomiyaki over and you can eat it straight off the griddle. Avoid using chopsticks. You’ll see other diners reach for small metal spatulas - the tool of choice for the okonomiyaki connoisseur.

‘In Japanese, we have a saying that the best way to communicate is to gather around the hearth,’ says Ueuchi. ‘So don’t be surprised if other customers start chatting to you! It’ll be a great introduction into Hiroshima culture.’

So pull up a seat, grab your spatula and dig into Hiroshima’s iconic dish.

Best thing about the experience? Eating okonomiyaki…!

Best thing about the experience? Eating okonomiyaki…!

Details:

Wood Egg Okonomiyaki Museum
Address: 7-4-5 Shoko Center, Nishi-ku, Hiroshima 733-0833, Hiroshima Prefecture
Tel: 082-277-7116 (9am – 5pm)

Words & Photography by Tom Miyagawa Coulton
(Visited in September 2017)

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