Unbrave Eats: Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

February 4, 2010

My dad’s in town this week, which means I’m playing tour guide of Japan one last time before I leave. I simply would not be a very good tour guide of Japan, if my tour did not dedicate a fair amount of time to the consumption of okonomiyaki. To be honest, I am not exactly a good tour guide of Japan at all. I only know enough Japanese to be able to order my lunch (and only my lunch… I never reached that chapter in my Japanese textbook on how to order other people’s lunches). I could get lost in my own neighborhood (and do… regularly). Plus, I’m prone to bouts of petulant moodiness when forced to do things like wake up before ten or talk to anyone before noon.

But I am pretty good at dedicating a fair amount of my time (as well as dad’s time… as he has found out this week) to the consumption of okonomiyaki. Often called “Japanese-style pizza,” okonomiyaki resembles pizza in the same way I resemble Angelina Jolie… namely, it doesn’t.

Okonomiyaki is also called a “savory pancake,” which may be a more accurate description. At least it’s a more accurate description for Osaka-style okonomiyaki, which is made from a flour-based batter mixed with various ingredients. These ingredients usually include cabbage and bacon and may also include anything from pounded rice cakes to cheese to squid. The whole lot is then thrown on a flat iron griddle and grilled up; then topped with brown sauce and ginger and possibly some fish flakes, seaweed and mayonnaise.

Osaka-style okonomiyaki is the more popular style in Kobe for obvious reasons, like the fact that Osaka’s practically on Kobe’s doorstep… and the fact that Osaka-style okonomiyaki is freaking amazing (I mean, it’s filled with bacon and covered with mayonnaise for crying out loud! Of course, it’s amazing!).

But not everyone agrees that Osaka-style okonomiyaki is the amazing-est. You see, Hiroshima has their own style of okonomiyaki, and the people of Hiroshima seem to think their style is pretty amazing, too. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki resembles neither a pancake… nor a pizza… nor Angelina Jolie (although, I’m sure if you found an okonomiyaki that did resemble Angelina Jolie you could get quite a pretty penny on eBay for it!).

A Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki uses almost the same ingredients as an Osaka-style one (batter, cabbage, bacon… more bacon), but instead of mixing all of them together, the chef piles them on top of each other. First the cook starts with a thin layer of batter, followed by a big pile of cabbage, some bacon and possibly some seafood, sprouts, some noodles, a fried egg and finally some brown sauce and ginger. It’s kind of like a sandwich, except in this sandwich there’s a big heap of noodles inside and there’s an egg on top.

After having already tried out Osaka-style okonomiyaki the other day, I decided we’d better check out the competition and have a little Hiroshima-style while we were visiting Hiroshima today. I’ve only had Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki once before when I was visiting Hiroshima a couple years back, and I have to admit I wasn’t a huge fan. Maybe it’s because I’m an Osaka girl at heart (even though, technically, I’m a Kobe girl… but, you know, whatever, give me twenty minutes on the express train and the promise of mayonnaise, and I’m an Osaka girl). Or maybe it’s because the ramen noodles in the middle of the Hiroshima-style were a bit dry and crunchy when I tried it last time. Or maybe it’s because the Hiroshima-style is not slathered with mayonnaise (bacon, yes, but mayonnaise, no… which showed a real lack of foresight, I felt).

To try out Hiroshima’s own version of okonomiyaki amazing-ness we headed downtown to Okonomiyakimura or Okonomiyaki Village. Sadly Okonomiyakimura is not an actual village made out of okonomiyaki (now, that would be amazing!) but a building with three stories full of okonomiyaki restaurants (which is still amazing, mind you, but it’s no village!). Each restaurant has a grill where the cooks slap together huge piles of cabbage, noodles, bacon, eggs and more bacon. Meanwhile, you get to sit on the other side of the grill and watch the magic happen while you salivate with chopsticks in hand.

We carefully selected our restaurant from the twenty-five different possibilities (okay, we just sat down at the first place that promised us an English menu… remember my Japanese only extends to my lunch, so when with guests I find it’s best to go with the place that offers a menu in English… as I am not about to share my lunch!). Then, we settled on to our bar stools at the grill and made our selection. We went with a traditional okonomiyaki (read: bacon) stuffed with udon noodles, and a seafood okonomiyaki (also with bacon) stuffed with ramen noodles.

While neither of our selections came out slathered in mayonnaise (really, lack of foresight, I tell you), they both were mighty tasty. While I still found the ramen noodles a little dryer and crispier than I would have liked, the udon noodles in the traditional one were a particular treat. Soft and thick, they added a nice, comforting texture to the whole ensemble. Plus, I must say the bacon used to make these towering treats was outstanding. Thick, meaty and crispy, this bacon made me eat all the bad words I’ve ever said about the sad state of bacon in Japan (well, I would have eaten my words… had I any space in my stomach after eating that big heaping pile of udon noodles and amazing bacon).

After polishing off our portions, my father confessed to having liked the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki better than the Osaka-style. And, I have to say, I felt torn. After all, I am an Osaka girl at heart… but give me an hour and a half on the bullet train (and a pile of that amazing bacon!) and I could be a Hiroshima girl in a heartbeat!

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