It’s hard to precisely and concisely describe okonomiyaki in English. The common translations of “Japanese pizza” or “Japanese pancake” just don’t do it justice. Literally translated to “grilled as you like it,” okonomiyaki is something like a savory pancake with various ingredients, some common ones being pork belly, cheese, cabbage, spring onions and seafood. It’s then topped with bonito and seaweed flakes, mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce.
While its historical origins are unclear, a Taisho-era (1912-1926) dish from Kyoto called issen yoshoku, a thin, savory crepe with an assortment of ingredients and swimming in sauce, might have been its predecessor.
Osaka vs. Hiroshima
It’s claimed that no area makes okonomiyaki better than these two. However, both Osaka and Hiroshima have their own distinct ways of preparing okonomiyaki, leading to a slight rivalry over which does it right and better.
Osaka‘s style is the more commonly known one. It’s prepared much like your typical pancake—the batter is mixed with the ingredients, then fried. Meanwhile, for Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, the ingredients are cooked separately in layers, beginning with the batter, which is thin and crepe-like. Noodles are also a key ingredient. The end result looks more like a stacked pile of alternating batter and ingredients. Also, whereas Osaka-style okonomiyaki can be grilled yourself, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is always left to the chef.
Nowadays, though, even Osaka-style okonomiyaki may have noodles; this kind of okonomiyaki is called modan-yaki, with the modan meaning “modern,” so the main difference between these two styles, really, is the cooking method. While the methods differ, the end products are delicious anyway! Still, many seem to prefer Osaka-style okonomiyaki.
Where to eat: Okonomiyaki restaurants in Tokyo
While Tokyo has monjayaki, its own take on okonomiyaki which is runnier (try it at the famous monja-street in Tsukishima), there are also restaurants where you can savor good old Osaka and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. Here are a few (in no particular order):
1. Sakuratei | Harajuku
Tucked in a back alley of Harajuku, with some creative wall designs Sakuratei, is a great place to start if you’re new to okonomiyaki. The restaurant has an English menu, and has a laid-back ambiance. It claims to owe its popularity to the fluffy texture of its okonomiyaki, as well as its secret sauce. For big eaters, they have all-you-can-eat okonomiyaki courses. The 90-minute lunch course (available from 11:00 am-3:00 pm) costs ¥1,060 on weekdays, and ¥1,200 on weekends. The 2-hour course includes okonomiyaki, 22 toppings, monjayaki, yakisoba, and yakiudon.
2. Hanako | Iidabashi
Only very recenly added to the Bib Gourmand list (the affordable level below a Michelin Star), this place looks pretty unnassuming, but the food definitely isn’t. Now with three restaurants in Hiroshima and two in Tokyo (the other in Kanda), they seem to be getting their staple dish right at this store in particular, so you’re in safe hands. Try to grab a counter seat by the teppan so you can watch the master at work.
3. Kiji | Marunouchi + Shinagawa
This famous okonomiyaki restaurant in Osaka has two branches in Tokyo: one in Marunouchi and another in Shinagawa. Starting at ¥830 for a buta-tama (pork and egg) okonomiyaki, prices are quite reasonable. English menus are available too.
Because this restaurant is popular, it’s best to arrive early and expect a line that can leave you waiting for more than an hour, at worst.
4. Sometaro | Asakusa
Based in Asakusa, Sometaro has been in business since 1937. This grill-it-yourself okonomiyaki restaurant has affordable prices, with a very basic okonomiyaki (with only pickled ginger and cabbage as ingredients) costing ¥380. The ones with more fillings cost anywhere between ¥630–¥880. Be sure to try their unconventional okonomiyaki: pizza (with peppers, bacon, and cheese), curry, mochi (with cheese, bacon, and mochi), and pork with kimchi.
5. Okonomiyaki Honjin
Another grill-your-own-okonomiyaki place, this place has all-you-can-eat and all-you-can drink courses. The lunch course is 90 minutes, and costs ¥1,480. The 2-hour all-you-can-eat-and-drink course costs ¥3,000, covering 18 kinds of okonomiyaki, 25 kinds of monjayaki, and a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
6. Suzume no Oyado | Shibuya
This restaurant has an old-school, homey vibe. It serves not only okonomiyaki, but also monjayaki. Prices are slightly higher compared to the aforementioned restaurants, but are still relatively inexpensive.
7. Buchiumaya | Shinjuku
One of the few Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki restaurants in Tokyo, Buchiumaya‘s best-sellers are the regular okonomiyaki — nikutama (meat and egg)—and mochi cheese nikutama. This izakaya-like restaurant also has other dishes worth trying, such as a crispy squid snack. Prepare to spend around ¥815 to ¥1,500 at this place.
8. Hiroshima Okonomiyaki Kurumi | Shinjuku
Also in Shinjuku, the restaurant’s name needs no explanation. Its inexpensive okonomiyaki range from ¥600 to ¥900, and portions are large. The restaurant seems particularly generous with its noodles.