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What is Okonomiyaki? The Difference Between Kansai-style and Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

When you think of Japanese food, typically what comes to mind are things like sushi, ramen, udon, and perhaps some sort of donburi like katsudon (breaded pork cutlet on rice).

These are all mouthwatering but if you travel to Japan or live here, there is one dish you must absolutely try —okonomiyaki.

A black textured ceramic plate with one Osaka-style (Kansai-style) okonomiyaki on it. The pancake is topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and green aonori seaweed.
Most people have heard the name, but just what is okonomiyaki? /via Getty Images

What is Okonomiyaki?

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き, おこのみやき) is a Japanese teppanyaki dish that is most commonly found in western Japan. Some people liken okonomiyaki to a savory pancake as it is similar in shape, has toppings, and is cut into pieces when eating.

However, unlike pancakes, one okonomiyaki alone is incredibly filling. Sometimes you can even share a single okonomiyaki between two people!

Regional Variations

There are two main styles of okonomiyaki, which are classified according to the region they’re from — Kansai and Hiroshima.

There’s almost a competition between the two and throughout my time in Japan I’ve been asked multiple times which style I prefer. I used to be a fan of Hiroshima style when I lived in that area but now that I’m in Kansai, I’ve grown to really like Kansai style as well. 

Kansai-style Okonomiyaki

A Kansai-style okonomiyaki, also known as Osaka-style okonomiyaki, on a hot plate. It has been topped with brown okonomiyaki sauce and a hand can be seen sprinkling dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi) on top.
An example of Kansai-style okonomiyaki, also known as Osaka-style okonomiyaki /via Getty Images.

Similar to a pancake, Kansai-style okonomiyaki (関西風お好み焼き, かんさいふう・おこのみやき), also known as Osaka-style okonomiyaki, contains several ingredients mixed together in a bowl and then fried on a hot plate or frying pan.

One key ingredient is okonomiyaki flour, which consists of flour, dashi, and other seasonings. This is mixed with water before adding shredded cabbage and egg to it and mixing it all once again. The batter is then fried and flipped so it’s cooked on both sides.

Two Kansai-style okonomiyaki being cooked on a hot plate. They have not been flipped yet so the batter is still wet on top. The one on the left is topped with sliced pork, scallops and squid, while the one on the right has sliced pork and mochi.
Kansai-style okonomiyaki being cooked on a hot plate. The one on the left is topped with sliced pork, scallops and squid, while the one on the right has sliced pork and mochi /via Photo AC.

Once it’s ready, it’s topped with sweet and savory okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, and aonori seaweed powder. When you bite in, you’ll discover that it has a fluffy texture, which is sweet from the batter but also has some crunch and salty flavor from the other ingredients.

This is the most basic form of Kansai-style okonomiyaki, and one that’s usually made at home since it’s so simple. However, it’s also common to add ingredients such as slices of pork, dried bonito fish flakes (katsuobushi, 鰹節, かつおぶし), thinly sliced red pickled ginger (beni shōga, 紅しょうが, べにしょうが), green onions, and bits of tempura batter (tenkasu, 天かす, てんかす also known as agedama, 揚げ玉, あげだま).    

Although the exact origins of okonomiyaki are a bit fuzzy, many believe that Kansai style evolved from a Japanese sweet called funoyaki (麩の焼き, ふのやき) in the Momoyama period (1574-1600), which resembles a rolled crepe. This then evolved into monjayaki (もんじゃ焼き, もんじゃやき) in the Meiji period (1868-1912), a fried savory pancake dish, before becoming the Kansai style of okonomiyaki we know today.

Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

A Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki filled with yakisoba noodles and topped with brown okonomiyaki sauce, green aonori seaweed and red pickled ginger.
An example of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki /via Getty Images.

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (広島風お好み焼き, ひろしまふう・おこのみやき), is considerably more difficult to make than Kansai style as it is layered rather than mixed together. Hiroshima style also has crispy yakisoba, or fried noodles, inside of it (one reason why it’s my favorite style). The batter and cabbage differ as well — Hiroshima style uses less batter and more thinly sliced cabbage as flour was scarce after WWII.

Like when making a crepe, a ladle of batter for Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is poured onto a griddle and then swirled into a thin circle. Ingredients such as cabbage, beansprouts, tenkasu, green onions, and slices of pork are layered on top. More batter is poured on top and when the batter on the bottom is firm, everything is flipped. It takes quite some skill to do this successfully!

A large hot plate with three Hiroshima okonomiyaki in the foreground that have already been flipped. The cabbage and cooked batter disk on top can be seen. While in the background, a person is about to flip the first of five Hiroshima okonomiyaki lined up in a row.
Hiroshima okonomiyaki being prepared on a hot plate /via Photo AC.

While the okonomiyaki-in-progress continues to cook, yakisoba drizzled with okonomiyaki sauce is cooked next to it. Once the cabbage is tender, everything is added on top of the yakisoba. A whisked egg is then cooked next to it and placed on the okonomiyaki. It’s quite the show and fun to watch being made. 

Just like Kansai style, okonomiyaki sauce and aonori seaweed (青のり, あおのり) are generously spread on top. However, the okonomiyaki sauce for Hiroshima style tends to be sweeter than Kansai style. Mayonnaise also isn’t traditionally used in Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, although it’s becoming more common.

Hiroshima okonomiyaki was born following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima city in 1945. As food was scarce, locals began to use iron plates to cook a traditional cheap snack called issen yōshoku (銭洋食, いっせん・ようしょく), which consists of a flour and water batter that is fried, topped with green onions or bonito (dried fish flakes), and then folded in half like a soft taco.

They gradually began to add cabbage, eggs, slices of pork, and fried soba noodles to create a filling dish that is now known as Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. Similarly, people in Kansai also made their own style of okonomiyaki as a staple meal more often following the war due to it being both cheap to make and filling.

These sad origins are why you’ll see that many long-established okonomiyaki restaurants in Hiroshima are named after women (ending in -chan or ちゃん, a suffix used for children and young women). As many men died during the war, their widows started these shops as a means of survival.

Okonomiyaki Toppings

One of the best parts about okonomiyaki, regardless of the style, is that you can also add a smorgasbord of toppings to it (hence the name okonomiyaki, which literally means an “as you like it” (okonomi) cooked or fried dish (yaki), as you can customize the dish to your liking).

Small crunchy pieces of tempura batter (light yellow/golden in color) called tenkasu in a white bowl.
Tenkasu, or crunchy bits of tempura batter, is one of the many options for okonomiyaki toppings /via Photo AC.

Some of the more popular toppings include:

  • Mochi (もち)
  • Cheese (チーズ)
  • Chopped mixed seafood, such as octopus, squid, and scallops (シーフードミックス)
  • Kimchi (キムチ)
  • Squid (イカ)
  • Shrimp (えび)
  • Beansprouts (もやし) 

My favorite combination is kimchi and cheese, my husband’s is seafood, while my daughter’s is corn and cheese.

If you have trouble deciding what toppings to get at an okonomiyaki restaurant, menus usually offer different popular combinations to select from to make it easier for customers. You can also ask them to omit ingredients as well. 

How to Eat Okonomiyaki

When eating okonomiyaki in a restaurant, use one of the provided spatulas called hera (へら) to cut the okonomiyaki into bite-sized pieces.

Then you can eat it directly off of the hot plate or place a piece onto a small plate and eat it from there using chopsticks. Eating it straight from the hot plate ensures that it stays warm and crispy but transferring it piece by piece to a plate allows it to cool off.

A wedge is being cut out of an Osaka-style okonomiyaki using a 'hera' spatula.
Cutting a piece of Osaka-style okonomiyaki using a hera /via Getty Images.

You can also add more okonomiyaki sauce or mayonnaise to it if you wish.

If you’re trying okonomiyaki for the first time with another person, I recommend sharing a basic one initially. As it’s quite filling, you may not need one for each person. And if you decide to order another, you can try something different, which is another reason why okonomiyaki is a great dish to share.  

Where to Eat Okonomiyaki

You can find okonomiyaki restaurants throughout Japan and is a common dish at festivals, although outside of the Chugoku region, it’s far easier to find places that serve Kansai style rather than Hiroshima style. 

Kansai-style restaurants usually provide you with the ingredients and the teppan (griddle) to make the okonomiyaki yourself. This might be a strange concept for some visitors to Japan —after all, one of the draws of eating out is having someone else cook your meal for you— but like yakiniku (BBQ meat), cooking it yourself is part of the experience.

Don’t worry, the restaurant staff are always happy to help when it comes to making it, including flipping or even cooking the okonomiyaki for you, and sometimes there are instructions with illustrations as well. 

The raw ingredients for Osaka okonomiyaki in a silver metal mixing bowl. Shredded cabbage, slices of pork and a cracked raw egg can be seen on top.
The ingredients for Osaka-style okonomiyaki at restaurants are typically served raw in a bowl. Patrons are responsible for mixing everything themselves and then cooking it on the hot plate at the table. © Kay A.

Although the Kansai region consists of several regions in west Japan, Kansai-style okonomiyaki is commonly associated with Osaka. You can find restaurants and stalls that serve this style of okonomiyaki anywhere in Osaka really but for the best, head to Dotonbori, which is known for kuidaore (食い倒れ, くいだおれ) — you end up eating so much that you’ll end up bankrupt. Truly heaven for a foodie. 

I recommend checking out two chain restaurants there — CHIBO, which offers both traditional and unique okonomiyaki as well as teppanyaki dishes, and Okonomiyaki Fugetsu. For those looking for something more local, Kiji (きじ) is a Michelin-starred okonomiyaki restaurant. Fukutaro (福太郎) in Namba is also popular.

If you want to try Hiroshima style (and you absolutely should), then head to Hiroshima city for the most authentic experience. There are hundreds of okonomiyaki restaurants in Hiroshima city. In fact, Hondori, the main shopping street in Hiroshima city, has an okonomiyaki “village” called Okonomimura (お好み村、おこのみむら), which is a building filled with okonomiyaki stalls. I say stalls because they fit maybe 10 people at most. This leads to the most popular ones having long lines and it can be cramped at times but there is no better experience.

The lit-up red, yellow, black and white Okonomimura sign in Hiroshima at night. Down the center are large Japanese characters spelling Okonomimura.
Where to eat okonomiyaki in Hiroshima: The brightly-lit sign for Okonomimura is hard to miss! /via Photo AC

If you don’t feel like going to Hondori or you’re just making a brief stop at Hiroshima station, you can also enjoy okonomiyaki at various restaurants on the second floor of the ASSE mall, or the Hiroshima Okonomi Monogatari Ekimae Hiroba.

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