A classic dish in Hiroshima is okonomiyaki (there’s also a version from Osaka). It started gaining traction before World War II and then became a staple among residents after the bombing as a cheap way to eat a filling meal. Today, it remains a popular meal, with restaurants around prefecture specializing in the dish.
Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake made of layers of ingredients, typically wheat batter, pork belly, cabbage, and yakisoba (noodles). Chefs have their own preferences for the order of these layers. Toppings can include green onions, bonito flakes, shrimp, octopus, egg, cheese, and chicken. The variety in ingredients means customers can tailor the meal to their own tastes — in fact, okonomi means “to one’s liking.”
There are a couple key differences between Hiroshima and Osaka okonomiyaki. For instance, the Osaka style mixes rather than layers the ingredients and the Hiroshima style has three to four times the amount of cabbage. In the rest of the country, you’ll usually find Osaka style okonomiyaki — a major reason why it’s important to try okonomiyaki while you’re in Hiroshima!
You’ll receive your okonomiyaki on a hot iron plate. You can eat it straight from this plate (this is what you’ll see the locals doing) or you can ask for a separate plate.
Before you start eating, season your okonomiyaki with any of the spices on the table that take your fancy. This may include Okonomi Sauce (which is based on Worcestershire Sauce), Japanese mayonnaise, pepper, and aonori (seaweed).
Next, cut the okonomiyaki into 16 bitesize pieces using a spatula called a hera. Hold the hera in the palm of your hand, wrapping all four fingers around it. Place your thumb on the top of the handle to keep it steady.
Once you’ve cut the okonomiyaki, scoop up a piece and, after blowing on it to cool it down, eat it straight from the hera. Alternatively, you could transfer the piece to your other plate and eat it with chopsticks.
For an authentic experience, eat okonomiyaki the traditional way. You can order one just for yourself or share with someone else.
With more than 2,000 okonomiyaki restaurants in Hiroshima city alone, you’re spoiled for choice. Around the prefecture, you’ll notice some regional differences — for instance, okonomiyaki in Fuchu features ground meat instead of pork belly, whereas on Innoshima Island, the batter is uncooked.
A great place to eat okonomiyaki, though, has to be Okonomi-mura: the okonomiyaki museum founded by Otafuku, a brand that makes one of the most popular sauces. Located in Naka-ku, it is one of the top food theme parks in the country. In addition to 25 restaurants (each serving okonomiyaki in its own style and with different ingredients), there’s a cooking studio where you can learn how to prepare okonomiyaki yourself.
Locals recommend trying okonomiyaki if it’s the only thing you have time to eat while you’re in Hiroshima. However, if you’ll be in the prefecture for some time, it’s worth visiting several restaurants to experiment with various combinations and experience different flavors.