By Lisa Hong
On September 12, 2014
Coming from America, I had always associated “Teppanyaki” with steak and shrimp cooked on a hot, flat iron griddle while chefs wowed hungry guests with spatula flips and tricks (a chain restaurant famous for this is Benihana, which started in New York).
After living in Japan, I have forgotten about these gimmicks and now (properly) associate the Teppanyaki grill with Okonomiyaki. Not all Okonomiyaki are created equal, and different regions in Japan make their own in unique ways. But the main two competing regions for the best style of Okonomiyaki are Hiroshima and Kansai. This article will highlight the Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki, also known as “Hiro-yaki”.
The first time I had this dish was in Hiroshima, in a multi-story restaurant complex called Okonomimura. Each floor has multiple Teppanyaki grills, each its own business. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. How do I begin choosing where to eat? I roamed each floor and almost every seat was filled (it was a Friday night). Some grills were surrounded by groups of hungry and excited school kids. Other grills were taken over by red-faced business men. The grills didn’t seem so distinct from one another, but as any newbie, I was afraid of making the wrong choice.
Fortunately, some locals stopped to help (I guess my confused expression was obvious), and their advice was, “Just pick the atmosphere you like and sit. The food is good anywhere in here.”
I wouldn’t be able to tell you what floor and which grill I chose to sit down at, but I can tell you the awe I felt watching my first Hiro-yaki being made….
A thin layer of batter spread out on the grill like a crepe. Layers of seaweed, a massive pile of cabbage, bacon strips, fried noodles, and eggs – all intrigued me as to how the flavors could come together. The whole thing flipped over to fully cook, which the chef did skillfully, without making mess. A generous coating of a dark, savory and sweet sauce beckoned me as if yelling, “I’m ready!” I ate it right off the grill with a personal-sized spatula. Another local told me to cut it like a grid, forming bite-sized squares, which is Hiroshima-style (cutting it like a pizza is Osaka-style).
Hiro-yaki is now one of my favorite Japanese foods. The flavors that are compressed together blend so well and go down so easily. I always think it will be too much food, but before I know it, it’s gone, and I scold myself for not savoring my last bite.
Some other flavors and layers to add, if you’re feeling adventurous, are Mochi, cheese, seafood, and Kimchi. I also like the appetizers such as garlic chicken, pork and kimchi, squid ink yakisoba, or tofu and mountain yam pancake. These are all cooked on the flat grill alongside the Okonomiyaki.
The chefs may not do any spatula tricks for you, but you’ll appreciate their focus and the end product, which is authentic Japanese.
Okonomimura, in Hiroshima
Address: 5-13 Shintenchi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima
3-minute walk from streetcar stop, “Hatchobori”
3-minute walk from bus stop, “Shintenchi”
Hours: 11am – 10pm
Authentic Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki in Tokyo
Address: 7-22-34, Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Train Access: Shinjuku station on the JR, Tokyo Metro, or Toei Subway (10 min walk)
Tel: 03-3364-0807 (Japanese only)
No English menu
Closed: Sunday & Holiday