At a packed restaurant in Hiroshima, Regan Schoulz discovers not all okonomiyaki are created equal

Many people will tell you that you haven't really experienced Hiroshima if you haven't tried a okonomiyaki.

The savoury pancake is quite a common dish, found in many areas of Japan, but in Hiroshima they offer something more unique.

At about 7pm we headed to Okonomimura, a pancake house down a side street in the city centre.

As we entered the restaurant we took our shoes off and were led to a table where we sat around a hot iron plate.


The place was small, packed and hot. Each stovetop we passed was crowded with people watching their food being cooked in front of them.The smells wafting from each were mouth-watering.

Signed posters of famous men who have visited the restaurant lined its walls. One photo shows a group of women posing with someone who appears to be a famous singer, fingers in a peace sign as he dines. The women look thrilled. Then we found out the man wasn't actually famous but was desperate to be, so had the posters printed and asked the restaurant to support him.

After getting our warm gear off, we piled around the stove and watched four women set about their work swiftly making 14 pancakes.

They dished out drinks in a similarly swift fashion and before long we were sipping on glasses of beer so cold, that small frozen icicles were floating in it.

In my mind I was imagining okonomiyaki as a crepe-type dish. Boy was I wrong. This was a pancake stacked with eggs, noodles, spring onions, bacon and cabbage, topped with a barbecue sauce and seasoning: a full meal. We watched as it was created, layer by layer.

The sound of knives and metal spatulas cracking against the stovetop filled the small space, and conversations got louder so people could hear each other.

As they prepared the pancakes, the four women chatted away to each other in Japanese. One of them, Fumie Onoue, had been making okonomiyaki for 60 years.

This small, chatty woman with rosy-red cheeks was happy to talk to us and, with the help of a translator, told us interesting snippets about her life.

The banter went back and forth.

"Where were you during the bombing?"

"She was in the city so she is a survivor. Ten years after the bomb her skin colour changed so she couldn't wear shirts. She was suffering but now she is totally okay," the translator said.

Silence filled the room as we ate, the cooks watching on, as we tried to eat our okonomiyaki with chopsticks and failed miserably.

Some of the group gave up and asked for a fork while the rest of us kept jabbing at the pancake goodness, before giving up and sort of scooping it into our mouths with the flat part of the chopsticks.

We finished and were hustled us out of the restaurant with a few quick goodbyes as others queued to take our places. This unique, authentic experience is one of the best things to seek out in Hiroshima, even if you don't have the chance to try okonomiyaki in any other part of Japan.


So what makes okonomiyaki different in Hiroshima? In other parts of Japan, the pancake is made with egg, noodles, meat or seafood and other chopped vegetables, which is combined with the pancake mixture and cooked on a hot iron plate.

In Hiroshima, the ingredients are layered to created a pancake stack. Think bacon, egg, bean sprouts, noodles, cabbage and spring onions, with a topping of barbecue sauce and seasoning, completed with two outer pancake layers to hold it all together.

Each costs about $15.



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