As You Like: Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima


 

Okonomiyaki are really more like really thin pancakes….

“Nagata-ya,” said the tiny female valet as she tapped a map she was marking for us. We were checking into the ANA Crowne Plaza in Hiroshima and were asking about where to get the savory Japanese pancake for which that prefecture is so famous. This woman, all 5’2” high and 42 kilos strong, then proceeded to drag all four of our bags to our room…without using a luggage cart. We could barely handle two of our overstuffed, overweight and oversized American suitcases.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, delicious concoction! WM

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, uses for related utensilsOur appetites, however, were no match for the oversized okonomiyaki (お好み焼き, pronounced “Oh-kono-me-ya-key”) served through Hiroshima. Often called a Japanese pancake, they are really more a crepe. In any case, the thinness of the dough simply serves as the foundation for oh so much more. “Okonomi” in Japanese means “as you like,” referring to the many permutations of ingredients from which a diner can choose to pile onto their grilled (“yaki”) goodness. The delicacy is most popular in Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto) or Hiroshima areas of Japan, but can be found throughout, including in Okinawa. The biggest regional differences are in the toppings and batter used, along with how they are arranged during cooking.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, Nagata-Ya Hiroshima Style WM

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, ideas on how to eatWe had passed Nagata-ya the day before happily by accident, and decided to stop by on Saturday after enjoying Hiroshima’s peace park and museum. There was no line late Friday afternoon, but when we returned on Saturday about 3pm, there was a line stretching down the street in front of the store. We decided to stick it out, and ended up waiting probably about 20 minutes. The staff however, like in most of Japan, were amazingly and happily efficient, taking orders outside on electronic keypads, which were then transmitted wirelessly directly back to the kitchen. By the time we sat down at the grill-side counter, our okonomiyaki creation had already been started.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, menu WM

Okonomiyaki became very popular during WWII when rice was in very short supply. Due to the lack of other ingredients, a simpler version was made with more readily available fixings. Suffering harsh wartime conditions, the freshly grilled and hot wheat pancake was nutritious, filling, and inexpensive, all at the same time.

The Line at Nagata-ya's

The Line at Nagata-ya’s

Hiroshima 2015, Peace Memorial Park, Jody night portrait with the A-DomeOsaka-style okonomiyaki mixes all the constituent ingredients, including shredded cabbage, egg, green onion and usually some type of protein, into the batter before grilling. The okonomiyaki in Hiroshima uses very similar elements, the biggest differences being that they are layered on top of the grilled batter rather than mixed within, and include a layer of noodles (soba or udon), and are often topped with a fried egg.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, grilled deliciousness WM

I am a huge fan of udon (my favorite soup in the whole wide world), so we elected for this starchy layer over soba. Looking up and down the grill, however, showed that we seemed to have made a faux pas of sorts: our order was the only one involving the pasta-like noodles. Seriously though, I think okonomiyaki would be better with soba. Nagata-ya offers a “jumbo” coke, and for once, Japan finally served an American-worthy sized soda!

Yes, ours is the only one with udon....

Yes, ours is the only one with udon….

What results is a meal about the size of a dinner plate, and the thickness of the deepest dish pizza you can imagine. It was impossible for me and Jody to imagine eating one each, so we ordered one to share, a move that seemed to surprise our waitress to some extent.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, busy line chefs 2 WM

Part of the rather unique flavor of this Japanese culinary specialty comes from okonomi sauce that is brushed on during grilling. This glaze is best described as one part steak sauce, two parts BBQ, and one part tonkatsu sauce. Eating the okonomiyaki I was unsure that I really liked the sauce, and now weeks later, I still remain undecided. Although peculiar, it certainly didn’t stop me from devouring my portion of the savory pancake!

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, cooked to order WM

In Okinawa, okonomiyaki is called hirayachi (ヒラヤーチー) and is much simpler, using less components than those described above from other areas of Japan. However, Okinawans enjoy this dish mostly at home and cooked at home, so there are very few okonomiyaki restaurants in Okinawa. We have found one (and only one) since our trip to Hiroshima, but haven’t found a way or place to partake of the Ryukyuan version.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, hungry Jody WM

Yes, Japan is known for sushi, sashimi and even Kobe beef. But Okonomiyaki too is a uniquely, if much less known distinctive Japanese dish, and should be included as part of any culinary adventure to this corner of the Far East. Seek it out, whether you find yourself in Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto. But in Hiroshima, seek out Nagata-ya’s. You and your oversized American appetite will not be disappointed.  But more importantly, you won’t be afraid to admit how much you really love these really thin pancakes!

Cutting into our very own fresh Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

Cutting into our very own fresh Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

 

For More Information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okonomiyaki

http://japanesefood.about.com/od/holidaytraditionalfood/r/hirookonomiyaki.htm

http://nagataya-okonomi.com/en/shop.html

Okinawa Eats: Kupu Kupu Pancake Factory


I'm not sure what dwarves have to do with pancakes....

I’m not sure what dwarves have to do with pancakes….

Ambiance:  Local establishment on the southern end of Sunabe Seawall, set with a very casual atmosphere and terrific 2nd story eat-in balcony overlooking Chatan’s marina with American Village as a distant backdrop.  As is always the case along Sunabe, there is very limited parking.

Service:  The service here can be oddly slow, at least for Japanese standards.  It seems they get quite overwhelmed with just more than a few of their tables filled; be forewarned!  But while you wait you can enjoy the fabulous views, especially if the weather is nice and you are seated outdoors.

Food Quality:  Average, except for Jody’s exceptional dessert main course dish over the Christmas holidays in 2013!  It’s no longer offered.

Features:  Basic bench-type outdoor seating along their balcony and tables inside large picture-glass viewing windows.  The inside is decorated in an American-vintage style, which I find overwhelmingly appealing.  The place is kid-friendly (for sure), and an English menu is available.  Dollars and Yen are both okay.

Cuisine:  Breakfast pancakes and, it seems, more and more standard (and pedestrian) Japanese lunch-fare.

Price/Value:  Average to below average.  The Facebook review average of 4.4 is based on dated reviews; many of the more recent reviews offer some rather harsh criticism since changing ownership.

Okinawa Eats April 2014, Kupu Kupu, counter decorations

What appears to be a small family operation located at the southern extreme of the Sunabe Seawall supposedly specializes in pancakes.  And although that seemed to be the case in 2013, they have rather dramatically changed their menu with a change of management, much to the chagrin of many of their customers.  So, please be weary of older (and better) reviews of this eatery.

Jody was IN LOVE with this no-longer-offered dish....

Jody was IN LOVE with this no-longer-offered dish….

Unfortunately, since changing management, the food at Kupu Kupu has gone downhill.  Quite honestly, after taking a friend back earlier in the year and being underwhelmed (again), there’s no good reason for us to return except maybe for having some coffee on their balcony.

Okinawa Eats April 2014, Kupu Kupu, Elvis has not left this building

But, I have to caveat all of this by saying this:  I’m not really a big fan of breakfast.  Actually, I’m harbor a complete lack of fondness for most any typical morning meals offered before the more respectable lunch time of 1030-1100.  Yes, yes, I know the whole “most important meal of the day” schtick, but I’m simply not a morning person.  Just ask my wife….  I’m not hungry in the morning, and extra sleep conserves calories anyway.

Okinawa Eats April 2014, Kupu Kupu, picture windows

Okinawa Eats 2031, Kupu Kupu, The Battleship pancake stack for twoOkinawa Eats 2031, Kupu Kupu, Love Boat pancake stackBut for many, breakfast offers maybe a favorite dish or two, and if you fall within this camp, Kupu Kupu does offer pancakes and French toast that can be hard to find on the Okinawan economy, and better yet, they serve them up all day long.  However, if you go here expecting prototypical “Western” pancakes, you may find yourself disappointed with the Japanese spin on an American breakfast staple.  It seems, given the new management, that many more Japanese and Okinawan-inspired dishes are being offered, most of which have nothing to do with being a factory…which makes pancakes.  In other words, they really shouldn’t expect a whole lot of Americans to go there for their garlic steak….  They did, however, offer at one time two signature dishes for the hardcore breakfast-ophiles:  The Love Boat and The Battleship!

Kupu-Kupu-menu-2

Okinawa Eats April 2014, Kupu Kupu, 1950s decorOkinawa Eats April 2014, Kupu Kupu, open under new managementMy wife and I happened upon this eatery quite by accident.  Even when we saw the sign on the street, it still took us a bit to figure out exactly how to get to and in Kupu Kupu.  It is located upstairs, and the stairs themselves are in an alleyway between two buildings.  The actual entrance to the restaurant is oddly located on the backside of the building, and from the street it’s hard to tell there’s a restaurant there at all.

Okinawa Eats April 2014, Kupu Kupu, american-style retro tabletop games

Okinawa Eats 2031, Kupu Kupu, relatively hidden entranceOkinawa Eats April 2014, Kupu Kupu, scarlet letter Grade AKupu Kupu’s interior is a mix of American retro 50s swing, with a healthy dose of nautical adornments and vintage American military-related items from our long occupation here.  The feel is casual and comfortable, with bright and happy colors splashed throughout.  The staff, although slow, was beyond reproach, and English is spoken easily here.  However, although initially very impressed with Kupu Kupu during the fall of 2013, our visits in 2014 have been far below our expectations.  I simply can’t recommend this establishment…and least not right now.

Okinawa Eats 2031, Kupu Kupu, inside interesting decor

Phone: 080-3229-7352

Address:  15-58 Mnato Chatan Yomitan-son Nakagami-gun

Hours: Daily 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., Closed on Tuesdays

Payment: Yen and U.S. dollars are accepted.

Website: Kupu Kupu Facebook Page

Directions:  find the Pancake Factory near Sushi Zen and right around the corner from Sea Garden, on the seawall where it turns east towards Chatan-cho’s marina.  There is good signage on the sidewalk, and there is parking lot around the block which is even more challenging to find.  Kupu Kupu is located on the second floor.

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