Oh My Okonomiyaki!
What is this wonderful combination of food? And what is a cuttlefish?
Our first day in Japan, my wife and I visited the amazing Himiji Castle west of Osaka. The castle was built in the fourteenth century by people used to walking everywhere. Living in the suburbs of Florida, I am not conditioned to walking everywhere — let alone at elevation. We arrived back in Osaka with tired legs and jet-lag induced hunger.
Lunch plans took us to Okonomiyaki Chibo, an okonomiyaki chain that originated in Osaka and spread across Japan. Okonomiyaki, loosely translated to “what you want grilled,” is a mixture of ingredients with either noodles or pancake batter cooked on a flat grill. The result is a pile of carb-loaded heaven.
We walked into Chibo and were escorted to the bar. The chef behind the grill greeted us with a slight bow while a waitress brought us hot towels and English menus. The menu was overwhelming. Dozens of choices and options and pictures and prices… our hunger took over and we pointed to a multiple course meal for around ¥2,500 ($25).
This feast of carbs began with an appetizer of egg and pork similar to an omelet. There were four of them. This should have been the first clue that we might have over-ordered. The second course was a refreshing ginger salad. Then came the okonomiyaki: one that was batter-based and one that was udon-based. Both were filled with pork, shrimp, and cuttlefish.
A single okonomiyaki could reasonably be shared by a couple. We had two presented to us. After two appetizer courses. We sat at the bar stuffing ourselves silly as not to offend the chef in front of us. Every bite was delicious and unlike anything we’d ever eaten before. It was savory and full of different textures. And cuttlefish? I couldn’t even tell you what that is, but it was great.
We walked out of Chibo full and happy. In order to walk off our meal, we spent the afternoon exploring Osaka. There was no need to eat dinner that evening.
Awhile back I read a story by Naho_B_M explaining “all you can eat” okonomiyakijoints were popping up all over Tokyo. I honestly cannot fathom such a meal. One and done seems like a good rule of thumb for okonmiyaki. Two was pushing our intestinal luck.
At the end of our trip, while in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, we found ourselves at another okonmiyaki bar. Again, we ordered two different options. This time we had learned our lesson. We skipped the appetizers and went straight for the good stuff.
Okonmiyaki is a unique Japanese dish that is cheap, filling, and delicious. It’s the kind of meal that could do very well in the States. So all of you budding entrepreneurs, take note. You could be the first okonmiyaki master in your town!