Okonomiyaki in Japan

What Is Okonomiyaki? The Savory Pancake Of Japanese Food Lore

Okonomiyaki is a batter mixture of flour, yam, egg, and cabbage, plus others such as shrimp, squid, pork, cheese, cooked on a flat-iron grill like a pancake.

7:19 PM, Saturday, December 15, 2018…

Here I am sitting cross-legged on a tatami mat in front of a large flat iron grill — pouring oil over the hot plate while my wife mixes the bowl of okonomiyaki we ordered.

The sizzling sounds and aroma in the room are fantastic; almost comforting. It’s one of the coldest nights of the year in Tokyo but these hot grills warm everything up nicely.

It really is one of the finer things in life.

Okonomiyaki is one of those rare foods where the whole family can have a great time, or it can be a remarkably pleasant date night for two.

The experience is unmistakably Japanese. Most okonomiyaki restaurants are large, flat, cast-iron grills that sit low on the floor. The right height for sitting on the floor and enjoying the food.

Which can be quite uncomfortable for some. I’ve been here for 22 years. I’m used to it, but I do remember the dead leg feeling many times.

But it is so worth it. A night out for okonomiyaki is an experience — and the food is tasty too.

What is Okonomiyaki?

It’s often described as a “savory pancake.” Does that make it clear?

Yea, I didn’t think so.

Okonomiyaki is a batter mixture of flour, yam, egg, water, and cabbage — plus a variety of ingredients you choose such as shrimp, octopus, squid, pork, cheese — topped with mayo, “okonomiyaki sauce,” dried bonito flakes, and seaweed.

It is mixed all together and then poured onto a grill, much like a pancake. It’s cooked, flipped, cooked, and then a sauce and toppings are added.

Here’s a marvelous video by Simon and Martina describing okonomiyaki.

Made your way

The word okonomiyaki is interesting because of how it directly translates into English. Okonomi means “how you like” and yaki means grilled.

Types of Okonomiyaki

You’ll hear okonomiyaki described as Osaka-type or Hiroshima-type. Essentially defined by where it originated.

Kansai (aka Osaka) Okonomiyaki

If you watched the video above, the okonomiyaki they cooked is the kansai, or Osaka, variety. Where all the ingredients are mixed then grilled.

And also Osaka okonomiyaki typically does not use yakisoba (grilled noodles).

Hiroshima Okonomiyaki

The Hiroshima variety is different from the Osaka type because it cooks the ingredients in layers — with yakisoba noodles as a layer.

Okonomiyaki Ingredients

This is where the magic is. Remember I said okonomiyaki means “how you like, grilled?” Now it’s time to pick the ingredients that will go into your savory pancake.

First, the batter is flour, yam, water, egg, and dashi (a fish base) mixed with cabbage. Then you add in your optional ingredients.

Here are some common options you’ll find at most okonomiyaki restaurants in Japan:

  • Negi (ねぎ) – green onion (leek)
  • Butabara (豚バラ) – pork belly
  • Tako (たこ) – octopus
  • Ika (いか) – squid
  • Ebi (えび) – shrimp
  • Yasai (やさい) – vegetables
  • Konnyaku (菎蒻) – a plant-based gelatin
  • Mochi (餅) – rice cake (or rice paste)
  • Chīzu (チーズ) – cheese

I feel like I should describe konnyaku to you, but I don’t think I could do it justice in words. Here’s a quick video showing what konnyaku is:

Okonomiyaki Toppings

After you’re done cooking your okonomiyaki it’s time to cover it in toppings. These typically consist of:

  • Tare (タレ) – sauce
  • Mayonēzu (マヨネーズ) – mayonnaise
  • Katsuobushi (鰹節) – dried bonito flakes
  • Aonori (青海苔) – dried seaweed flakes
  • Benishōga (紅生姜) – pickled red ginger

Remember, done your way!

If some of these ingredients and toppings sound really gross to you remember it’s “how you like.” You get to pick and choose exactly what you put into, and onto, your okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki Q&A

Can you freeze okonomiyaki?

Yes, you can freeze it. I recommend wrapping it once in plastic wrap and then wrapping it in aluminum foil before putting it into the freezer.

When reheating, I like to pop it into the microwave for just a little bit. Bring it from frozen to cool, not hot. Then take it out of the microwave and place it into a toaster oven — or even a flat pan on the stove.

This brings out the amazing flavor of okonomiyaki.

Can you reheat okonomiyaki?

Absolutely! I mentioned this in my answer to the question above. Microwave and then toast/grill it.

Can I use okonomiyaki flour for takoyaki?

Yes… but keep in mind the takoyaki made with okonomiyaki flour will taste different from normal takoyaki.

This is because okonomiyaki flour is really just a premade mixture of flour and other ingredients typically used for okonomiyaki — such as imo flour (a type of potato flour).

Can I use okonomiyaki sauce for yakisoba?

Yes? You could…. But don’t expect the most authentic yakisoba flavor.

Can you eat okonomiyaki when pregnant?


But you should be careful. The thing about okonomiyaki is there are TONS of ingredients to choose from. So you can make it what you want it to be and avoid ingredients not appropriate during pregnancy.

How to say okonomiyaki?

It’s actually quite easy, it is pronounced: “oh-ko-no-me-ya-key”

Click to hear it pronounced by a native Japanese speaker.

How to order okonomiyaki?

Okonomiyaki is ordered by bowl. Where the batter and cabbage are combined with the optional ingredients you choose.

Most restaurants will have a menu of preset configurations. For example, a bacon mushroom mochi set.

But you can also order exactly the ingredients you want.

Some okonomiyaki restaurants will even have a tabehodai option, which is all you can eat. They allow you to order a bowl or two to start and then keep ordering until you either reach the time limit (usually 90 minutes), or you simply cannot eat anymore.

If you need some help ordering off the menu, check out my article “How to order just about anything in a restaurant in Japan” where I explain a super easy method and a couple important Japanese phrases.

How is okonomiyaki served?

At most restaurants in Japan it is served to you with all the ingredients neatly arranged in a bowl – ready for you to mix and grill.

Some restaurants will mix and grill it before bringing it to you. Those are not the norm, they’re usually the higher class places.

How to eat okonomiyaki with chopsticks?

Typically, when it is done cooking the okonomiyaki you’ll use the cooking utensils to cut it into quarters (or smaller if you’d like). Then it’s a simple matter of picking up each part with chopsticks.

Of course, you’ll have to practice and learn how to use chopsticks first.

How to cook okonomiyaki at home?

If you are in Japan it’s a simple matter of going to the supermarket and buying okonomiyaki flour, cabbage, eggs, and the ingredients you want to add.

Then mix the flour with water in a large bowl. Add cabbage and ingredients and mix it up.

Grill the savory pancake using an electric flat iron grill — or you could simply cook it on a pan on your stove.

If you’re not in Japan, try your local asian market. Perhaps they’ll have okonomiyaki flour available.

In this video Simon and Martina invite a guest to show them how to cook okonomiyaki at home.

As you can see it isn’t an exact science and is relatively easy to make.

What is okonomiyaki sauce?

It’s essentially a sweet ketchup and worcestershire sauce combination. Sometimes it has sugar and soy sauce as well.

In Japan you can buy this sauce in pretty much every supermarket around, and even in drug stores and convenience stores. It’s basically everywhere.

Some restaurants will even create their own unique sauce adding various seasonings.

How to make okonomiyaki sauce?

There is an easy recipe floating around the web, but I believe was originally discussed by Okonomiyaki World. The “easy okonomiyaki recipe” is:

“Mix 3 tbs of ketchup, with 1 tbs of Worcestershire sauce, with 1 tsp of Soy Sauce.”

When was okonomiyaki invented?

I’m going to answer this with a quote from Okonomiyaki World:

Okonomiyaki was invented in Japan prior to World War II and evolved and became popular during and after the war.  The earliest origins of a basic crepe-like pancake date back to the Edo period (1683-1868) period where these were a special desert served at Buddhist ceremonies called Funoyaki.

This then evolved during the Meiji period (1868-1912) into a sweeter dish called Sukesoyaki. During the 20’s and 30’s the dish continued to evolve with more emphasis put on the sauces added and the name Yoshokuyaki began to be used. The name Okonomiyaki started in the late 30’s in Osaka.

Is okonomiyaki vegetarian?

No, not normally it isn’t. But you’re in luck! There are restaurants in Japan offering vegetarian-friendly okonomiyaki!

I can’t speak to the flavor and quality, but at least there is an option.

I found this restaurant, Zen, in Shinjuku that offers vegetarian-friendly okonomiyaki:

Is okonomiyaki halal?

It can be. You probably won’t find many halal-certified restaurants serving okonomiyaki, but because you can choose your own ingredients you can ensure it is halal-friendly for yourself.

Is okonomiyaki keto?

No, the batter is made from flour so even if you used only keto-friendly ingredients, you’ll still break ketosis because of the flour.