I may be dating myself, but my first exposure to Japanese food came long before anyone in America even knew sushi existed. Like many my age, my introduction to Japanese food came at a teppanyaki restaurant. I know you have all been to one of these restaurants where the cooking of the food is as much entertainment as it is food preparation.
While teppanyaki is popular in Japan, I’m sure it is not surprising the menus at Japanese teppanyaki restaurants are much different than the typical beef, chicken or seafood teriyaki and fried rice served at American teppanyaki restaurants. What you may not know is there is no food throwing, knife juggling or cooking oil induced fires up to the vents at Japanese teppanyaki restaurants. While there are exceptions, teppanyaki in Japan usually means Yakisoba and Okonomiyaki.
In Japanese, Yaki means grilled, and soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat. I am sure you have heard of soba noodles soup. Yakisoba, as the name implies is grilled soba noodles. The main ingredients used in cooking yakisoba are noodles, cabbage, onions, yakisoba sauce (a soy-based sauce) and salt. Thinly sliced pork is almost always added, and seafood such as shrimp, squid and scallops are sometimes added as well. Sometimes a sunny-side-up egg is served on the top of the finished yakisoba just before it is served. Additional condiments can include raw green onions, katsuo (bonito) flakes, dried green seaweed, Japanese mayonnaise and pickled ginger.
Okonomiyaki is very popular in Japan. But as you travel around Japan, you will find that some regions have their own, distinct style of okonomiyaki. The three main styles are Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima styles. The basic ingredients of each of these are similar, but are each ingredient is used in different amounts in each style.
Yaki again means grilled, and okonomi means your choice. The basic ingredients are cabbage, flour and egg. Pork is almost always added, and seafood again is usually added as well. Typical condiments include okonomiyaki sauce, katsuo flakes, dried green seaweed, Japanese mayonnaise and pickled ginger.
Tokyo Style (Monjayaki)
Monjayaki (often called simply “monja”) is a type of Japanese pan-fried batter with various ingredients. It is similar to okonomiyaki but monjayaki, a specialty of the Kantō region, is made with a dough more liquid than is okonomiyaki. The ingredients are finely chopped and mixed into the batter before frying. The mixture is far runnier than okonomiyaki, and it has a consistency comparable to a pool of melted cheese when cooked. It is then eaten directly off the grill using a small metal spatula. Many monjayaki restaurants can be found in the Tsukishima district of Tokyo, where the dish is said to have originated.
Whenever anyone in Japan refers to okonomiyaki, this is normally what they are referring to. This is a savory pancake, made in much the same way as a pancake. In some restaurants, you will cook your own, sometimes the staff will cook it in front of you on a grill at your table and sometimes they will prepare it in the kitchen. This is extremely very popular in the Kansai area, expecially in Osaka where it is said to have originated.
In the Kansai region, since okonomiyaki takes much longer to cook than yakisoba, people will often order both yakisoba and okonomiyaki. The yajisoba will always be served first, and they will start eating this. By the time they have finished the yakisoba, the okonomiyaki will be ready.
In order to differentiate this style, it is usually called Hoiroshimayaki. The ingredients are layered rather than mixed together. The layers are typically batter, cabbage, pork, and optional items such as squid, octopus, and cheese. Noodles (soba or udon) are also used as a topping with fried egg and a generous amount of okonomiyaki sauce. The amount of cabbage used is usually three to four times the amount used in the more common Osaka style. It starts out piled very high and is pushed down as the cabbage cooks. The order of the layers may vary slightly depending on the chef’s style and preference, and ingredients vary depending on the preference of the customer. People from Hiroshima claim that this is the only correct way to make okonomiyaki.