Restaurants & Bars 8

Some Musings on Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima: Daichan, Toshiro, Mitchan

E Eto | Feb 5, 201012:10 PM

Hanging around Hiroshima for a couple weeks, it becomes apparent how integral okonomiyaki is to the local food culture. I'm convinced that there are more okonomiyaki shops in Hiroshima than there are pizza shops in NYC. It doesn't take much to convince me either since even in the residential area I was staying with my relatives, a bit northwest of central Hiroshima around Yokogawa station, there are about a dozen shops just within the few blocks from the station to the apartment. Some are local chains, some are more upscale teppanyaki "dining bars", but most are simple mom'n'pop operations with seating for about 6-8 people around a teppan counter. And they all make more or less the same thing. I wondered how various shops differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. Is it the sauce they use, whether it's the widely available Otafuku brand sauce, or some other local brand, or perhaps something cooked up by the shop owners? Or would it be offereing a wider ranging menu items, including yakisoba or yakiudon, or some teppanyaki favorites like kaki-bataa (oysters sauteed with butter) or hotate-bataa (scallops in butter), or butayaki, etc.? Or offering more subtle techniques like fresh noodles vs premade, or how soft the egg is cooked, or what type of tenkasu is used as well as the powdered nori mixture that's used that might be that difference? Whatever the case, it becomes apparent that the level of okonomiyaki making in Hiroshima is pretty high. I'm not sure there's a bad one around, but somewhere, there's probably one that fits perfectly with your preference. Or you learn what it is you like, and learn to order it that way at any of the thousands of okonomiyaki joints.

I got to try okonomiyaki three times while I was in town. I should preface that my trip to Hiroshima was to visit relatives and I was staying with a family with a toddler and an infant. This limited my opportunities to chowhound around town, but luckily in terms of okonomiyaki, there's a great compromise in Hiroshima: delivery. Delivery is usually offered by larger chain operations, and I wondered if that would deter from my enjoyment, but it didn't. The first place we ordered from was Daichan (大ちゃん), with several locations in Hiroshima. My relative claimed that Daichan made the best regular okonomiyaki (soba-buta-tama: noodles-pork belly-egg) that's available for delivery. I was told that these delivery operations have developed their own containers and did the research to figure out how quickly they need to be delivered before the steam impacts the texture of the okonomiyaki. I'm not sure if this is the protocol for ordering delivery, but the call was made an hour or so beforehand and given an appointed time for delivery. "Please have it delivered to this address at 12:30." And as if it were genetically imprinted to be punctual, the bell rang at 12:29. We were eating by 12:33. Here's what came: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4009/4...
As promised, it was piping hot, and seemed to have lost a minimal amount of crunch. They were cut up into bite-size squares. The version from Daichan seemed to be the classic Hiroshima style, with the cabbage finely shredded, and the aonori (nori powder) adding that old school element. For my first okonomiyaki of the trip, this was like seeing an old friend.

The next time the mood struck, we ordered delivery from a place called Toshiro (十四郎). Toshiro offers a more bold approach with their okonomiyaki, with a tangier sauce, thicker noodles, and an array of slightly unorthodox fillings to choose from. I ordered the standard with horumon (beef small intestine), and my relative ordered one with potato/mayo/cheese. And as before, delivery was timely and the were piping hot. Here's what came: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4063/4...
And the horumon okonomiyaki: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2695/4...
While the version from Daichan was like an old friend, the okonmiyaki from Toshiro were like my new cool friends. Since I have been on a horumon kick in Hiroshima (see here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/685700 ), I had to give a go with the okonomiyaki. I'm not sure if it's attributable to the bolder sauce, but the chunky, slightly fatty, and chewy horumon went perfectly with this version. I'm not sure I would have liked this topping as much with Daichan's version. The real surprise, however, was the potato/mayo/cheese. The mayo wasn't crisscrossed over the okonomiyaki like you'd find anywhere else in Japan, but it was incorporated into the mixture along with the potato and cheese, kind of like a hot potato salad. And with that tangy Toshiro sauce, the potato/mayo/cheese filling was subtle, but it all worked. My relative really likes this newfangled version, and so does the little 2-year-old in the house (see here: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4062/4... ).

My third chance at eating okonomiyaki was on my own around Yokogawa station for lunch, and while I had a dozen or so places to choose from, I went with the Mitchan branch, just outside the station. While the original Mitchan branches in central Hiroshima get long lines, and feel like a culinary destination, the one at Yokogawa is much more subdued, serving the locals. This branch seems a little old and worn, but friendly as the library of magazines and manga books that covers the back wall of the restaurant for patrons to peruse. I sat at the counter and ordered the standard soba-buta-tama with the addition of nama-ika (raw squid, as opposed to ika-ten, or fried squid, which might be a more popular ingredient in Hiroshima). I was asked if I wanted to eat off the teppan or if I wanted a plate, and I specified eating off the teppan, and no plate. I sat close to the lone guy engaged in his manga book, as he neatly, and effortlessly ate his okonomiyaki from the teppan. I must have come off like a novice with the little spatula, unable to make the clean cuts all the way through the crisped mound, making a slight mess as pieces of pork or squid were dangling from little strings of uncut meat, carrying some stray cabbage straight to my lap. But after the initial fumbling, I recovered and learned from my manga mentor, by making bold, full-fisted strokes to cut completely through the okonmiyaki, into neat little bite-sized pieces. I really like ika as an addition to okonomiyaki as it adds the right texture and flavor. I certainly prefer it over shrimp, but I might have to go back to that ika-ten next time.

Like Daichan's okonomiyaki, Mitchan's was again like revisiting an old friend. Mitchan's okonomiyaki in central Hiroshima was my first ever okonomiyaki of this style, and now, years later, I'm feeling like I'm getting to know my old friends, as well as making new friends, in the variety of ways one can enjoy eating okonomiyaki in Hiroshima. While I'm sure there must be some hardcore otaku elitism for okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, I just don't get the sense that it's as intense as say, pizza in NYC, where for many, there's the correct version and nothing else. Maybe in time I'll come to feel differently about okonomiyaki, but in Hiroshima, it seems much more open to interpretation, that is to say, to your konomi.

Okonomiyaki deconstructed: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2790/4...

Previous Hiroshima okonomiyaki posts:

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