The history of okonomiyaki
The ancestor of okonomiyaki is said to be “funoyaki”, a tea snack invented by Sen no Rikyu in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603), but the predecessor of today’s Hiroshima okonomiyaki is the “one sen yoshoku”, which was popular as a snack for children around the Taisho period (1912-1926). The flour is dissolved in water, baked, and topped with green onions and shavings. In the days when anything with sauce could be called “Western food”, the simple taste of eating this at a candy store or street stall was a pleasure for the common people and children. In the early Showa period (1926-1989), regional food culture, such as monja-yaki and dodan-yaki began to take root as a taste of the common people, and after the war, mixed yaki became popular in the Kansai region.
Okonomiyaki is the soul food of Hiroshima and signifies the recovery from the atomic bomb
When the atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima in August 1945, the city was instantly burnt to the ground. While people were suffering from disappointment and starvation due to food shortages, a steel plate found in the burnt-out area as well as flour provided as food aid from the U.S. came together, and “one sen Western-style meals” began to be made again. This nostalgic taste must have soothed the hearts of the people of Hiroshima. After the war, okonomiyaki became popular in Hiroshima, and okonomiyaki stalls appeared. By 1950, the present-day Shintenchi area was crowded with stalls. It was during this time that okonomiyaki sauce was born, the result of many conversations with okonomiyaki store owners who wanted a sauce that would go well with their okonomiyaki. On the other hand, in the suburbs, women who lost their husbands in the war often remodeled the eaves of their houses and opened okonomiyaki shops. The reason why many of the stores were called 00-chan was because it was easy to find for those who came back from the war. Eventually, Hiroshima Okonomiyaki evolved into what we know today as okonomiyaki with the addition of eggs, pork, soba noodles, and other ingredients as the post-war reconstruction progressed.
The history of Hiroshima Okonomiyaki goes hand in hand with the history of the reconstruction of the city and its people. Food has always been a driving force for the mind and body. Hiroshima’s okonomiyaki, born in a place where it was said that not a single plant or tree would grow for 70 years after the war, is the food that gave vitality to the people who rose from the burnt ruins, and is the soul food that symbolizes the post-war reconstruction that grew together with the city and its people.
Sharing the charm of okonomiyaki with the world
Okonomiyaki is a food that is enjoyed by many people, not only in Hiroshima and Osaka, but also in other parts of Japan. As the name implies, all okonomiyaki can be made easily with ingredients of your choice. However, what they all have in common is the use of plenty of vegetables, such as cabbage and green onions, as well as meat and eggs, and by adding other ingredients of your choice, you can have a healthy yet filling meal with excellent nutritional balance in one meal. The size and ingredients can be changed according to the time of day and the age of the person, making it a meal that can be enjoyed by everyone from small children to the elderly. The appeal of okonomiyaki is not only its nutritional balance. Each person has his or her own mental image of okonomiyaki. The conversation with the owner on the teppan at the restaurant, the taste of the food stalls at summer festivals, making delicious okonomiyaki on a hot plate or frying pan with family and friends. The communication that is created around okonomiyaki will probably leave a warm memory in each person.
Learn how to cook okonomiyaki
Toranomon Language School can help you buy the ingredients for the best okonomiyaki through our walk and learn classes.
You can try making it at home, or finding a cute local restaurant where you can strike up conversation with the locals around the hot plate.