Thursday, August 16, 2018

Okonomiyaki in Reichan (Hiroshima, Japan)

Soba has thinner noodles, and is made of buckwheat and wheat flour.

Years ago, I met a girl traveling through England at an ATM machine in London. She had difficulty using the machine for some reason. I stepped in, and we were acquainted. After that, she left for her onward travel to Nice (France) while I stayed in London. We used to send postcards to each other until we lost contact. 

Years passed.  Two weeks before I was to fly to Japan for a holiday, I received a Linked In request from her. It was such coincidence that my itinerary includes Hiroshima. My friend lives in Matsuyama, a city just a ferry ride from Hiroshima. Wouldn't it be great to catch up?

I was grateful that she took time off work to see me in Hiroshima. I wouldn't have minded seeing Ehime Prefecture and its capital, Matsuyama, but my schedule was tight and my bookings were fixed. Ehime is in northwest Shikoku. Anyway, what better way to chat away with a dear friend over Hiroshima's culinary contribution to the world - Okonomiyaki.

Where do we get Okonomiyaki?  Since we couldn't wander too far from the station (she had a ferry to catch in the early evening), we thought of finding a restaurant that served it. At the 2nd floor of Asse Building which is contiguous to JR Hiroshima Station, we found Reichan, a noodles bar mostly populated by locals. 

The shop was small, cramped, and busy. Turn over was fast so we didn't mind waiting for 15 minutes before we were ushered to our stools. I wasn't sure how to order properly, but Hiroko told me to choose which kind of noodle for my okonomiyaki: udon or soba.

Udon Versus Soba

Udon, commonly referred to as Ramen, is made of wheat. It is thicker than Soba which, on the other hand, is made of buckwheat and wheat flour, and has a higher protein and vitamin content. Soba is the healthier choice. I chose Udon. Hiroko picked Soba. But noodles are just part a layer of Okonomiyaki, also called "Japanese Pancakes".

History from Okonomiyakiworld

"The earliest origins of a basic crepe-like pancake date back to the Edo period (1683-1868) where these were a special desert called Funoyaki, served at Buddhist ceremonies. During Meiji Period (1968-1912), it evolved into a sweeter dish called Sukesoyaki. In the 20's and 30's the dish further evolved with sauces added to it. It was called Yoshokuyaki."

"The name Okonomiyaki (literally meaning "What you like, grilled") started in the late 30's in Osaka. Meanwhile, in Hiroshima, a similar crepe-like food became popular. It was topped with onions, folded over, and served to children as a snack item." 

"Okonomiyaki, in it's different variations, started to become more popular during the war when rice became scarce. The simple wheat pancake fit the bill. People started to add more ingredients such as eggs, pork, and cabbage. A restaurant from Osaka claims to have been the first to add Mayonnaise in 1946."

Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki appears like a grilled pancake with ingredients layered on top. It uses much more cabbage than the Osaka version, where ingredients are mixed with the batter, instead of layered.

When my order came, I didn't know where to start. It was huge, folded over. Hiroko's was "prettier", with layers of cabbage jutting out. I'd rather not have mayonnaise on it, as I wanted to appreciate its full flavor.

I was halfway through when I realized I couldn't eat everything. Japanese servings are sizable.


Udon has thicker noodles, and is made of wheat flour.

Reichan in JR Hiroshima. This photo only from tripadvisor.

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