Unpretentious Okonomiyaki Proves Popular Among Visitors to Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Visitors from overseas are among those trying their hand at cooking okonomiyaki in Hiroshima on Friday.

Okonomiyaki, a savory pancake-like dish cooked on a griddle, is increasingly popular among international visitors to Japan.

Besides the boom in Japanese cuisine overseas, okonomiyaki has been drawing interest due to the wide variety of ingredients that can be used, making it suit different dietary requirements.

Hiroshima and Osaka are known for their versions of okonomiyaki. During the G7 summit in Hiroshima in May, the dish garnered attention. The unpretentious meal is also a prime candidate to be offered to visitors at the 2025 Osaka-Kansai Expo.

Many people connected to okonomiyaki restaurants hold heightened expectations that the popularity of the dish can be a precious opportunity to introduce the world to Japan’s flour-based dishes.

Cooking experience

In the JR Hiroshima Station building is a commercial zone where a cooking experiencing facility called Okosta is located. A family of six from Brussels stopped by Friday to try making okonomiyaki.

Staff at the facility gave instructions to the visitors in French. They were told to spread the batter from the center to the outside as if drawing a circle and to shape the dish using spatulas.

The tourists then ate the dishes they made in the same fashion as in a regular okonomiyaki restaurant by sitting around the griddle.

“I have eaten okonomiyaki in Hiroshima. I participated in this because I wanted to know how to make it,” said the 42-year-old mother of the family. “The kinds of ingredients, such as fish powder, were more varied than I had thought from the appearance. I’m beginning to understand the secret to why it is so delicious.”

Okosta opened in October 2018 and is operated by Otafuku Sauce Co., a major Hiroshima-based maker of sauces such as those used to top off okonomiyaki.

Reservations are required. In April, 633 visitors from abroad participated in the cooking experience. The number is the highest in a month and exceeded the number of domestic visitors for the first time.

While in Japan for the G7 summit, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited the same facility. Photos of him trying to cook okonomiyaki were posted on Twitter, drawing a resounding response. At the summit’s press center, a space was set up to demonstrate how okonomiyaki is made and the dishes were offered to reporters from around the world.

The Osaka Restaurant Management Association is considering offering okonomiyaki dishes at its pavilion for the 2025 World Expo. The association is developing ideas for increasing the number of okonomiyaki lovers.

From U.K. Embassy in Japan’s Twitter account
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cooks okonomiyaki while in Hiroshima to attend the G7 summit in May.

Restaurants overseas

As of 2021, there were about 430 okonomiyaki restaurants overseas, according to research by Otafuku Sauce, mainly those that do business with the company. This was up about 40% from the about 300 in 2016.

South Korea had the largest number outside Japan, at about 100. Otafuku Sauce said the numbers in China, Taiwan and Western nations have also been increasing.

The popularity of the dish is partly attributed to its flexibility when it comes to ingredients, besides flour and eggs.

For instance, in Western countries where there are more vegetarians, meat substitutes made from soybeans are used, and in the Islamic world, fish is used instead of pork.

“The cooking process is also appealing,” said an Otafuku Sauce official. “It has the feel of a live performance.”

Osaka-based Botejyu Group Holdings Co., which operates the Botejyu chain of okonomiyaki restaurants, entered the Philippine market seven years ago. Currently, the company operates 70 outlets in that country and in Vietnam. The company plans to open okonomiyaki restaurants in China and Western nations as well.

“We want to make okonomiyaki take root as part of those countries’ local food culture,” said Kazunori Kamiyama, a senior official of the company in charge of overseas businesses.