Soul food

The title of this article is questionable, in my opinion, but it offers a very interesting look at the city, the cuisine (okonomiyaki), Otafuku (the famous sauce company) and a passionate chef. It’s rather long, but definitely worth reading.

“The second most famous thing to happen to Hiroshima” (from Roads and Kingdoms)

In some classes every year, we talk about how to describe food, including okonomiyaki. These paragraphs, and the first few paragraphs of the article (which describe what okonomiyaki really is) are great for that discussion:

“Okonomi means “whatever you like,” yaki means “grill,” but smashed together they do little to paint a clear picture. … some call it a cabbage crepe, others a savory pancake or an omelet. Guidebooks, unhelpfully, refer to it as Japanese pizza, though okonomiyaki looks and tastes nothing like pizza. Otafuku, for its part, does little to clarify the situation, comparing okonomiyaki in turn to Turkish pide, Indian chapatti, and Mexican tacos.

There are two overarching categories of okonomiyaki: Hiroshima style, with a layer of noodles and a heavy cabbage presence, and Osaka or Kansai style, made with a base of eggs, flour, dashi, and grated nagaimo, sticky mountain yam. More than the ingredients themselves, the difference lies in the structure: whereas okonomiyaki in Hiroshima is carefully layered, a savory circle with five or six distinct layers, the ingredients in Osaka-style okonomiyaki are mixed together before cooking. The latter is so simple to cook that many restaurants let you do it yourself on tableside teppans. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, on the other hand, is complicated enough that even the cooks who dedicate their lives to its construction still don’t get it right most of the time. (Some people consider monjayaki, a runny mass of meat and vegetables popularized in Tokyo’s Tsukishima district, to be part of the okonomiyakifamily, but if so, it’s no more than a distant cousin.)”

Jalapeño okonomiyaki! Yum! It’s not meant to replace the traditional, just add more options. It’s always good to have options, no?

It’s also the story of an “international marriage” as they are called here. Later in the article, this paragraph stood out. Very true, in my experience. But you learn to live with it:

“The Japanese are heroically hospitable when it comes to foreign visitors, but for immigrants the welcome mat can be harder to find. Even if you do make it here, adapt to the culture, commit a thousand kanji characters to memory, denounce your birth country, and feel deep down in your soul that you are as Japanese as pickled fish and electronic toilets, you will always be an outsider.”

And there’s a part about Mr. Lopez’s apprentices, one of whom is a former Toyota salaryman. I liked this comment:

“At Toyota, I did what I was told and there was no praise for a job well done. With okonomiyaki, I get immediate response.”


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