Holiday Goddess Handbag Guide editor and bestselling novelist Sara Foster tries Japanese dining at its best. It’s called Okonomiyaki . Just remember to stow your shoes in the locker…

Okonomiyaki is not just food, in certain regions of Japan it’s a subculture. If you are a food troglodyte like me, but like the idea of trying local cuisine, okonomiyaki is the perfect Japanese dish. It’s also great for vegetarians, as you can choose your filling. The general idea is reflected in the name: ‘okonomi’ meaning ‘eat what you want’, and ‘yaki’ meaning ‘cooked’ or ‘grilled’. Basically, what you get is a Japanese pancake made of flour, grated yam, eggs and grated cabbage, which can be filled with anything from cheese to seafood, depending on your degree of adventurousness.

Next, the sake...

To a tourist, there are various challenges associated with the okonomiyaki experience, and if you can’t read kanji, your first challenge is to locate a restaurant! Since Japanese restaurants don’t always have English menus, I recommend going online to find the kanji for the restaurant name, okonomiyake (お好み焼き),and any fillings you might like. Hotel staff can also be helpful here.  Okonomiyaki is a speciality dish of Osaka and Hiroshima (which has an okonomiyaki village called Okonomi-mura in Naka-ku, close to the Peace Memorial Park). However, it has now travelled further afield, and restaurants can be found in other places, including Kyoto and Tokyo.

Once you arrive, you will be directed to stow your shoes in a locker, so remember that your feet or choice of hosiery will be on show! Meals are eaten sitting on small cushions while either cross-legged on the floor or with your feet in a recess beneath the table. In the centre of the table you’ll find a hotplate on which to cook your food – challenge number two! However, a questioning glance at the kitchens should see a kind Japanese chef help you out or cook it for you.

Choose your fillings, and then face your final challenge – cutting up a gooey pancake with chopsticks without drawing attention to yourself or making a mess. Once you have mastered that, it’s time to relax with a glass of sake or Asahi beer while you eat yourself silly. Douzo meshiagare!

My fantastic okonomiyaki experience was at Tanto in Gion, Kyoto



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