Life & Leisure

Okonomiyaki: Hiroshima’s survival food in aftermath of atomic blast

By Edurne Morillo

Hiroshima, Japan, May 18 (EFE).- Okonomiyaki, a popular Japanese pancake dish, played a key role in devastated Hiroshima where it became a survival food in the aftermath of the atomic blast in 1945.

The culinary classic, which is also a very popular dish in Osaka and Tokyo, comes from the Japanese words “okonomi”, meaning “you like”, and “yaki”, which translates as “grilled”.

The savory pancake is made with myriad ingredients such as pork, seafood, dough and noodles.

In the western city of Hiroshima, the dish became one of the few affordable staples after the war due to severe shortages and the fact the dish relies on just one key ingredient: flour.

Families would add vegetables from the American rations they got or any other ingredients they could get hold of.

“It is a dish that we eat many times as children. Like udon or ramen, okonomiyaki is eaten from the age of three. Your parents or grandparents bring you to their favorite places and then you bring your children,” Sachio Okinaka, manager at Okonomiyaki restaurant Ganso Henkutsuya, tells EFE during a press tour organized by the Foreign Press Center Japan (FPCJ).

According to Okinaka, his family restaurant enjoys customers that span up to three generations, which according to the chef, proves how popular the omelet dish is.

“That’s what okonomiyaki is like for the people of Hiroshima,” he says.

The restaurant, which has been operating for over 50 years in downtown Hiroshima, can accommodate around 24 people and offers simple and traditional dishes, including some using the well-known locally farmed oysters, prawns and squid.

Prices of okonomiyaki range from 900 yen ($6.5) to 1,400 yen ($10).

Unlike the Osaka version where all the ingredients are mixed into a dough that is later flash-fried on a grill, or the Tokyo version known as monjayaki where the griddled fried batter is scooped up with a small spatula, in Hiroshima, okonomiyaki is cooked in layers and uses noodles.

The first layer is a flour pancake of sorts, followed by a handful of shredded cabbage and a mound of noodles.

Then come the seasonings and any extra toppings such as a fried egg or bacon. Finally, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, dried seaweed and bonito flakes are sprinkled on.

“The secret of okonomiyaki is that it’s something that people don’t get tired of and is tasty. Okonomiyaki is similar to ramen and udon, in that it is eaten often,” Okinaka adds.

The dish became a staple in Hiroshima when on August 6, 1945 the United States launched the first nuclear attack on the city.

Three days later the US dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, which led to Japan’s surrender on August 15 and ended World War II.

The Hiroshima atomic bomb killed some 80,000 people, about 30% of the population at the time.

By the end of the year, the death toll had risen to around 140,000, and in subsequent years more deaths ensued linked to the effects of radiation.

As Hiroshima gears up to host the group of seven wealthiest nations from May 19-21, survivors and locals seek to convey a message of peace and are calling for nuclear disarmament at a time of heightened tensions following Russia’s full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine. EFE

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