I’ve been fascinated with okonomiyaki ever since I saw it in the anime Ranma 1/2 in the early 90’s. It looked and smelled good, even in 2D animation, so I had to try it in real life when I visited Japan.
Okonomiyaki, for those who don’t know, is a Japanese savory pancake. There’s a variety of ingredients that can be used, so it’s really up to you and how you like it (okonomi) and then it’s cooked on a grill (yaki). Okonomiyaki is usually associated with the Kansai region (where Osaka is), but it’s really available throughout the country, and each region’s okonomiyaki does it a little differently than the others. Kind of like how regions do ramen differently, or–going closer to the Filipino’s heart–how each region has a different longganisa, or a different adobo.
The Tokyo okonomiyaki, then, was on my list of things to eat in the city.
My hostel was Khaosan World Asakusa in Kappabashi street, the heart of “Kitchenware Town” (haha) between the touristy Ueno and Asakusa. Fortunately, there’s one okonomiyaki place a few blocks away from my hostel, a little restaurant called Sometaro.
Tucked amidst tall buildings, all the wood and greenery and old-fashioned door would stand out–but if you can’t read Kanji, and you’re not sure what you’re looking for, you might miss the restaurant like I almost did. At first I thought that the hostel recommended it simply because it’s nearby, but apparently it’s very well-known and historical!
It was established in 1937 by the wife of the comedian Sometaro Hayashi. When her husband was called for military duty, Haru opened the restaurant in the first floor of their house, just so she could do something in the meantime. The original restaurant was lost during World War II, but Sometaro as it is today still maintains the look and feel of the Showa period.
Like traditional Japanese places, you remove your shoes at the foyer. So make sure your feet are clean, and you wear easily removable shoes. (Don’t worry, though; I don’t think anyone will diss you for taking a long time putting your shoes on. Just don’t stand in anyone’s way!)
They have an English menu with pictures, so you won’t have to be so clueless about your order. I was excited to use my Japanese, though, so I used it to order the Nama Ebiten okonomiyaki, which is steamed shrimp, fresh shrimp, cabbage, and red ginger. Typically, customers know what to do when the auntie gives you your bowl of ingredients. I’d actually read up how to do it, and the instructions are right there in the menu, but doing it in real life is different, so I asked auntie to teach me how to make my okonomiyaki.
To make your okonomiyaki, you mix the dough well, then lay all the contents of your bowl into a disc shape on the hot griddle. Because of the thickness of the mixture, it’s much easier to form than a breakfast pancake. You cook one side for five minutes, then flip it over and cook the other side for five minutes. Then, you flip it over again and cook for 5 more minutes. Then you can slather the sauce on top using the brush provided, stripe some Japanese mayo on it, and sprinkle some ao nori. Do it the way you like it! Then you slice it with conviction using your okonomiyaki spatulas!
I don’t have video proof, but I was able to do the proper two-spatula flip thing! Achievement! Also, that slicing/chopping using the spatulas? Do it with conviction. Don’t be shy towards the griddle.
Be careful when eating your okonomiyaki! Make sure you blow on it a few times before putting a slice in your mouth, since it’s fresh off the griddle!
My Nama Ebiten okonomiyaki is delicious, flavorful, and filling. Totally the worth the wait, and the money!
Please do visit Sometaro when you find yourself in Asakusa. There other kinds of okonomiyaki, ranging from 650 JPY to 1200 JPY, and they have other menu items aside from okonomiyaki, as well. They open at 12NN, and even if you arrive at 11 AM like I did, they will respectfully bow and ask you to come back at opening time.
Asakusa Okonomiyaki Sometaro
Operating hours: 12:00 – 22:30
Address: 2-2-2 Nishiasakusa, Taito 111-0035, Tokyo Prefecture