Okonomiyaki And Takoyaki: Japan’s Savory Soul Food Pancakes And Dumplings

When it comes to food that puts Osaka on the map, it’s hard to argue against a stronger top two than お好み焼き okonomiyaki and たこ焼き takoyaki. One is a tangy pancake-like dish made on an open grill made to your liking, and the other are juicy dumplings that are packed with more flavor than their size suggests. Both have become popular as Osaka soul foods that are commonly enjoyed at grill-it-yourself restaurants, food stalls, and even house parties.

What are okonomiyaki and takoyaki?

Okonomiyaki is a popular Japanese dish that is sometimes referred to as a “Japanese pancake” or “Japanese pizza.” The name “okonomiyaki” literally translates to “grilled as you like it,” and the dish is made by mixing together a batter of flour, eggs, and shredded cabbage, along with other ingredients like meat, seafood, vegetables, and cheese. The mixture is then cooked on a hot griddle or skillet until crispy and golden brown.

Okonomiyaki, cooked on a hot grill.

At restaurants, the batter and ingredients will often be presented to you to grill and flip yourself (flipping takes quite some skill!). However, if you aren’t feeling quite confident in your grilling skills, restaurant staff can help out and even serve prepared okonomiyaki as well.

Takoyaki are saucy and flavor-packed dumplings filled with grilled octopus.

Takoyaki, on the other hand, is a popular Japanese street food that originated in Osaka. They are a ball-shaped dumpling-like snack made with a batter of wheat flour, eggs, and dashi, filled with small pieces of octopus, pickled ginger, and green onion. They are often brushed with takoyaki sauce (a sweet and savory condiment, like a thicker and sweeter version of Worcestershire sauce, made from fruits and vegetables, spices, umami-rich ingredients such as kelp and shiitake mushrooms, sugar, and soy sauce), mayonnaise, and then topped with dried bonito flakes and seaweed powder.

Takoyaki are cooked in a special takoyaki griddle pan, which has multiple round molds, and are continuously turned with a pick to ensure they come out evenly cooked. They are often served in a boat-shaped container and eaten with a skewer or toothpick.

Where to get okonomiyaki and takoyaki

Okonomiyaki is available all around Japan, but especially easy to find in the western part of Japan. At a street food stall or food court, a basic okonomiyaki can cost anywhere from 500 to 1,000 yen. In a sit-down restaurant, the price may be slightly higher, ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 yen. One good tip is to visit a summer festival in Japan, where you can try it as street food for a relatively low price.

Food stalls at summer festivals offer a great way to grab some okonomiyaki on the go.

Takoyaki is often sold, especially in Osaka, by food stall vendors. You can expect to pay between 500-800 yen for a batch of 6-8 pieces from a vendor. They’re also available from chain restaurants, izakaya pubs, and sit-down restaurants, some of which let you grill them yourself, typically for 800-1,500 yen. You can even pick up some from a supermarket or convenience store for 200-400 yen.

Types of okonomiyaki and takoyaki

There are several different regional styles of okonomiyaki in Japan, but the most well-known separate style is 広島風お好み焼き Hiroshima-fū okonomiyaki or Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. In the Hiroshima-style, the ingredients are layered on top of each other, with noodles added in between the layers. In the Osaka-style, known as 大阪風お好み焼き Ōsaka-fū okonomiyaki, the ingredients are mixed together in the batter before cooking. The two styles have even become the source of a heated culinary rivalry between the two regions–but that just means there’s more for you to try!

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki has layered ingredients and noodles.

Takoyaki, meanwhile, is now sold with many different toppings than the classic ones as an alternative for those who either don’t prefer them or just want to change things up!

ねぎたこ Negi tako: Takoyaki topped with green onions, with ponzu citrus sauce in place of the standard takoyaki sauce.

Some takoyaki variations substitute different toppings for the standard ones.

Tips for enjoying okonomiyaki and takoyaki

A great thing about okonomiyaki is that you can customize it to your own taste. While classic toppings are okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, dried bonito flakes, and seaweed, you can fill okonomiyaki with any fillings of your liking, such as pork belly, shrimp, squid, cheese, mushrooms, and green onions. It’s also very fun to eat and cook together in a group.

While you’ll find takoyaki ready to eat from restaurants and food stalls, try and hunt down a restaurant where you have to make use of a takoyaki grill and flip it yourself if you are up for a challenge!

Takoyaki being grilled by a street vendor.

Eating okonomiyaki in Japan can be a fun and interactive experience on top of a delicious one. The communal act of grilling together (or learning to grill it) is a fun way to eat it, and you can customize your okonomiyaki to your own liking with many of the tasty ingredients available! Give okonomiyaki a try on your trip to Japan to have an Osaka soul food experience. As for takoyaki, well, it’s almost like having okonomiyaki on a stick in bite-sized form–so seek out any food stalls you can find during your trip to Japan!