Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Osaka Okonomiyaki Sembei

I have only been to Osaka once during my stay in Japan. In fact, a lot of people who ask me what cities I've been to here keep telling me I need to see more of them. I've been to Kobe, Osaka, Nikko, and of course all of the cities surrounding Tokyo and have investigated more nooks and crannies of Tokyo than the vast majority of Japanese folks. In fact, my husband and I went to Kappabashi several weeks ago and every Japanese person I told asked me why I went there. Kappabashi is known as "kitchen town" because it sells plastic food and restaurant supplies, but few Japanese people look into it.

My point is that I see no reason why one city or place has particular value over another, particularly when most people visit a city only to drop in at a particular shrine which resembles pretty much every other shrine and eat food at a restaurant which is the same general type of food that they eat in Tokyo and maybe go to a hot spring or walk around a park. I ask people why they think okonomiyaki, a sort of savory pancake which the kitchen sink is heaped onto, is different in Osaka as compared to Tokyo and the answers I get are pretty weak - the ingredients taste better because they are fresher. I'm pretty sure there is some variation, but I'm also pretty sure it's the type of thing only the most exquisitely refined palate can detect.

All of this is my roundabout way of saying I didn't buy these souvenir crackers because I haven't been to Osaka in ages, and I wouldn't choose these if I were to go again. Mind you, I liked Osaka when I visited, but I'm not going to pick up something which looks like someone barfed on a cracker and petrified it. In particular, I'm not going to go for something which smells incredibly fishy and talks about how it has mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is a friend of mine, mind you, and I enjoy it in moderation, but in Japan you never know if it's going to dominate whatever you are eating.

In the case of this cracker, it's the fishiness which offended my tongue. I don't have a problem with fish in general, but I don't like things which are fishy in flavor and that's where a lot of the taste of this dominates. The little colorful bits of what I presume may be vegetables appear to be largely ornamental and the mayo isn't an overbearing influence but is there.

I'm sure there are people with tastes that are suited to this cracker. I'm simply not one of them. I appreciate the gift, and the fact that these are made to resemble the food they're meant to taste like, but they're just not my type of thing.


Sherry said...

Didn't the modern form of okonomiyaki orginate in Osaka? I know that the name at least came from that area. I imagine that is why people think it's a big deal to eat it when they go there. I mean Americans do the same thing- eat something in a city that is famous for it even if you can get it everywhere. I am not sure I would take a special trip to Osaka just for that. But I don't take a special trip someplace to sit in a tub of hot water either, but the Japanese do it all the time so I can understand them wanting to go eat okonomiyaki in Osaka.

Paul said...

I'm an okonomiyaki LOVER and having spent more time in Osaka than Tokyo (the latter being where I live now), I can tell you I haven't found as good of a restaurant here.

My host family would often take me to upscale okonomiyaki places and those were delicious. Even cheap ones (that were high school student hangouts) were much better than the fare I've found here in Tokyo.

Can't put my finger on what it is though :)

Hiroshima's okonomiyaki though... UGH. Did not have a good experience with that. Each region certainly adds their little flair.

Blue Shoe said...

Personally I like Hiroshima style, but that's because they generally add yaki soba.

I'm with you, Orchid...personally I can't really tell a big difference, but then I'm not an aficionado. That's one thing that grates on me, actually...I know it's not unique to Japan, but people here always say each region has its delicacies. "Gotta try the ramen in Fukuoka - it's great!" Or the sushi in such and such a city, or the okonomiyaki, or what have you.

Also like you said, I'm sure there are probably degrees of quality that tend to vary by region, but that doesn't mean, for example, that you can't get great okonomiyaki in Tokyo (though maybe it's more difficult to find).