Okinomiyaki is interactive food — as fun to make as it is to eat. Being a novelty, with no clear Western analogue, its one of the Japanese artifacts which anime and manga fans have fixated on. The character Ukyou, in the series Ranma ½ was the first to introduce many of us to Okinomiyaki. She was an Okinomiyaki cook, and her martial art speciality involved a big ass spatula.
I don’t know who first provided the suggestion that “Okinomiyaki is like Japanese Pizza”,, but I suspect it may have been Viz, the publishers who brought Ranma ½ to North America. Regardless who it was, the definition stuck with a bizarre tenacity. Okinomiyaki is NOTHING like pizza.
It is a bit like an omlette, or perhaps a pancake with lots of goodies in it. Mostly, its just like okinomiyaki.
This is one of those dishes which you cook yourself , at your own table, so novelty factor high. The menu offers a wide variety of bowls, containing egg, breakfast cereal (Rice Crispies or Special K), seafood, veg, meat, cheese, &c. You pick your bowl (ordering is easy, with picture menus — just point and grunt when the waiter comes by ;) )
Your bowl arrives, with all of the raw ingredients neatly piled inside. A small wooden paddle is provided, so you can mix the ingredients into a gooey mess. The egg (the only we ingredient) magically dissolves the rice crispies and provides the magic binding power.
There is a griddle laid into the table, which is cranked up and coated in oil. Once its hot, you dump the contents of your bowl onto the griddle and schmoosh it around with a metal spatula (which looks more like something you would find in Home Depot than in Paderno) until it resembles a pancake. Flat and vaguely round. It fries and fries and you flip it and, uh, eat it.
There are a variety of condiments that you can put on okinomiyaki — a savory soy based sauce which tastes a bit like catsup, barbecue sauce, benito flakes, white pepper, chili pepper, dried basil and so forth. It tastes better without them =P
And that’s okinomiyaki.