Mitchan Sohonten - Okonomiyaki
The next day, our first destination was Mitchan Sōhonten, Hiroshima's most famous Okonomiyaki restaurant.
Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake stuffed with cabbage and meat or seafood, but in Hiroshima they have a special way of making it, which is called Hiroshima Okonomiyaki.
Instead of a thick pancake with the fixings mixed in, Hiroshima Okonomiyaki starts with a thin crepe.
To this a huge mound of cabbage is added, followed by meat or seafood, fried noodles, and an egg (plus sauce and seaweed flakes - there's a lot going on).
Mitchan is credited with inventing Hiroshima Okonomiyaki, the city's signature dish. The shop started out in the make-or-break post-WWII years as a food stall selling small crepes stuffed with scallions and wrapped in newspaper.
It was a father and son operation and the son, whose nickname was Mitchan, came up with a bunch of ideas to make their product more attractive to customers. Eventually, he alighted on the winning combination that was to become known as Hiroshima Okonomiyaki.
I was drawn to Mitchan's history but was afraid that it might be too famous, the kind of place that ends up as a tourist trap.
The taxi driver on the way there assured me that locals do in fact eat there, and I was pleased to see a crowd (without cameras or guidebooks) already forming in front of the restaurant a few minutes before it opened.
As it turns out, Mitchan is not content to rest on its laurels; it takes the preparation of Hiroshima Okonomiyaki very seriously.
At ordinary Okonomiyaki restaurants, customers often make the pancakes themselves on hotplates at the table. But Hiroshima Okonomiyaki is far too complicated to be made by amateurs.
The chefs at Mitchan spend years honing their skills.
And they never graduate from chopping cabbage (Mitchan goes through 200kg of cabbage on a busy day); the manager rotates them so they stay in touch with every stage of the process.
What impressed me the most about the Hiroshima Okonomiyaki at Mitchan is that every layer is just right: the cabbage still pert and juicy, the noodles al dente, and the egg firm yet not rubbery.
And still the chefs make it all look casual and fun.