How do you transform a flat saucy food into a handheld form, and is it any good?

Okonomiyaki is one of Japan’s best dishes. It’s often referred to as a savory pancake, but its only likeness to the sweet breakfast food is that it’s made with flour and eggs and cooked on a griddle; otherwise, everything else is different.

Filled with vegetables and meat and topped with a special okonomiyaki sauce (plus sometimes mayonnaise), bonito flakes, and seaweed flakes, okonomiyaki is the ultimate comfort food. The problem is, it’s not exactly a quick and easy meal. That’s why we were excited when the news came out that Japanese food maker Nichirei has released a frozen version of okonomiyaki that you can eat with one hand.

Our Japanese-language reporter Takashi Harada, having seen the news, was excited to try it. Okonomiyaki is something you cut into pieces and eat with chopsticks, and it’d be a bit messy to pick up in your hands and eat like a personal pizza. He’d seen the visuals, but still didn’t quite know what to expect from Nichirei’s handheld version. Was it like a hamburger? Or a sandwich?

With that curiosity spurring him on, he went on a quest to find it. Strangely, though, despite the fact that it was released in September, it was rather hard to find. In the end, Harada had to venture outside of his usual shopping radius to find a package.

As it turns out, they come in a pack of four for 348 yen (US$3.05), which comes out to about 90 yen each. At that price, and with the way it looked, the one-handed okonomiyaki really reminded Harada of imagawayaki, a cake filled with red beans that you often find at festivals (and which we once tried to put in a waffle iron).

▼ Taking it out of the package made it even harder to believe it wasn’t imagawayaki.

Warming it up was easy. All Harada had to do was put it on a plate and put it in the microwave for 50 seconds (it’ll take one minute if you have a 500 watt microwave). He didn’t even need to wrap it in plastic or anything.

When it was done, it smelled just like okonomiyaki, which made Harada’s mouth water. To get a look at the interior, he cut it in half and clearly saw sauce, pork, mayonnaise, and even eggs nestled inside.

While Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki always has an egg on top, it’s kind of a bonus item for the Kansai/Osaka-style version of the dish (which is also the more popular style in Tokyo), so it’s something Harada didn’t expect to find in a frozen product. Was this one-handed okonomiyaki actually a classy product? A further glance at the ingredients listed all of the fixings of okonomiyaki, including cabbage, bonito flakes, and pickled ginger, so it promised to be a tasty treat.

Without further hesitation, Harada lifted it in a single hand and took a bite. Was the flavor of this hand-held okonomiyaki going to be as life-changing as he’d hoped?

“Honestly, it’s pretty good,” said Harada.

It did taste like okonomiyaki, he said, and you can see the effort the makers put into making it into a compact form. Harada thought it would be the perfect snack when you’re feeling a little peckish.

But okonomiyaki is a food that’s strongly associated with the Kansai region, and since Harada wasn’t born or raised there, he wasn’t exactly sure if he was qualified to judge the flavor of the One-handed Okonomiyaki. So he turned to our resident Osaka-native reporter, Seiji Nakazawa, for an authentic taste test.

“It really does taste like okonomiyaki. Though if you put mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce on anything it’s going to taste like okonomiyaki (laughs). But this is pretty satisfactory. I think they’d be good to sell at festivals.

Of course they already sell okonomiyaki at festivals, but in its usual form you need two hands to eat it, and having both hands tied up is inconvenient. But this you can eat with one hand, so I think it’s a great idea.”

And so the product earns a seal of approval from an Osaka native!

However, while it’s a great product, Harada did have one complaint: it was pretty difficult to warm up. Even though he followed the recommended cooking times, it still had some cold spots and reheating it resulted in the whole thing becoming super hot. Fine-tuning the cooking time to get that perfect balance of warmth throughout was a challenge, and Harada wants to warn people to be careful not to burn themselves as they try.

But the fact that this little snack is full of okonomiyaki flavor and can be eaten in one hand is a wonder to behold, and well worth snacking on if you fancy a bite of one of Japan’s best comfort food. And if you need another one-handed food, here’s a great way to eat yakisoba with one hand. It isn’t as easy, but it’s just as convenient and satisfying!

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