Okonomiyaki Japanese pancake, Hiroshima style Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There is only one word (six syllables, mind) that foodie visitors to Japan need to know: okonomiyaki. It’s a type of savoury pancake, and the name roughly translates as “what you like, cooked”. Core ingredients are flour batter and cabbage, with additional meat, egg, bean sprouts and noodles, plus whatever else you fancy. The secondary ingredients depend on where you are in the country. Sometimes you cook it yourself at the table; in other places it’s prepared for you. They cost about four pounds (Dh19.2).

Historians think okonomiyaki originated in post-war Hiroshima, when food shortages saw street stalls selling cheap vegetable pancakes. As produce became more plentiful, so did okonomiyaki recipes, with each town creating a variant. Now restaurants called okonomiyaki-ya are ubiquitous, and it’s possible to eat a different version every day. This is just what I did in Onomichi, a small town 88km from Hiroshima on the Setou inland sea.

Onomichi-yaki, as the city’s version is known, is prime comfort food, whether eaten at home or at a restaurant with a group of friends and umeshu (plum beverage) on the rocks. Lunchtime meant a daily stopover at Ponta, a sliver of a restaurant in the city’s Hondori shopping arcade, where the chef masterfully adds chicken gizzard and squid tempura to layers of batter, cabbage, meat, egg and udon noodles, garnishing it with sweet okonomiyaki sauce — a mix of ketchup, Worcestershire and soy sauces.

On Setou Island, I tried Kansai-style okonomiyaki (cabbage, meat, shrimp, egg, onions, noodles) at a tiny cafe with no name, but it was Poppoya, a rustic restaurant near the ferry port, that won my heart. With a set of ingredients and personal teppanyaki grills at each table, we flipped our own Onomichi-yaki — and if you’re not sure what to do, someone will help.

­— Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2016