passion passport | hiroshima's thriving dining scene
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“Two portions of the rectum, one stew of internal organs, and two raw chicken portions please”. When raw chicken looks like the safest option, you know you have drifted a long way beyond your comfort zone of culinary experiments. Sadly, Hiroshima is infamous for one thing only, but as brilliant as the Peace Memorial Museum is, the city has so much more to offer and is fantastic fun to explore. Careful how far those curiosities take you though, or you may end up in a bustling smoky restaurant uttering words you never thought you’d say.
Pulling back the white curtains adorned with Japanese characters you cannot understand, a wave of energy hits you as the tightly packed bustling restaurant overflows with chatter, laughter, and the commentary from a local baseball game on the TV. The air is filled with the smell of sweet honey miso and charcoaled meats, and it is exactly the kind of place you hope to stumble across on your travels. If you could have understood those Japanese characters at the entrance, you may well never have entered, as the menu is filled with animal parts that make even the most experimental eater quiver(raw chicken and stew of internal organs below).
Seen as a good way to restore stamina and nutrients to the body, Horumon refers to eating organ meat, giblets, and offal meat. The Kansai region is believed to be the birthplace of the Horumon cuisine in Japan, which throws these left-field food choices on a yakinuku barbecue, and lends itself to pairing with beer or spirits. A few shots of sake prior to ordering may be the source of encouragement you need.
The phrase ‘when in Rome’ comes to mind, so rectum, raw chicken sashimi, and a stew of internal organs should be tried at least once in your life. You will no doubt come away marvelling at what a honey miso glaze can do to distract you from the meat itself. Why are we so precious about which animal parts to eat? To kill an animal and then waste much of the nutrients seems a far greater waste in comparison.
Extra fun is to be had in the tiny restaurant toilets, which have the mind boggling combination of all the bells and whistles of the most high-tech Japanese loos, with none of the translations or diagrams to explain what each button does. Playing Russian roulette with the myriad of buttons, you can only hope you don’t mirror the misfortune of my friend who got squirted in the face by a stray water jet, prompting her to run back into the restaurant, soaked, and slightly dishevelled. A plate of glazed rectum arriving on the table might not have been the consolation prize she was hoping for, but try everything once right? A truly unforgettable travel experience that will be talked about for years to come.
If you like tasty local food that you’ve never heard of, served by an old lady who’s made the dish over 3,000 times, and is cheaper than a burger, then visiting the ‘Okonomiyaki theme park’ in Hiroshima is right up your street.
Okonomimura is a four storey complex of tiny food stalls that each seat a maximum of 10 people on the barstools around the grill and counter. It is not fancy, and every stall serves their own variation on Okonomiyaki. The elderly woman who owned our stall had very little interest in tips or charming her customers. She aggressively poured us some ice cold beers to enjoy while we watched the theatre unfold. She was here to do a job, and we best not disturb her.
Okonomiyaki literally means”whatever you like, grilled”, and Hiroshima’s version of one of Japan’s most famous dishes is not only tasty, but the dining experience and theatre surrounding it make it all the more fun.
Like many national staples, it is a working class dish that originated in harder times around WW2 when ingredients and finances were restricted. Over the decades it has evolved slightly to become this cheesy carb-loaded mess that you can’t help but love.
There’s a culinary rivalry in Japan surrounding one of the country’s most popular dishes. Having previously visited Osaka, the other city that claims it created Okonomiyaki, I thought I knew what I was getting myself in for.
Hiroshima’s version is slightly neater than the Osaka equivalent, and has structured layers of pancake, cabbage, onions, fried pork, noodles, and topped with melted cheese. Osaka’s version just messes the whole lot together in a big pile.
Small circular pancakes get the whole show on the road, as layer upon layer of food is piled on top until the cheesy masterpiece is complete. There are no plates, as you eat directly from the hot griddle the food was cooked on. You’ll make a mess and probably get nowhere near finishing your portion. None of which matters in the slightest when it tastes that good.