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A Historical Exploration of Japanese Pancakes

by Martha Simmonds
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Pancakes in Japan have been around since the 1600s when they were used in tea ceremonies. The tasty treats were char-grilled after being made with flour, water, and sake. The fairly thin piece was then spread with sweet miso and rolled up so that it could be eaten in bite-sized pieces.

Japan started to adopt Western habits and foods in the early 1900s. The biggest change to the Japanese pancake was the addition of Worcester sauce. With this new trend, Japan’s take on the simple pancake was very different from how people in the West liked theirs, which were covered in butter and maple syrup or jelly and peanut butter.

Okonomiyaki (Japanese Pancakes): Some Background

In its oldest form, the Japanese pancake comes from the 1600s. A pancake called “Funo-yaki” was made by Sennorikyuu, who started the Japanese tea ritual. He mixed flour, water, and sake together, then fried the dough until it was flat. After the pancake was rolled up and cut into bite-sized pieces, sweet miso was spread. When the pancake was at its peak of fame, there were even shops that only sold Funo-yaki. But by the end of the Edo period (1603–1868), the pancake custom was gone for good.

Around the same time, during the Meiji period (1868–1911), candy shops began selling what is known as “Monji-yaki,” which translates to “letter cooking.” Drawing the Japanese alphabet on a teppan with wet pancake dough helped kids learn it. At one point, Monji-yaki started being sold from food stands that moved around. To fit into the mobile setting, the watery dough got thicker. People still use this thicker kind of dough.

Because of Western impact, Japanese pancakes for breakfast are much fluffier now, though they still need to be thicker than American pancakes. As the recipe says, these are toppings for Japanese pancakes for breakfast that are more spicy than sweet. But mayonnaise is the most common filling. Okonomoyaki, from where the word “cake” is derived, means “cook-as-you-like” in Japanese. These cakes should be enjoyed in the same spirit.

Fluffiness Quotient

Japanese pancakes are notable due to their airy consistency. This is because the batter contains combined baking powder and egg whites. The pancake that comes out of this is light, airy, and soft.

Modern Evolution

The history of Japanese pancakes is a complicated one. A popular Japanese cafe chain in the 1970s offered a pancake styled after a soufflé. The modern tall pancake can be traced back to this first version.

Most Common Variations

There is a wide variety of pancake preparations in Japan. Green tea (matcha), sweet potatoes (yam), chocolate (sometimes), and even strawberries are used to flavor some. There are numerous ways to serve them, like with whipped cream, syrup, or fresh fruit on top.

Conclusion

Japanese pancakes have been around for over a century. Japanese pancakes are a culinary delight since they are light as air and may be flavored any you choose. So, the next time you tuck into one of these towering, airy pancakes, think about the delicious journey it took to get there.

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