A pancake (or hotcake, griddlecake, or flapjack) is a flat cake, commonly thin and has a circular shape, made from a flour-based batter that usually contains eggs, milk, and butter and cooked on a grill or frying pan, usually with oil or butter as a catalyst.
Archaeological digs reveal that pancakes were common across all known early human species in prehistoric times and it composed about 30% -- 40% of their diet.
It is also revealed by archaeologists that the Greeks and the Romans were the first civilizations to popularize it before and during the common eras.
The pancake’s shape and structure varies worldwide. In Japan, pancakes are often made with starch-based batter, meats, and vegetables and looked like frisbees.
Different Kinds of Japanese Pancakes
Whether you prefer them thick and fluffy or flat and foldable, we all love a good pancake.
Just about every civilization on Earth invented or borrowed a dish that resembled the pancake (or at least a version of it) in their vast inventory of culinary recipes, and Japan is no exception.
Buddhism started in Japan around the 6th century AD, but it wouldn’t be after a thousand years until the sweet, crepe-like, filled and folded pancake was seen being served in Buddhist ceremonies, which was in the Edo Period (between the 1600s – 1800s).
Thanks to the creativeness of the Japanese people the pancake soon had 2 versions – one was a sweet version and the other was a savory version.
Because the Japanese people love to eat vegetables so much that they experimented on their savory pancake, and it evolved later to become the famous national dish, okonomiyaki.
The pancakes that were made with all sorts of sugars, creams, and other sweeteners followed the Western techniques that are akin to the castella or casutera cake.
This sponge-like pancake stuffed with sweet fillings became known as the doriyaki and is quite the popular dish as well.
Sometimes sweet Japanese pancakes are served stacked on top of each other with additional toppings which will definitely satisfy your cravings.
Japanese Hotcakes (hottokeki)
It was the Hawaiian cafés and breakfast restaurants that first introduced sweet pancakes to Japan due to their rising popularity in the country.
As per usual, the Japanese have successfully adopted these sweet pancakes into their own style which has now become the famous fluffy Japanese pancake commonly known as “hottokeki” (ほとけけき) or hotcakes.
Japanese hotcakes are characterized by their souffle-like texture which although may make the pancake look thick and stuffed (may be 2 – 4 inches high), yet is actually light and fluffy.
The toppings typically placed on them include maple or chocolate syrup, whipped cream, bits of sliced fruit, and even ice cream.
The hottokeki Japanese souffle-like fluffy hotcakes are not only for breakfast treats, but they can be eaten as an afternoon snack together with your coffee or tea, as well as an evening dessert.
Next, we have the dorayaki (どら焼き) which has a traditional Japanese flavor and is a type of wagashi (和菓子, traditional Japanese sweet) that has azuki red bean paste (sweetened) in between 2 castella sponge cake.
Estimates put the creation of the dorayaki around the early years of 1000 AD in ancient Japan; however, the current incarnation of dorayaki was invented in the early 20th century.
Dorayaki is a combination of 2 Japanese words which are “dora,” meaning “gong,” because the sponge-like castella cake that surrounds the fillings is shaped like a gong, and “yaki,” which means “to fry.”
However, in one particular place in Japan – the western Kansai region – the people call dorayaki “mikasa,” which means “umbrella” as it does resemble that item sometimes, and it can have either a white bean paste or cream filling.
Traditionally, crepes are a well-known French dessert that has become a favorite local Japanese comfort food over time.
But the Japanese no longer use the fork and knife when eating crepes and you can casually find crepes in many urban areas in Japan as it is sold as a street food like the okonomiyaki and takoyaki.
The common fillings for crepes include crumbs of brownies and cheesecakes, chocolate sauce, chopped nuts, sliced fruit, whipped cream, and ice cream.
The crepe is rolled up in a paper cone, making it easier to hold and eat while standing.
Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) which means “whatever you like fried together,” is perhaps the most famous Japanese savory pancake that originated in Osaka in the western Kansai region.
This 500-year old Japanese dish is cooked with a variety of ingredients, but the most common ones are flour, cabbage, grilled pork belly, shrimp, eggs, spring onions, soy sauce, dashi, mirin, nori, and more and cooked over a teppanyaki griddle.
When you order an okonomiyaki, it will be immediately served hot to you after it is cooked with additional condiments on the side such as the okonomiyaki sauce (a slightly sweet and dark Worcestershire-flavored sauce), as well as Japanese mayonnaise, a powdered green seaweed called “aonori” and shaved bonito flakes called “katsuoboshi.”
The hiroshimayaki is actually the same as the okonomiyaki, except it has some added unique flavors that originated in Hiroshima, thus it is sometimes called, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.
Typically, the hiroshimayaki has similar ingredients with the okonomiyaki; however, its preparation is quite different than its Okinawan cousin dish.
While the okonomiyaki’s ingredients are mixed together with a flour-based batter, the hiroshimayaki is built upon many layers of ingredients like thin slices of pork, yakisoba noodles, and fried eggs.
Aside from these additional toppings are also placed in the upper layers of the pancake that may include cheese, kimchi, sliced green onions, as well as a local specialty called, Hirosima oysters which is a seasonal dish.
Once one of its sides is cooked, it is then flipped over so that the other uncooked side will face the grill and be fried.
Much like its Osaka analog, the hiroshimayaki also has powdered seaweed, bonito flakes, mayonnaise, and okonomiyaki sauce as its toppings.
Negiyaki (ねぎ焼き) is another variation of savory pancake in Japan that originated in Osaka City in the Kansai region.
The negiyaki has almost all of the ingredients of its predecessors which are the okonomiyaki and hiroshimayaki, and it is even cooked on the teppanyaki griddle like them, but the one thing it does not have is the cabbage.
Instead, its buckwheat-based batter is mixed with finely diced Japanese leek (negi), which makes its thin crust.
Another noticeable difference is that the negiyaki is not typically eaten with the okonomiyaki sauce like other savory Japanese pancakes, but with just regular soy sauce with green scallions toppings.
By now most people would most certainly assume that most – if not all – of Japan’s pancakes originated from the Kansai region in Osaka, which is in Western Japan; however, this is not entirely true.
The monjayaki (もんじゃ焼き) is an eastern Japanese version of the okonomiyaki, particularly in Tokyo in the Kanto region, except this pancake is a bit runnier and thinner compared to its Okinawan cousin – all thanks to the flavorful dashi broth that’s been added to the batter mix.
Monjayaki is commonly made with ingredients like pork, squid, shrimp, and chopped cabbage.
The way monjayaki is cooked is similar to a teppanyaki recipe where all the ingredients are mixed and stir-fried on the table/grill right in front of the customers. They are eaten directly from the table right after they’re cooked and you need to use specially-made small spatulas to scoop up the runny pancake.
If you’ve never seen a monjayaki savory pancake before, then allow me to describe it to you. It will look like melted cheese mixed with crispy vegetables and meats and a caramelized batter on the edges but is quite delicious once you taste it. Far more than you would expect it to be actually.
Takoyaki (たこ焼き or 蛸焼) is a small spherical-shaped street food popular in Japan that’s made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a specially-made molded pan called takoyaki pan, like one of these we wrote about here.
The main ingredients of the takoyaki spherical pancake are minced or diced octopus (tako), tempura scraps (tenkasu), pickled ginger (beni shoga), and green onion (negi).
The flavorful savory spheres are brushed with takoyaki sauce (has similar taste with the famous Worcestershire sauce) and mayonnaise, and then drizzled with aonori which is the green laver and dried bonito shavings.
What sets the takoyaki apart from other savory pancakes in Japan is that it has plenty of variations such as, for instance, the vinegared dashi, the goma-dare which is a combination of sesame extract and vinegar sauce, and the ponzu which is a mixture of citrus vinegar, dashi and soy sauce.
This Western-inspired pancake will have you hanging in cottony clouds of heaven that melts in your mouth when you taste some.
Have you seen Fluffy Japanese Souffle Pancakes (スフレパンケーキ) on social media or maybe even tasted when you visited Japan? In a way, you could say that soufflé pancakes are unique among all Japanese pancakes due to the way they are mixed.
Unlike those sweet and savory pancakes that we’ve previously discussed where you just whisk the ingredients together in a mixing bowl, the eggs are separated from the rest of the ingredients and the egg whites are also whipped before being folded gently – this helps make the pancakes puff up when cooked.
The results are fluffy, airy, delicate pancakes that probably look too fancy for your average breakfast meal, but are not at all expensive to try.
Chefs use tin metal cylindrical molds to make the soufflé pancake, but sometimes they just use aluminum foils to form the mold and cook the pancake in it over the skillet or grill.
Here’s how to make the souffle pancakes:
Japanese Rice Cooker Pancake
Did you know that in Japan they have a rice cooker pancake? Yes. Never has making pancakes been this easy!
Rice cooker pancakes were introduced in Japan a few years ago and became an internet sensation. It’s so easy to make that all you need to do is make a basic pancake batter recipe (or find one online) or even a ready-to-cook pancake mix if you want to make it even easier.
In order for you to make the pancake, whisk the pancake batter first, grease the interior of the rice cooker cooking bowl with cooking oil, pour the batter in all the way, and then set the timer.
Once cooked, the pancake will look like a custard cake as the bottom part that touched the cooking bowl will show a brownish color (which would now be the top when you’ll flip it and put it on the plate).
It will have a fluffy but firm texture and you can use a toothpick and punch some parts of the pancake to see if the insides are cooked as well (which should be and the toothpick should come out clean).
The toppings could be a couple of strawberries with maple syrup or cheese with maple syrup (or you can choose your own toppings).
It will taste like the soufflé pancake, except it will have a slightly firmer texture than the soufflé pancake and it will also have its own unique sweet blend when you taste it.
Here’s how to make the rice cooker pancake:
Top 5 Rice Cookers to make the Rice Cooker Pancake
- Zojirushi NS-LAC05XT
- Aroma Housewares 20-Cup
- Oster 6-Cup Rice Cooker
- Cuckoo Electric Heating Rice Cooker
- Hamilton Beach Rice and Hot Cereal Cooker
Read all about the top rice cookers in my article here which I also regularly update.
Japanese Pancake Drink: Is it any Good?
If you thought that the soufflé or rice cooker pancake was great, then prepare to be taken to the next level in pancake sampling!
Introducing the Morinaga Pancake Drink from Japan! It’s very easy to get one of these and all you have to do is go to any vending machine in Japan and buy one, or buy it from a nearby convenience store.
The Morinaga Pancake Drink is just basically soufflé pancake batter that’s been added with more liquid and sugars and tastes just like the cooked pancake when you eat it (or actually drink it).
But is it good? Well, the people who posted reviews about it on TripAdvisor and Reddit seem to think so, and having tasted the soufflé pancake myself as well as the Morinaga drink, I can say that it is a delight to drink it as you leisurely stroll on the busy Japanese streets.
Malreid on youtube is not that enthousiastic about it:
Nutritional Value of Japanese pancakes
I should say that the savory pancakes category discussed in this article has the most nutritional value compared to the sweet pancakes. Putting them side by side the sweet and fluffy pancakes would pale in comparison when you line up the ingredients of both pancake categories.
The typical ingredients for sweet pancakes in Japan are eggs, whole milk, cake flour, vanilla extract, sugar, baking powder, water, and vegetable oil – most of which have little-to-no health benefits.
Meanwhile, the basic ingredients for savory pancakes include, cabbage (and other kinds of vegetables), pork, chicken, shrimp, beef and other meats, dashi (known to have all 16 essential amino acids), mirin, vinegar, scallions, eggs, flour, potatoes, spring onions, pepper, powdered seaweed, and bonito flakes.
Combined they can give you nearly all of the nutrients that your body needs, which if you eat any of the savory pancakes on a daily basis, then you’ll eat fewer calories to help you stay fit and just the right amount of nutrients to make you healthy!
In the North American Continent, the way pancakes are made is by creating its flour-based batter, then add a leavening agent (usually baking powder) which can make the pancake grow thick and fluffy.
Meanwhile, the Celtic and Indo-European peoples created the crepe which originated in France that’s cooked on both sides of a disk-like cake in a crepe maker which results in a lacelike network of fine bubbles.
In Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, pancakes are called palatschinke, palačinka and palacinka, respectively and it is thin instead of fluffy (fried on both sides) and filled with ground walnuts, chocolate, cheese cream, or jam, then rolled over like an omelet. Sometimes sweet or savory fillings are also used to garnish the palačinke.
There is also a version of pancake that’s called potato pancake and as its namesake suggests; it is called this way when a potato is added to the batter.
Sometimes buttermilk is replaced or added to the milk that’s already part of the ingredients and the pancake is then called buttermilk pancake, which is a favorite among Americans and Scotts in the UK.
Pancakes that are made from buckwheat flour have different names in different countries like Memil-buchimgae (Korean), Ploye (Canadian), Kaletez (French), and Blini (Russian).
Pancakes typically have no cardinal spot in the main meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) of most cultures, but in the United States, it is considered as a breakfast food.
In Japan, however, the Okonomiyaki, which is the most famous of all Japanese pancakes, is eaten as a snack food of no particular time of the day, so it can be eaten during the morning, in the afternoon, and at night time.
Pancakes serve a similar function to waffles.
In Britain and the Commonwealth States, pancakes have their own holiday which is called “Pancake Day” (Shrove Tuesday). Pancake Day is marked by feasting and celebration, which traditionally preceded the observance of the Lenten fast.
Pancakes in Japan
In the 16th century Japan, people used to enjoy eating the “funo-yaki” (ふのやき) which was a pancake variety. It was a popular dish and was fried and served with sweet miso.
Although funo-yaki became unpopular in Japan in just less than a century, there are new savory pancakes like the okonomiyaki, monjayaki, and takoyaki (eaten during lunch and dinner and have been around since the 1800s *the okonomiyaki actually appeared around the same time as the fuko-yaki did) as well as sweet varieties of Japanese pancakes (good for breakfast, dessert and snack foods) have been the favorite snacks and meals of many Japanese since the early 1920s.
History of Japanese pancakes
It was the Greek physician, Galen who first wrote about ancient Greek pancakes called τηγανίτης (tēganitēs) in his book called De alimentorum facultatibus (On the Properties of Foodstuffs) circa 207 – 216 CE.
Greek poets Cratinus and Magnes also mention tagenias in their works around the 5th-century BC. Tagenites were breakfast food and were made using wheat flour, olive oil, honey, and curdled milk.
Another type of Greek pancake was σταιτίτης (staititēs), which means “of flour or dough of spelt”, derived from σταῖς (stais), “flour of spelt”. In his book De ipnosophistae, Athenaeus a Greek rhetorician and grammarian mention staititas garnished with cheese, sesame seeds, and honey.
The Middle English word “pancake” appears in English vocabulary in the 15th century.
The ancient Roman term alia dulcia, which is Latin for “other sweets,” is something similar to pancakes, although it can be argued that they resembled more of the Japanese comfort foods of the 20th century than Western pancakes.
Japanese pancakes, although may not look as tempting as their Western analogs, might just be the most nutritious pancakes in the world (especially the savory ones)!
Even the most famous savory pancakes in Japan such as the okonomiyaki, hiroshimayaki, monjayaki, takoyaki, and negiyaki are still not favored like the soufflé pancake.
The dorayaki (also a sweet Japanese pancake) is not as well-known as the fluffy pancakes too!
What frustrates me is that all of the savory pancakes that I’ve mentioned above are not only very delicious but are quite the healthy snacks also.
People in Western countries could instantly have a healthy lifestyle by merely switching their diet from fast food to Japanese savory pancakes. Isn’t that amazing?!
But since not enough information is broadcast on multiple media platforms, or maybe it’s just that people are not genuinely interested in savory pancakes that’s why the sweet and fluffy pancakes often outshine them.
Still, I think people should try to like savory pancakes and make it part of their diet to get a lot of health benefits from these incredible Japanese dishes.