Japanese Pancakes | from sweet to savory and even a pancake drink!

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 8, 2020

A pancake (or hotcake, griddlecake, or flapjack) is a flat cake, commonly thin and has a circular shape.

It is made from a flour-based batter that usually contains eggs, milk, and butter. It is cooked on a grill or frying pan, in hot oil or butter.

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.

They also found that the Greeks and the Romans were the first civilizations to popularize the pancake before the 15th century. 

a plate of pancakes with blueberries and strawberries

The pancake’s shape and structure vary worldwide.

In Japan, pancakes are often made with starch-based batter, meats, and vegetables and looked like frisbees.

Japanese fluffy pancakes are taller and thicker, while the salty ones are liquidy.

In this article, I’ll discuss every type of Japanese pancake in more detail so you can get to know each one of these.

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. The sweet, crepe-like, filled and folded pancake was served in Buddhist ceremonies a thousand years later.

This took place sometime 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.

Some sweet pancakes are made using Western techniques. They are called castella and casutera cake. These pancakes are made with all sorts of sugar, cream, and sweeteners.

This sponge-like pancake stuffed with sweet fillings became known as the dorayaki and is quite a popular dish as well.

Sweet Japanese pancakes are often stacked on top of each other. They are served with additional toppings of your choice to satisfy your cravings. 

However, most Westerners are most familiar with the fluffy souffle pancakes which are thick, crustless, and puffy on the inside. 

Japanese Fluffy Pancake (souffle)

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?

The souffle pancake is unique because you mix the egg and batter differently. 

Japanese hotteki hotcakes

Use a different technique to make this fluffy dessert. You can’t just whisk together the ingredients in a mixing bowl.

To make this pancake, separate the eggs from the other ingredients. Whip the eggs whites until hard and fold into the batter gently.

This makes the pancakes rise up as you cook them. 

The result is a fluffy, airy, delicate pancake. They 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.

Since the fluffy pancakes are the most popular and most loved Japanese pancake, you should make your own and see what the hype is about.

To get started, you need to order some molds, called Japanese Pancake Rings.

Check out this set of 3 from Yoshikawa:

Yoshikawa Kohiya's thick baked pancake ring

(view more images)

What is the secret to fluffy pancakes?

Many people struggle to replicate those yummy fluffy pancakes from Japanese shops at home. Here’s why: they don’t know the secret to a fluffy pancake, which is the EGG. 

In fact, the souffle pancake is all about the egg. Always beat the eggs intensely until stiff peaks form. Once the peaks are hard, fold them into the batter slowly.

You want to mix slowly so you don’t destroy the air bubbles. These air bubbles keep their shape inside the batter and cause the fluffy texture. 

Did you know you can make your own fluffy pancakes at home?

Order a fluffy pancake mix from Amazon like this Morinaga Hot Cake and Pancake Mix.

The best way to make the fluffy pancakes is to make them at home from scratch. Here is an easy recipe so you can make this yummy treat at home!

All you need is a hot pan and basic ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. 

Japanese Fluffy Pancakes from scratch

A classic pancake recipe that makes extra-fluffy pancakes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4 people
Calories 129kcal
Author Joost Nusselder
Cost $5

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp butter melted
  • 1 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 pinch salt

Instructions

  • Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
  • Mix the egg yolks, milk, and butter together.
  • Add in the egg white mixture. Makes sure the foam is stiff and fold in slowly.
  • Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl.
  • Create a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour your liquid ingredients. Mix slowly . The batter should be lumpy.
  • Preheat your pan to 350 degrees F.
  • Pour 1/4 of a cup of batter and cook for 2 minutes. Once bubbles form, flip the pancake and cook for another minute or two.

 

Here’s how to make the souffle pancakes:

Get your quick start in enjoying Japanese cuisine here with our top recommended tools

Where to Buy JApanese fluffy Pancakes

In Japan, you’ll find fluffy pancakes in every city and town because they are very popular. 

Tokyo’s #1 Fluffly Pancake 

Micasadeco, Tokyo -- At Micasadeco cafe, you’ll find a large selection of the best fluffy pancakes.

Their signature dish is the ricotta pancake but they also offer a Mochi Pancake with Matcha crumble. 

Micasadeco & Cafe is located at 6-16-5 HOLON Ⅲ 2F, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.

Best Pancakes in Osaka

Shiawase no Pancake is a popular chain with many branches across Japan. They are well-known in Osaka for their tasty souffle pancakes. Their best selling pancake is named after the store and it is served with honey and butter -- a true classic. 

Best pancakes in the U.S

New York

If you want to try the famous Japanese pancakes in the States, you need to visit Flipper’s in NYC. It is a restaurant as well as a grab and go cafe.

Their best seller is the classic fluffy pancake called the Flipper. It’s a must-try!

Check out Flipper’s at 337 W Broadway, New York.

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.

Japanese hotcakes hottokeki

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 special because they have a souffle-like texture. 

Although the pancakes look thick and over-stuffed (maybe 2 – 4 inches high), they are 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.   

People enjoy hotcakes as afternoon snacks alongside coffee or tea. In fact, you might as well make them for an evening dessert.

Dorayaki

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 contains azuki red bean paste (sweetened) in between 2 castella sponge cakes.

Dorayaki

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.  “Dora,” means“gong,”.  The sponge-like castella cake that surrounds the fillings has a gong shape. “Yaki,” 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. It has either a white bean paste or cream filling.

Crepes

a few plates of crepes with oranges and honey as the toppings

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 easy to hold and eat while standing. They roll it up in a paper cone so you don’t get messy. 

Okonomiyaki

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.

Okonomiyaki Japanese savory pancake

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 “katsuobushi.”

Hiroshimayaki

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.

Hiroshimayaki

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.

These include thin slices of pork, yakisoba noodles, and fried eggs.

Aside from these additional toppings, chefs also place additional ingredients in the upper layers of the pancake.

These include cheese, kimchi, sliced green onions, as well as a local specialty called, Hirosima oysters. These oysters are a seasonal dish.

Once you cook one side of the pancake, flip it. Then cook the uncooked side and let it brown.

Much like its Osaka analog, the hiroshimayaki also has powdered seaweed, bonito flakes, mayonnaise, and okonomiyaki sauce as its toppings.

Negiyaki

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, the okonomiyaki and hiroshimayaki.  Chefs cook negiyaki on the teppanyaki griddle.

This dish, however, does not contain 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.  

You always eat the other salty pancakes with okonomiyaki sauce.  It is eaten alongside regular soy sauce with green scallions toppings.

Monjayaki

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.

Monjayaki

The monjayaki (もんじゃ焼き) is an eastern Japanese version of the okonomiyaki. It is popular in Tokyo in the Kanto region.

It differs because this pancake is a bit runnier and thinner compared to its Okinawan cousin. Chefs add flavorful dashi broth to the batter mix.

Use ingredients like pork, squid, shrimp, and chopped cabbage to make Monjayaki. 

Monjayaki recipes are similar to a teppanyaki recipe. They mix all the ingredients and stir-fry them on the table/grill right in front of the customers.

Diners eat Monjayaki directly from the table right after it’s cooked. Customers use specially-made small spatulas to scoop up the runny pancake.

I even have a post exactly on how to eat this dish right here

If you’ve never seen a monjayaki savory pancake before, then allow me to describe it to you.

It looks like melted cheese mixed with crispy vegetables and meats and a caramelized batter on the edges. It is quite delicious once you taste it.

Far more than you would expect it to be actually.

Takoyaki

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.

Takoyaki

Here are the main ingredients in the takoyaki spherical pancake:

Chefs brush flavorful savory spheres with takoyaki sauce. It has a similar taste to the famous Worcestershire sauce.

They add mayonnaise and then drizzle with aonori and add dried bonito shavings.

What sets the takoyaki apart from other savory pancakes in Japan is that it has plenty of variations.

For instance, there is 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.

How do you eat sweet Japanese pancakes?

Contrary to what you’d expect, you don’t eat sweet souffle pancakes with a fork and knife. Instead, you use two forks and pull the pancakes apart as you eat them.

The reason behind this is that the pancakes are very soft and delicate. Pulling them apart is easier than cutting them with a knife. 

Japanese Rice Cooker Pancake

Did you know that in Japan they have a rice cooker pancake? Yes. Never has making pancakes been this easy!

The Japanese have introduced the rice cooker pancakes a few years ago. These pancakes are a viral 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.

The pancake looks like a custard cake once it’s fully cooked.

The bottom part that touched the cooking bowl has a brownish color (which would now be the top when you’ll flip it and put it on the plate).

The pancake must have a fluffy but firm texture.  Punch some small holes in the middle of pancake with a toothpick to see if the insides are cooked well.

If the pancake is ready, the toothpick comes out clean. 

You can add a couple of strawberries as a topping. Or,  top with maple syrup or honey. For a salty taste, top with cheese and egg.

The options are unlimited, choose a topping that you like. 

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

  1. Zojirushi NS-LAC05XT
  2. Aroma Housewares 20-Cup
  3. Oster 6-Cup Rice Cooker
  4. Cuckoo Electric Heating Rice Cooker
  5. 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 think the soufflé or rice cooker pancake is great, prepare to try the pancake drink!

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 a liquid soufflé pancake batter. The manufacturer adds more liquid and sugars.

It tastes just like a 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 enthusiastic about it:

 

Pancake Shots

There is an even weirder drink than the pancake drink: the pancake shot. Serve this salty alcoholic beverage with small strips of bacon.

It’s like drinking your breakfast with a good dose of whiskey.

It’s easy to make. You need 8 shot glasses. Fill four with whiskey and butterscotch schnapps. Fill the remaining four with orange juice.

Top each glass with a small strip of fried bacon. 

First, drink the alcohol shot and then the orange juice shot. Eat the bacon and you’ll feel like you just drank your breakfast!

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.

You’ll notice that savory pancakes are much healthier than sweet ones. The health benefits of salty pancakes far outweigh the sweet ones. 

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.

Let’s examine the most common ingredients in savory pancakes and look at the nutritional benefits:

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!

Healthy pancake toppings

Most health-conscious consumers are looking for healthy alternatives to Japanese pancakes.

In fact, the toppings are the number one source of high calories in the pancake. Syrup and Nutella are high fat and high carb foods that make you gain weight.

You can make this dish healthier by choosing nutritional toppings. 

Here are some ideas for both savory and sweet pancakes:

Western Pancakes

In North America, pancakes are from a flour-based batter. You must add a leavening agent (usually baking powder) which makes the pancake grow thick and fluffy.

Meanwhile, the Celtic and Indo-European peoples created the crepe which originated in France. They cook the pancake on both sides.

They use a disk-like pan in a crepe maker. The result is a yummy batter with a lacelike network of fine bubbles.

Paltschinke is the Austrian pancake, palačinka is the Czech Republic’s version, and palacinka is the Slovakian pancake.

All Eastern European countries have a type of crepe-like pancake dish. 

This cake is thin instead of fluffy. In Europe, they fry the crepes on both sides and fill them with all kinds of sweet toppings.

Ground walnuts, chocolate, cheese cream, or jam are the most popular toppings. 

This pancake is like a crepe, you must roll it over and fold it like an omelet. You can use salty savory fillings to garnish the palačinke.

You can also make potato pancakes. Simply add potato to the batter. Or, try mashed potato latkes. Latkes are Jewish fried pancakes.

It’s possible to replace milk with buttermilk. Buttermilk is a type of fermented dairy drink. This type of pancake is called a buttermilk pancake.

It is a favorite among Americans and Britons because it makes the pancake taste rich and buttery. 

Different countries have different names for buckwheat flour pancakes. For example: 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. Pancakes are an essential breakfast food in the United States.

The most famous Japanese pancake is Okonomiyaki. People eat it as a snack as well as a main meal throughout the day.

Eat it in the morning, for lunch, or dinner because it is salty and filling. 

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).

Feasting and celebration mark Pancake Day. This day traditionally precedes the observance of the Lenten Fast.

Pancakes in Japan

There was a pancake variety in the 16th century called  “funo-yaki” (ふのやき). It was the Japanese pancake’s predecessor. This popular fried dish is served with sweet miso. 

 Funo-yaki became unpopular in Japan in just less than a century. But, there are new savory pancakes like the okonomiyaki, monjayaki, and takoyaki.

You can consume them during lunch and dinner. Funo-yaki is around since the 1800s.

* The okonomiyaki actually appeared around the same time as the fuko-yaki did. The savory and sweet varieties of Japanese pancakes are the favorite snack of the Japanese since the early 1920s.

Anyone can enjoy pancakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

History of Japanese pancakes

It was the Greek physician, Galen who first wrote about ancient Greek pancakes called τηγανίτης (tēganitēs).

He mentions it in his book, called ‘De alimentorum facultatibus’ (On the Properties of Foodstuffs) circa 207 – 216 CE.

Greek poets Cratinus and Magnes mentioned tagenias in their works around the 5th-century BC.

Tagenites are a type of breakfast food. Make tagenites from wheat flour, olive oil, honey, and curdled milk.

Another type of Greek pancake was σταιτίτης (staititēs), which means “of flour or dough 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 sometime in the 15th century.

The ancient Roman term alia dulcia, which is Latin for “other sweets,” is something similar to pancakes.

But they resembled more of the Japanese comfort foods of the 20th century than Western pancakes.

The pancake became popular in Japan in the 16th century. The founder of the Japanese tea ceremony Sennorikyuu created his own version of a pancake. 

Conclusion

Japanese pancakes are different from the classic American iHop pancakes. They don’t contain as many toppings and calories as their Western counterparts.

But, Japanese pancakes are one of the most nutritious pancakes in the world (especially the savory ones)!

The most famous savory pancakes in Japan such as the okonomiyaki, hiroshimayaki, monjayaki, takoyaki, and negiyaki are still not as popular as the soufflé pancake.

The dorayaki (also a sweet Japanese pancake) is not as popular as the soufflé pancakes.

There’s something about the fluffy pancakes that people adore and specialty pancake shops are thriving. 

All of the savory pancakes that I’ve mentioned above very delicious and most are quite healthy snacks. 

People in Western countries can live a healthier lifestyle by adjusting their diets. To eat fewer calories, switch from sweet to salty pancakes. They are so tasty and filling!

Savory and salty pancake varieties don’t get enough coverage on social media platforms.

The sweet pancakes tend to outshine the savory ones because many people have a sweet tooth. 

Get your quick start in enjoying Japanese cuisine here with our top recommended tools

Still, I think people should try to like savory pancakes and diversify their diet. You can get a lot of health benefits from these incredible Japanese dishes.

Also read: Japanese soup in their culture and in their meals

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.