Issen Yoshoku – Kyoto, Japan - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

Issen Yoshoku

This kitsch-forward diner is dedicated to an almost-forgotten “one-cent” prototype of okonomiyaki. 

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Okonomiyaki, the pancake-like dish cooked on a teppan grill, originated in Osaka but is ubiquitous throughout Japan. Yet few diners realize that this staple evolved from a simpler dish. Issen yōshoku, made of a loose batter with chopped green onion, strips of meat, and a Worcestershire sauce dressing, has gone all but extinct since World War II, eclipsed by the popularity of okonomiyaki, to be missed only by a few.

Issen means “one sen coin,” in reference to an obsolete currency, while yōshoku refers to Western fare. In short, this was meant to be an affordable dish for the working-class. Back then, the general public considered any food that used flour, then known as “Meriken [American] powder,” or sauce Western. Street vendors in Kyoto often sold this humble pancake wrapped up in newspapers. 

To bring back the nostalgic dish, Tatsuo Kinoshita founded the aptly named Issen Yoshoku restaurant. His rendition consists of wheat flour, bonito flakes, Kujo leek, egg, pickled ginger, tenkasu (crunchy bits of flour batter), konnyaku (devil’s tongue jelly), chikuwa (fried fishcake) and Wagyu beef, dressed with a special blend of Worcestershire sauce.

Not only does Issen Yoshoku serve a now-rare dish, but is also a popular hideout full of kitsch ornaments, from a Taisho-style parody of the iconic Coppertone advert to bromide photographs of movie stars, tiny erotic statuettes to realistic kimono-clad mannequins. Each table is decorated with such retro ephemera, including matchbox labels, pochi-bukuro envelopes and Astro Boy figurines. This place is a pinnacle of Kyoto’s so-called “B-class gourmet,” a quirky callback to the bygone era.

Know Before You Go

The restaurant is open daily from late morning until night.

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March 14, 2023

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