If you thought Japanese food was all about ramen, sushi or udon, think again. One of the most popular food items in Japan is Okonomiyaki, a kind of a savory flour-based egg pancake cooked on a griddle and filled with cabbage & other toppings of your choice. The name of the dish can be broken down into “ononomi” which means ‘As you like it’ and “yaki” which means ‘grilled’. So, the name itself tells us that the dish is “grilled, just the way you like it”.
cover photo credit: Tatsuo Yamashita
In the late 1500s, funoyaki – a thinly rolled toasted wheat crepe, stuffed with miso paste, sugar and poppy seeds – became quite popular at Buddhist ceremonies. Over the centuries, this dish took many forms and variations. However, it was after the Japanese defeat in WWII, when food became scarce, that a new form of this dish began to resurface. This cheap dish, filled with flour to compensate for the lack of rice, became a staple meal to feed hungry people. People began adding bean sprouts and shredded cabbage to the dish as an easy substitute for meat. Soon, people began adding whatever other ingredients they could get their hands on, which lead to the name “Okonomiyaki” which means “whatever you like, grilled”.
So, now that you know what’s in an Okonomiyaki, let’s see how you can start prepare the same.
2.Get the right ingredients for preparing Okonomiyaki
Since every person can choose their own toppings or fillings, the possibilities of cooking the Okonomiyaki are limitless. However, there are certain ingredients which are essential for any good Okonomiyaki. These are :
- All-purpose Flour and eggs : The basic essentials for the pancake batter
- Cabbage : Soft, shredded cabbage to give
- Tenkasu : Little bits of fried tempura batter
- Beni Shouga : Slivers of sour pickles
- Dashi Stock : A soup stock
- Aonori : Green seaweed, in powder form
- Dried Bonito Flakes : Dried and fermented tuna flakes
- Okonomiyaki Sauce : A special brown sauce that combines Worcestershire Sauce, Soy Sauce, Ketchup and a dash of honey.
- Japanese Mayonnaise
If you are cooking Hiroshima style okonomiyaki, you will need the following additional ingredients :
- Yakisoba Noodles
These are just a basic list of ingredients, however you can add a whole lof of fillings of your choice, such as pork belly, bacon, shrimp, calamari, chicken pieces, spicy cod, garlic, corn, mushrooms, tomatoes, kimchi, cheese, pickled red ginger, etc. The choice is limitless.
3.Choose your preferred style : Osaka or Hiroshima?
When it comes to cooking the Okonomiyaki, there are two primary styles of cooking : the Osaka style (also known as the Kansai style), and the Hiroshima style. The major difference between the two is the way fillings or toppings are incorporated into the pancake. In the Osaka style, the toppings are mixed into the pancake batter and then cooked, making it more like an thick Italian frittata. However, the more traditonal and conservative Hiroshima style, the pancake is first grilled on the griddle, and then the chosen toppings are layered on the pancake.
- Combine the all-purpose flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in a bowl and mix together
- Peel and grate nagaimo (Chinese Potatoes) into the batter mix, and add a bit of dashi to make a smooth batter. Cover the batter with clingfilm and let it rest for a while.
- Chop the cabbage finely, and let it rest to allow the moisture to evaporate.
- Add eggs to the pancake batter, and mix well. Add in the tenkasu and beni shouga and mix well. Gently add in the cabbage to the batter. Coat the cabbage well with the batter. If you want to cook the Okonomiyaki Osaka style, add in your other ingredients into the batter at this time.
- Heat a griddle or a pan on a medium flame, and heat vegetable oil. Scoop up a portion of the cabbage pancake batter, and spread on the hot pan to create a thick okonomiyaki batter on the pan.
- Let the batter cook on one side for a couple of minutes. Place a glass lid on the pan, to trap the steam inside, and cook the batter from the top as well. For a Hiroshima style okonomiyaki, cook a packet of yoshiba noodles on the griddle / pan as well. Also, add the other ingredients on the top of the okonomiyaki batter. This includes the pork belly, onions, tomatoes, garlic, etc.
- After a few minutes, use two spatulas to flip ove the okonomiyaki batter on the other side. Cook well on both sides
- Place the cooked noodles on top of the okonomiyaki, and cover with other toppings of your choice.
- Baste the okonomiyaki with okonomiyaki sauce, once well cooked on both sides. Remove it from the pan onto your plate. Drizzle generously with Japanese Mayonnaise and garnish with a sprinkling of Benito flakes and Japanese seaweek powder.
Your very own Okonomiyaki is ready to serve!
I have no doubt that once you have tried the Okonomiyaki, you will love it. For those who want to enjoy the dish without cooking, there are many Okonomiyaki bars all across Japan. So, whether you cook it at home or try it in a restaurant, remember to enjoy your Japanese Pizza.
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