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Friday, November 12, 2010


Sometimes described as Japanese 'pizza', okonomi-yaki is a kind of giant cabbage pancake or fritter, and the name literally means 'as you like it'. I realize that cabbage pancake doesn't sound very inspiring, but it's one of my favorite meals in Japan. I was introduced to okonomi-yaki by the first Japanese home-stay student who ever stayed with us. He also taught me my first Japanese words beyond konnichiwa and sayonara... ika (squid) and ebi (prawn or shrimp.) Different areas of Japan have different styles of okonomi-yaki. For example, Hiroshima-yaki uses noodles and hardly any (maybe none?) cabbage. But my favorite kind is Kansai style. Here's how I make it.

You need 2-3 cups of finely shredded cabbage, an egg, 1/4 flour, and a little cold water (2 or 3 tablespoons.) A little grated yama-imo (slimy mountain potato) always makes it better, but that would probably be difficult to get if you're not in Japan. You mix the egg, flour and water to make a medium batter, then add the shredded cabbage. And here is where 'as you like it' comes into play... add anything you like for extra flavor. Common additions are diced squid, shrimps, kimchi, cheese, pickled ginger, and chopped onion or leek. Just use your imagination, and maybe clean up the left overs in the fridge.

Heat some oil in a heavy frypan and add the mixture (it should cover the frypan and be 2-3 cm thick). Turn the heat to medium low, cover and cook for about 5 minutes. You are supposed to lay strips of thinly sliced pork belly  on top before you turn it. I've used bacon, but usually I just skip this step. The easiest way to flip it is to slide it onto a plate and turn it over back into the frypan. Cook uncovered for another 5 minutes. (Check that the middle is cooked through.)

So that's the okonomiyaki, but you need the right sauce. If you can get proper Japanese okonomiyaki sauce, great! If you can't, mix 3/4 ketchup with 1/4 Worcester sauce, and a dash of soy sauce. Slather this sauce over the okonomiyaki, and a creamy mayonnaise (not sweet or vinegary) and enjoy.

If you visit Japan, you should really try to go to an okomiyaki restaurant. They are usually not expensive, and often have a large hotplate at the tables, so that you cook your own. It's fun. The picture shows Hiroshima-yaki from a restaurant near the ferry terminal at Miyajima-guchi in Hiroshima-Ken.

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