By Mari Nameshida / Special to The Japan NewsOkonomiyaki, a savory pancake containing ingredients such as meat and vegetables, is one of the most popular requests I get from my students. I feel the dish has been getting more and more popular over the past 10 years.
The base of okonomiyaki is lots of cabbage and batter, but you may choose to add a variety of ingredients and toppings. You can use whatever you like — from seafood to cheese. Some people even use potato chips!
Since “okonomi” literally means “how you like it” and “yaki” means “grill” or “pan-fry,” it’s easy to see how this versatile dish got its name.
Okonomiyaki is everyday food in western Japan, particularly the Kansai area. You can also find it at restaurants that specialize in the dish. There are often dining tables at such restaurants equipped with iron griddles so you can make okonomiyaki right at your table. At home, we often use an electric griddle on the table with family members and friends all around, and we each make our own with the ingredients we like. I like the flavor of okonomiyaki, but I enjoy the process of making it even more. It’s easy to prepare and really fun to do with friends and family.
Basically, the okonomiyaki batter is made using eggs, flour, and shredded cabbage. I sometimes add grated yamaimo yam (also called jinenjo) to make the batter moist, light and fluffy. The grated yam has a slimy texture, and my students are really surprised when they see it for the first time. I left it out of today’s recipe to make it easier for everyone, but please add some if you’d like.
The ingredients you mix with this batter really depend on you. Popular ones are pork belly, seafood (such as scallop, octopus, shrimp, squid, oyster or clam), naganegi long onion, natto, mentaiko spicy cod roe, pickled ginger, mochi and kimchi. Some use boiled potatoes, gyusuji stewed beef tendon, cheese, sprouts and noodles. Adding potato chips or other snacks gives the okonomiyaki a crunchy texture. You can also use any leftovers in your fridge. Some mix leftover curry or stew or pot au feu into the batter. Try different combinations and discover your favorite.
In western Japan, there are two main variations of okonomiyaki: Osaka style and Hiroshima style. You often find Osaka style at the restaurants I mentioned earlier.
The Hiroshima style is quite different. All the ingredients — thinly cooked batter like a crepe, eggs, yakisoba noodles, and thinly sliced pork belly — are layered rather than mixed together. This style always uses noodles, which give it a different taste.
The sauce for okonomiyaki is a thicker, sweeter relative of the familiar British Worcestershire sauce, and you can find it at any Japanese grocery store.
Mari’s recipe for okonomiyaki
Ingredients (serves 4):
400 grams cabbage, shredded into thin strips 3 centimeters long
200 grams all-purpose flour
200 milliliters dashi broth or water
300 grams any seafood (such as shrimp, squid or clams) or other favorite ingredients
100 grams cheese, cut into 1-centimeter cubes
200 grams thin-sliced pork belly
Bonito flakes (optional)
Aonori powdered seaweed (optional)
1. Place eggs in a bowl and whisk well. Add the flour and dashi (or water), mix well.
2. Add the shredded cabbage and the seafood (or other ingredients, but leave the pork aside for now) in the bowl, mix well.
3. Place 1 tbsp of oil in a hot pan. Pour on a quarter of the mixture. Spread it until it makes a round shape, like a pancake, with about 1½-centimeter thickness. After cooking for 3 minutes, place the thin-sliced pork on top, then flip over. Cook another 5 minutes.
4. Place okonomiyaki on serving plates. Add okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise on top. Sprinkle bonito flakes and aonori powdered seaweed.
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