Okonomiyaki – the Japanese pizza

Newsletter_-_Feb17_-_Okonomiyaki

If the word “pizza” was the main reason you are reading this article, I suggest you stop right now. Seriously, the only thing similar between okonomiyaki and pizza is that both are round and both can be topped with your ingredients of choice; okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) means “as you like it – grill”! Final warning: one of the main components of this dish is Chinese cabbage. Last chance to click away.

Still with me? Then allow me to introduce a tasty and healthy “Budapest” version of the Osaka okonomiyaki. The reason this is the “Budapest” version is that several of the original components, such as grated nagaimo (mountain yam), would be impossible to come by, or as in the case of otafuku sauce, Kewpie mayo or katsuobushi, which are shaved fish flakes, they can only be found in speciality Asian markets and are not cheap for what they are.

Fortunately it’s easy to find substitutes, or leave out entirely if there is something you don’t like. As Chef John might say: “You are the Mr. Miyagi of your okonomiyaki.” (Watch a few of his videos and you’ll understand what I am saying.)

In Osaka, where this dish is said to have originated, okonomiyaki is most often eaten in “grill-it-yourself” restaurants, where diners sit around large flat-top grills (think Mongolian grill where everyone has their own grill). Servers bring the ordered ingredients, which typically include thinly sliced pork belly, shredded cabbage, green onion, shrimp, octopus, egg and other vegetables, and which are incorporated with a pancake-like batter and then grilled right at your table.

The great thing about okonomiyaki is its versatility. The following is typically how I make my version at home, but feel free to play around with what goes into your own.

Ingredients (makes two 20cm pancakes)

Batter

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (helps achieve a nice golden brown color)
  • 2 2/3 cups water
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons dashi powder (or chicken stock powder)
  • Sesame oil

Fillings

  • 400g thinly-sliced Chinese cabbage
  • 2 green onions, or 6cm of leek, thinly sliced
  • 4 heaping spoonfuls of corn
  • Sliced olives
  • 6-8 pieces of bacon

Topping

  • 250g catsup
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Mayonnaise
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Directions

  • Finely slice cabbage, then squeeze it a bit in your hand to soften it.
  • Mix dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix in dashi, two eggs and water to make a thin batter. Add cabbage and other fillings except bacon, and mix. Loosely mix in the remaining two eggs.
  • In a small saucepan mix catsup and 3-4 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce (to taste) and heat until it has thickened.
  • Over medium heat, add a little sesame oil into a crepe pan (any frying pan will work but the low side of a crepe pan makes them much easier to flip). Spoon the cabbage batter into the frying pan, making a circle about 20cm across – leave about 3cm from the edge of the pan so you can get at it to fllp. More room is needed it the rim is higher – and 2cm thick. Make sure there’s enough batter to hold it together. Neaten the edges by using a spatula to push in the edges and any cabbage or batter that’s sticking out.
  • Put bacon slices on the top side of the pancake.
  • Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. When the bottom has a nice golden color, carefully flip. Cook bacon-side down for another 3-5 minutes; lower the heat if the bacon starts to burn.
  • Flip back over and cook another 4-5 minutes, being careful not to burn the pancake. Flip once more.
  • While cooking bacon-side down cover top with layer of the Worcestershire/catsup sauce. Finally, remove from heat and decorate with mayonnaise, katsuobushi and ao-nori (if on hand).

 

 

Enjoy.