What the heck is okonomiyaki?!
I’m not geeking out on elvish. Okonomiyaki (say it with me now, o-ko-no-mee-YA-kee) is a beloved Japanese street food which originated in Hiroshima and Osaka.
My brother has always been interested in Japanese culture, he’s even worked towards teaching his kids how to speak Japanese and write kanji, and I have a Japanese-American friend who has fed me tasty sushi while protecting my sensitive sensibilities from scary-sounding names. “Just eat it” she says.
Other than those two weak connections to Japanese culture, I really hadn’t been exposed to much from Japan. Not until I met my husband. Tim loves Japanese culture all around and was able to visit Okinawa a few years before we met. He’s introduced me to a lot of really cool things about Japanese culture, my favorite one being the food.
Okonomiyaki is one of the things he introduced me to. I had never heard of it or anything like it before. I was missing out, let me tell you.
Okonomiyaki is a savory dish made on a griddle that many people compare to either a pancake or a pizza. It is a bed of batter and cabbage fried with various toppings that can include but are not limited to, noodles, vegetables, pork, shrimp, scallops, egg, mayo, a sweet sauce, nori (seaweed), bonito flakes, sesame seeds, pickled ginger and so much more. The word “okonomiyaki” means “whatever you like, grilled,” so the sky’s the limit.
The description does not do it justice. This savory treat is absolutely delicious. I was a bit skeptical when Tim described it to me initially, mainly because I am extremely picky when it comes to any kind of seafood or sea flavors. But, I was pleasantly surprised by this warm, flavorful, comforting hodgepodge. And, it’s easy to make at home!
We have always bought a kit at an Asian market, but I have seen lots of recipes online using all purpose flour. Although, to get the authentic flavors you need a lot of ingredients that are not typical in American homes or markets. It seems to be substantially easier to use the kit. You can find the kits online if you don’t live near an Asian market.
The first couple of times we made it, the kit came with instructions in English or at least parts in English. This one did not, so I just Googled some instructions. Easy peasy. We’ve only used pork, but if you feel like using shrimp or something else, go for it. The web is full of ideas, and the dish is called “whatever you like,” after all.
You start by finely shredding 150 grams (about a third of a pound) of green cabbage. Or do what we did and just buy a bag of coleslaw mix.
Then, in a medium mixing bowl mix 80ml (just under 3 ounces) of water with the packet of yam powder. I assumed this was for thickening, but I’m not so sure now. I did find that it provides a smoky, nutty flavor.
After that, mix in the floury mix. Then add the cabbage, 1 egg, about 2 tablespoons, give or take, of green onions, sliced thinly lengthwise, and tenkasu (tempura flakes) and mix well. We also added about a tablespoon of pickled ginger. I highly recommend doing this, it adds such a beautiful, sharp and floral flavor, but you will have to buy it separate from the kit.
Heat a large, oiled skillet with a lid over medium-high heat to just under 400° F. Spread half of the batter in a round shape about 2 cm, or just under an inch, in thickness in the hot skillet.
Cook this for about 3 minutes uncovered, then add 1 1/2 slices of good, thick bacon cut in half to the top and press it down just a bit to help it stick. Traditionally you would use pork belly, which is delicious, but we like the extra saltiness and smoky flavor added by using bacon. I recommend using Wright brand bacon, or buying it from a butcher where you can specify that you want it sliced very thick.
Then flip your okonomiyaki over so that the bacon is on the bottom, place the lid on top, turn your heat up just a bit so that it reaches about 450° F, and let it cook for another 3-4 minutes until the bacon is cooked.
Take the lid off, flip it over again, so the bacon is on top, and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
At this point, we put the finished okonomiyaki in the oven and set it to 180° F to keep it warm while we followed the same process for the other serving. If your skillet is large enough, you could probably cut back on the cooking time by making them both at the same time.
Once they’re both cooked, place them meat side down on a plate and top with the toppings of your choice. You absolutely need okonomiyaki sauce, and Kewpie mayo.
Okonomiyaki sauce is a sweetish sauce that kind of reminds me of hoisin. You want to put on as much as you like and spread it all over or drizzle it on in a pretty pattern.
I really don’t like mayo, but Japanese mayo is much better than American mayo, and you need it on okonomiyaki. If you must use American mayo, use something high quality, like Just Mayo.
After that, add what you like. We added toasted sesame seeds, nori, or aonori flakes (seaweed), bonito flakes (shaved, dried tuna), and more ginger. Bonito flakes are not included in the kit, but Tim already had some. Tim added WAAAY more nori and bonito than I did because he loves seafood. I just want the subtle, underlying flavor profile to be present. He wants to be slapped in the face with it. If he didn’t have the bonito flakes, I would have just skipped it. The cat, however, tried to convince me that she needed dried tuna.
There you have it. A beautiful Japanese “snack”. We had ours for dinner because they are not light on the calories, but follow your heart, or stomach. Enjoy!
Want to know more about okonomiyaki? Click here for the history of the dish.
Want to buy a kit and some sauce? Click here for an online Japanese store.
Want to make it from scratch on your own, kits be damned? Click here for a recipe at Budget Bytes, one of my favorite food blogs. This recipe doesn’t seem to be authentic, but I’m sure it’s still delicious.