If you stick to what is considered mainstream Japanese food at Japanese restaurants outside of Japan, you are probably used to — and perhaps just a wee bit more comfortable with — things like tempura, chicken or beef teriyaki, and of course sushi. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, there’s a lot that is really right about that, because one of the less well-known foods we’ll be talking about today is called “okonomiyaki,” a food that is not as healthy as some people may think all Japanese food is. But set aside those preconceptions for just a bit and dive in to this griddle-fried pancake that’s chock full of surprises.
First, let’s start with the foundation, which is a batter made of flour and (here’s where we depart from the Western idea of what a “pancake” is) grated yam. Water or sometimes a soup stock is added to the mix, and with that you have your starting point for things more creative. From here, depending on the okonomiyaki variety, cabbage and other vegetables, meat (including scrumptious things like slow cooked pork tendons), or seafood may be added. A nice thick slice of bacon often completes the delicious landscape.
The pancake completely cooked, the next step is to top it. “The works” is generally comprised of “sauce,” which is a thick, sweet but slightly tangy, dark brown sauce, followed by a latticework or mayonnaise, then topped with a snowfall of dried bonito (fish) flakes and dried seaweed.
Sometimes you get to (have to?) cook the entire pancake at your own table, but more often than not, the kitchen will cook it up for you and then deliver it to a holding grill where you are sitting. Regardless, you are given a small metal spatula, with which you are to cut up the pancake into little pie slice sized pieces, then transport it from the grill to your plate. For something extra Osaka-style, add a little ponzu sauce for some bonus zest.
Looking to try Okonomiyaki in Tokyo?
Japan Gourmetpedia recommends using our sister site, Tokyo Dinner Ticket, to find the perfect restaurant.