The ExPat Returneth

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Okonomiyaki: The Pancake That Isn't a Pancake

The quickest way to wax nostalgic is through the stomach. 

Yakisoba--stir fried noodles sometimes put in Hiroshimayaki
At least for us. Which is why we started cooking Japanese food. We continue to cook it because most of the home-cooking dishes are simple, affordable and delicious. And fun. Grilling or cooking your own food at a restaurant is popular in Japan. Our kids especially loved these restaurants. One of their favorite things to cook was okonomiyaki, which translates as "cook how you like." It looks like a giant pancake, but the flavors are savory not sweet. And like all good Japanese food, it tastes great with beer.

Okonomiyaki covered with
 (top to bottom):
Katsuobushi flakes,
Aonori (seaweed),
 and okonomiyaki sauce.
Don't let the toppings scare you away!
Remember cook how you like!
As you can decipher from the translation, you can cook okonomiyaki with a variety of ingredients and differences in cooking technique. There is regional pride in different styles of okonomiyaki. Our friend from Hiroshima swears by Hiroshimayaki style and voluntarily cooked it at our house for our edification. Tokyo and Osaka have their own variations in cooking. has a great okonomiyaki page with a sample menu of all the different ingredients. All okonomiyaki begins with a pancake-like batter with cabbage in it. You can take in many different directions from there. 

I stole this recipe from a wonderful site called Okonomiyaki World. Check them out for okonomiyaki information. You can also buy ingredients on this site like the flour, sauce, and Japanese mayonnaise. Good to know for all you expat returnees who miss your food and have no Asian grocer close to home.

When we make okonomiyaki at home, we use the recipe on the flour bag (DH can read Japanese). As for ingredients, we wing it. We are partial to bacon and corn, lots of sauce, and Kewpie mayo. Sometimes we toss in whatever we've got leftover in the fridge. But you know, it's okonomiyaki. Use whatever you want.

*You'll find this recipe also on the recipe page at this site.*

SIMPLE OKONOMIYAKI (thanks to Okonomiyaki World):

One popular brand of
okonomiyaki flour
1 cup Okonomiyaki flour (found at most Asian food stores) 
or all-purpose flour (you can get fancy and add potato or yam starch to make it stickier, but regular flour will work)
2/3 cup water

Whisk flour and water together until smooth in the largest bowl you've got.

To batter stir in (but don't overmix):
2 eggs
4 cups of shredded cabbage

Other stuff you can mix in:
thinly sliced green onions (about 2 stalks)
pickled ginger (found in Asian stores)
raw shrimp in 1/2" chunks or very small shrimp
Or other foods of similar size, (check for Japanese menu choices)
You could use cooked chicken (cut into 1/2" chunks), veggies (partially cooked for thicker veg), other seafoods and meat. 

(IMHO cheese is delicious in okonomiyaki even though we were skeptical before trying it at our favorite okonomiyaki joint in Japan. Kind of a cabbagey grilled cheese.)
The ever popular
Kewpie Mayo

Stuff to put on the pancake while cooking:
Bacon, about 6 strips cut into 3" pieces

Traditional toppings after it's cooked (best in this order):
Kewpie or other Japanese Mayonnaise 
(This kind of food is one of the reasons why Japanese mayo comes in a squirt bottle. It's a topper, not a sandwich condiment).
Aonori (seaweed flakes)
Katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)

A variety of
okonomiyaki sauce.
*Once again, the toppings are your choice but it's not the same without the sauce. You can buy okonomiyaki sauce or make it.

3 TB ketchup
1 TB Worcestershire sauce
1 ts Soy Sauce

The technique:
Oil a griddle to about 400F (200C) and pour about 1/2 the batter into a pancake shape or all batter into 2 shapes if you've got the room. 

Flatten the pancake with a spatula to about 3/4" and about 12" wide.

Add bacon pieces to cover the top of each pancake. You can also brush on some sauce now, if you like it saucy.

After about 3 minutes, flip the pancake (bacon side down) and cook for another 4 minutes. It's tricky to flip! Don't sweat the mess. 

Brush with sauce and flip pancake again (bacon side up) and cook for another 3 minutes or until firm and well browned. 

Remove to plate and drizzle with okonomiyaki sauce. Make lovely patterns with your squirty mayo. Sprinkle with Aonori and Katusobushi (or not).

Eat it hot! It's not a reheat type of food.
Okay, it's not super healthy unless you skip the sauce, mayo, bacon, etc. But dagnabbit, it is delicious. And pretty fun!

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