Okonomiyaki is halfway between a pancake and an omelette. This traditional dish is a staple of Japanese cuisine.
It is rare to find okonomiyaki in the Western world. Yet, in Japan, there are small okonomiyaki restaurants on every street corner.
In fact, Tsukishima District is particularly known for its okonomiyaki and monjayaki restaurants. In Japan, traditional okonomiyaki restaurants give guests a bowl with all the ingredients they need to prepare their cabbage pancake. They then cook it themselves on a large hotplate before adding toppings of their choice.
What is okonomiyaki?
This is a typical Japanese dish without an equivalent in the West. It is often compared to a pizza or a pancake. Some even compare it to an omelette.
In fact, traditional okonomiyaki is closer to a big cabbage patty that is fried on a typical hotplate called teppan. IIt can also be prepared in a pan.
Etymologically, the word yaki means “grilling” or “cooking”. The word okonomi means “what you crave” or “what you want”. This is the reason why there are several okonomiyaki recipes and several variants.
However, three variants stand out:
- Kansai okonomiyaki (also known as Osaka okonomiyaki)
- Hiroshima okonomiyaki
- Tokyo okonomiyaki
Among the main ingredients that make up okonomiyaki, you can usually find eggs, pork or turkey, cabbage, green onions and dashi (fish broth). It is also customary in some cities to add shrimp, cuttlefish, cheese, and aonori algae.
Okonomiyaki dough usually contains flour and dried fish (bonito, dashi broth). At the end of cooking, it is covered with a special sauce called okonomi sauce.
People finally decorate okonomiyaki with Japanese mayonnaise sauce. Japanese mayonnaise is more liquid and spiced than traditional mayonnaise.
The recipe presented here is that of the Osaka okonomiyaki. In this recipe, finely chopped cabbage and green onion are introduced into the dough, which has been prepared beforehand.
What is the origin of okonomiyaki?
The Okonomiyaki recipe dates back to before the Second World War but spread throughout Japan after the war. The oldest known recipe dates back to the Edo era (1683-1868). During this isolationist period, trade with the outside world (the West) was forbidden. The Japanese people were also mainly focused on Japanese culture and local cuisine.
The first okonomiyaki recipe was actually a sweet recipe. Thus, the ancestor of this Japanese dish was called funoyaki. It was a sweet crepe that was usually prepared in monasteries and served for Buddhist religious ceremonies.
The funoyaki recipe then evolved during the Meiji period, which extends from 1868 to 1912. The original crepe became even sweeter. However, the making of this dessert spread outside of the monasteries and some stores began to offer it. Mojiyaki (文字焼き) was born.
After the 1923 earthquake in Kanto, the population began to consume savory okonomiyaki because people lacked cooking equipment. These pancakes had a very practical side: they were quickly and easily made, and required very little equipment.
The population began to consume less and less sweet okonomyaki. It was only after the Second World War, a period after which rice became scarce, that consumption of okonomiyaki became more widespread. Indeed, it was now possible to make a meal without rice. A trend had emerged. Okonomiyaki’s savory recipe began to set in as a tradition.
Why is okonomiyaki so special?
What sets okonomiyaki apart are the toppings that are added. It is common to cover this cabbage pancake with slices of green onion, red ginger, or bonito flakes.
Katsuoboshi pink flakes may also be added. Katsuoboshi literally means “dancing fish”. Indeed, these light flakes tend to move around during cooking. It is also common to use a small algae called aonori.
Bonito is a very common fish in Japan. It is consumed as tataki, sushi or sashimi in Japanese cuisine.
In the okonomiyaki recipe, it is used in flakes as a topping as well as in sauce: bonito is one of the main components of dashi.
Okonomi sauce is one of the key ingredients in this traditional Japanese dish. This thick brown sauce often contains sake vinegar (mirin), Worcestershire sauce and ketchup. It is applied with a brush as soon as okonomiyaki is cooked. It is a rather sweet sauce with a slight smoky taste.
Finally, the secret ingredient of the Osaka okonomiyaki is tenkasu. Tenkasu is a tempura based product easily found in Asian grocery stores. It is made of puffed rice flakes. It adds a lot of taste and texture to okonomiyaki thanks to the crunchiness it provides.
Negiyaki is certainly the pancake most similar to okonomiyaki. Its main ingredient is not white cabbage but green onion. It is therefore a pancake made with green onions. Negiyaki is also very similar to the Korean pancake called pajeon or the Chinese pancake called cong you bing.
Hiroshima okonomiyaki is also popular in Japan. It is prepared by cooking finely chopped ingredients separately in successive layers before adding the dough. Moreover, in Fuchū (Hiroshima), there is a tendency to use ground meat rather than pork belly in the recipe.
Takoyaki differs from okonomiyaki but is often served in okonomiyaki restaurants. Takoyaki is usually prepared with octopus (called tako in Japanese). It is decorated with the same toppings as those of okonomiyaki.
Tokyo okonomyaki is called monjaki. The main ingredients are fried separately then placed in a circle on the teppan pan. The dough is then added in the middle and okonomiyaki is cooked. This okonomiyaki dough is much more liquid than in other okonomyaki recipes.
Some okonomiyaki recipes use pasta (udon or soba type): okonomiyaki nikudama is one of those.
Making okonomiyaki certainly requires some preparation beforehand but the cooking is very fast. Do not hesitate to modify the toppings to your liking
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ tablespoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ⅓ lb nagaimo or yamaimo (Japanese yam), peeled and finely grated
- ¾ cup dashi
- 1 large head white cabbage (about 1½ lb)
- 8 oz. thin slices of pork belly
- 4 large eggs , beaten
- 8 tablespoons tenkasu or agedama (crunchy pieces of tempura dough)
- 4 tablespoons marinated red ginger (beni shoga or kizami beni shoga)
- 5 tablespoons rapeseed oil
- 1½ tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 4 tablespoons ketchup
- 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- Put flour, sugar, salt, baking powder in a large bowl and mix well.
- Add grated nagaimo and dashi.
- Mix for 5 minutes.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
- In a bowl, gather all the ingredients for the okonomiyaki sauce.
- Mix everything until the sugar is completely dissolved
- Remove the center of the white cabbage and grate or chop very finely.
- Place in a colander to allow moisture to evaporate.
- Cut pork belly slices in half and set aside.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and add the 4 large eggs, the tenkasu or agedama (crispy pieces of tempura dough), marinated red ginger, and mix well for a few minutes.
- Add a third of the cabbage to the dough. Mix well, and repeat twice.
In a medium frying pan, heat oil over medium heat. When the pan reaches about 390 F (200 C), spread the dough in a circle (about 1 inch thick) in the pan.
- Place 2 or 3 slices of pork belly on the okonomiyaki, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.
- When the bottom is golden brown, turn it over.
- Gently press the okonomiyaki to hold it together. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Flip one last time and cook uncovered for 1 minute on each side.
- Repeat the operation with the rest of the dough.
- Spread okonomiyaki sauce on the pancake with a brush, and add Japanese mayonnaise.
- Sprinkle with katsuobushi flakes.
- Place some aonori (dried green algae), chopped green onions and marinated red ginger.