6 Obvious Facts about Okonomiyaki Every Japanese Knows!

6 Obvious Facts about Okonomiyaki Every Japanese Knows!

Whenever I notice my foreign guests becoming ‘weirded out’ by traditional Japanese foods, I introduce them to okonomiyaki. Sometimes called ‘Osaka soul food’ or ‘Japanese pizza’ it is actually neither; I’d describe it as a savory pancake. The word ‘okonomi’ approximates to ‘anything you like’ whilst ‘yaki’ typically refers to frying or grilling, and okonomiyaki certainly allows for great flexibility over the choice of ingredients. Perhaps the easiest way to describe okonomiyaki is to tell you how I make it. Firstly, I make a batter of plain flour and water with powdered dashi, into which I mix shredded cabbage, sliced onion, small shrimps and thin sliced pork ? all pretty standard ingredients. Then I break an egg into the mixture and stir gently without mixing, to get a nice marbling of yolk and white in my okonomiyaki.

The mixture is poured onto a greased hot plate or skillet and coaxed into a round shape about 20cm in diameter and 2-4cm deep, depending on contents. While it’s cooking on the bottom side, I drizzle the top with okonomiyaki sauce, a sweet brown sauce made from dates, and liberally sprinkle it with bonito flakes. If the okonomiyaki isn’t too big, it’ll be easier to turn, which I do as soon as the mixture bubbles on top. The cooked side up is now also given the sauce and bonito treatment and the whole thing turned over a second time. Once cooked, okonomiyaki is given another drizzle of sauce, a lattice of mayonnaise and more bonito flakes before serving.

I hope you’ll remember all of that, as you may have to do it yourself one day! But here are six essential pointers for enjoying your okonomiyaki experience in Japan.



 

6 Obvious Facts about Okonomiyaki Every Japanese Knows!

 

1. How it is Served

Okonomiyaki is cut into manageable slices on the hot plate with a spatula, and served on small plates. Diners may add more sauce, mayonnaise or bonito at this point, and it is eaten with chopsticks. It isn’t normally served with other dishes as it is very filling!

 

2. Local Variations

Although okonomiyaki is closely associated with the Kansai and Osaka regions, it is widely enjoyed throughout Japan, so you can expect some regional differences. In Hiroshima, for example, yakisoba noodles are often added to the mix or as a topping, whilst in Osaka, it often comes as a small serving or side dish, along with with set meals.

 

3. Where to Enjoy Okonomiyaki

Assuming you aren’t fortunate enough to be seated at my table, you will find okonomiyaki served at izakaya (Japanese ‘tapas style’ bars), at festival stalls and tourist spots, or in speciality okonomiyaki restaurants. Often, you won’t see your food being prepared, but the best experience is had at restaurants where you cook it yourself on a hot plate built into the table!

 

4. Hot Plate Cooking at the Table

This is the best experience of okonomiyaki. Nothing could be more fun than a group of friends all trying to cooperate to turn the provided ingredients into okonomiyaki, especially when the beer’s flowing freely! And it doesn’t really matter if the whole thing falls apart as soon as you try to turn it over… it’ll still taste the same!

 

5. Constructing Your Okonomiyaki

Of course, the problem in cooperative efforts is that everybody has their own way of doing things. I mix all the ingredients in together, whilst others prefer to add pork and shrimp as toppings, and still others like to layer or sandwich ingredients. Some people add mayonnaise before each turn, suffusing the okonomiyaki’s surface with its flavor. But however we like to do it, there’s always room on a hot plate for two or three okonomiyaki to cook at the same time, so competitions for whose is best add to the fun.

 

6. Modern Style

Popular in recent years is modanyaki, a term said to be derived from the English word ‘modern’ and meaning modern style okonomiyaki, which seems to combine a number of ideas, such as layering ingredients, adding fried noodles or thinly sliced potato, substituting chicken for pork, adding cheese and making bite-sized okonomiyaki.

 

Conclusion

Of all the popular Japanese dishes, okonomiyaki is perhaps the most suited to the Western palate, as well as being a fun and social food experience, which is why I like to serve it to my guests. So, while you’re in Japan, please try okonomiyaki… I’m sure you’ll love it, even when it falls apart!

 

6 Obvious Facts about Okonomiyaki Every Japanese Knows!

1. How it is Served
2. Local Variations
3. Where to Enjoy Okonomiyaki
4. Hot Plate Cooking at the Table
5. Constructing Your Okonomiyaki
6. Modern Style