Friday food treat: Okonomiyaki



Today’s food treat is okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients. This dish is usually associated with Osaka (Kansai region) or Hiroshima.

What does okonomiyaki mean?
Okonomi, means “how you like” or “what you like”, and yaki means “grill”. That means that there is no “one” way to make the dish and no “one” recipe that defines it.  As such the toppings and batters vary according to both the region and the chef’s discretion. Size also varies. Tokyo okonomiyaki is usually smaller than a Hiroshima or Kansai okonomiyaki.

Origins of this dish
Okonomiyaki was invented before World War II and evolved and became popular during and after the war when rice was scarce and people had to be creative in using other more readily available ingredients. A simple wheat pancake emerged. Later people started to add ingredients such as eggs, pork and cabbage. However, its origins predate this.

  • In the Edo period (1683-1868) period a special desert served at Buddhist ceremonies was called Funoyaki.
  • During the Meiji period (1868-1912) it developed into a sweeter dish called Sukesoyaki.
  • In the 1920s and 1930s it evolved with more emphasis on the sauces and the name Yoshokuyaki
  • The late 1930s saw the name okonomiyaki being used in Osaka.
    At the same time in Hiroshima a similar crepe-like food was popular. It was topped with onions, folded over, and served to children as a snack item.
  •  A restaurant from Osaka claims to have been the first to add Mayonnaise in 1946.

What it’s like
Okonomiyaki is rather like a vegetable fritter. I made this one with shredded cabbage, eshallots, eggs, bacon strips, flour and some crunchy deep fried tempura batter. Most ingredients are combined to make a batter, then poured into a pan to cook. Before covering the pan you lie pork belly strips on the upper side. The pancake is cooked on each side and then the first side again.

When served, you spread okonomiyaki sauce over the pancake, then drizzle it with mayonnaise. Okonomiyaki sauce is made from tomato sauce (ketchup), Worcestershire sauce and honey/sugar/soy sauce.

Okonomiyaki can be served with a layer of fried noodles (yakisoba or udon), to make modan-yaki, which means modern grill. It can also be called mori dakusan which means “a lot” or “piled high” so named because of the piled presentation.

In Hiroshima, ingredients are layered not mixed. There the layers are batter, cabbage and pork with optional ingredients like squid, octopus and cheese. Noodles can be used as a topping with a fried egg and okonomiyaki sauce.

Apparently in Hiroshima 3-4 times more cabbage is used than in the Osaka style okonomiyaki. The layers reflect the chef’s style and ingredients can be varied to suit the customer. This style is also called Hiroshima-yaki or Hiroshima-okonomi.

Itadakimasu! (Japanese version of bon appetit)
Okonomiyaki is tasty and has a lot of vegetable content. Garnishing with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise brings a sweetness to the otherwise savoury dish. I think it’s a meal to have occasionally, not every day. The bigger test, rests with Monsieur Contrôleur. The verdict – I can serve that one again!

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