Despite the belief that people “eat with their eyes” first, taste is the boss of all senses when it comes to food. But in the case of okonomiyaki, it doesn’t matter much. This savory Japanese pancake is dressed to kill and will make your tastebuds dance in a fit of frenzy; this savory Japanese pancake is life.
When I first started doing my homework for this series, okonomiyaki was the first dish that jumped out at me. With all of it’s golden crisp goodness and striking trimmings, how could it not? I’m a sucker for anything that is crunchy, savory and bursting with umami, and without ever having tried this gem before I could already tell how it would taste; flippin’ delicious. So, undeterred by my lack of familiarity with it, okonomiyaki was the first thing I penned on my list for the Japanese segment of this series. After all, this series is about becoming familiar with East + Southeast Asian food beyond the Americanized menu and encouraging others (yeah, you!) to tap deeper into these culture’s cuisines.
The name okonomiyaki translates to “grilled how you like”. Some restaurants that specialize in okonomiyaki boast a diner-style counter where the chef prepares the dish in front of the patrons; other restaurants pride themselves in being a grill-it-yourself establishment where the server gives patrons the chance to be their own chef with a bowl of uncooked ingredients + hotplates on their tables — similar to Korean BBQ or Shabu-Shabu restaurants.
There are several versions of this dish, including modan-yaki (served with a layer of fried noodles) and negiyaki (a thinner pancake that incorporates a lot more scallions), but okonomiyaki is the most predominant throughout the majority of Japan. Most of the ingredients are common and include eggs, flour, cabbage and dashi, but there are a few shining ingredients that might be new to you.
The nagaimo, Japanese mayo and pickled red ginger.
None of these are essential ingredients, but they’re highly recommended for best results. Your tastebuds will thank you.
The naigaimo is a Chinese yam. Despite it being an optional ingredient, it adds a fluffiness to your pancake that you *don’t* want to miss out on. Most large Asian markets carry it, but if you can’t find it, you can still cook up a stellar okonomiyaki. In fact, I came across several okonomiyaki recipes throughout my research that didn’t include it.
Something worth mentioning is the alarming texture of this yam. (Yes, alarming.) When you first cut into it, it seems like no big deal; it’s like cutting into an apple. But once you start to peel it and expose the inner flesh, it gets slimy and when you grate it… well, you’ll see. Think of me when you do it, and allow your mind to go into the deepest of gutters. *casually sips tea*
Japanese mayo is similar to regular ol’ American mayo, except not. (Whut.) Kewpie, which is Japan’s Hellman’s, has a smoother texture and a tangier flavor than it’s American kin. This is due to the fact that Kewpie increases the egg count, decreases the egg whites, uses vegetable oil, swaps the usual white vinegar for rice vinegar, and adds MSG. Yes, that last ingredient is often disputed, but if you want the true flavor of Japanese mayo, it’s necessary — plain and simple. If you’re the type to hiss at the idea of MSG, don’t fret; stick to what you’re comfortable with.
Onto the ruby-hued pickled red ginger. It’s a thing of beauty, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t fancy the ethereal pink slices served next to sushi. It must be the plum vinegar. Either way, I was originally going to skip out on it, but I’m so glad I didn’t. It adds an incredible zip to the pancake that I can’t picture it without.
Though this dish intimidated me at first, I can say with confidence that it was a breeze to put together and it’s super simple to cook. Due to the girth of each pancake I assumed they’d be difficult to flip without breaking, but everything worked out swimmingly.
Of course, the easiest part was devouring the damn thing.
THIS RECIPE IS PART OF MY EAST SERIES.
In this series, I’ll be covering dishes from Japan, China and Korea to cover East Asia, followed by dishes from Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia to cover Southeast Asia.
Making this recipe? Snap a pic and tag me on Instagram: @Killing__Thyme /#killingthyme. For more delish eats, follow me on INSTAGRAM + PINTEREST.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 2-3 inch piece of Nagaimo/Yamaimo
- 3/4 cup dashi or 3/4 cup water with 1 tsp of dissolved dashi powder
- 1 cups large head of cabbage approx. 8
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup roughly choped shrimp chips or tempura scraps Tenkasu/Agedama
- 1/4 cup pickled red ginger Kizami Beni Shoga, thinly sliced
- Vegetable oil
- 1.5 TBSP honey
- 2 TBSP oyster sauce
- 4 TBSP Sriracha sauce if you want to avoid spicy, you can use ketchup
- 3.5 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
- Okonomiyaki sauce
- Japanese mayonnaise
- Thinly sliced scallions
- Nori Komi Furikake or dried green seaweed powder
- Thinly sliced pickled red ginger
- Some folks enjoy the addition of meat to their okonomiyaki. I like to add cooked and roughly chopped shrimp to mine but you can also use squid or any other meats you fancy. Simply add your meats to the top of the pancake when you initially spoon it onto the pan and press down with a spatula to secure. I always cook my fish prior to this step to avoid it from being undercooked.
In a small bowl, mix together the honey, oyster sauce, Sriracha and Worcestershire sauce. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder; whisk until well blended. Set aside.
Peel the nagaimo and grate it into a small bowl. Die a little, then wash your hands.
Add the grated nagaimo and dashi to the bowl of dry ingredients. Whisk until combined, cover and refrigerate for an hour.
In the meantime, you can cook any meats you plan to add, prepare your Okonomiyaki Sauce and mince your cabbage, core removed. If your cabbage is very moist, press with a paper towel and set it aside to let the moisture evaporate so that it doesn't dilute the batter.
Once the batter has been in the fridge for an hour, remove it and add the eggs, the chopped shrimp chips or tempura scraps and the pickled red ginger. Stir until well-combined.
Add the cabbage to the batter approx. 2 cups at a time. Stir well before adding the rest.
In a large pan, heat the vegetable oil over moderate heat.
Carefully spoon the batter in a circle on the pan (approx. 2 cups worth).
If using meat, place is on top and lightly press into the wet batter to secure. Cook covered for 5 minutes.
Once the bottom side is nicely browned, carefully flip it over.
Gently press down on the okonomiyaki to reshape (if needed) and keep it together.
Cover and cook for another 5 minutes.
Flip over one last time and cook, uncovered, for 2 minutes.
Transfer to a plate or baking sheet and continue with the others until done.
Brush the Okonomiyaki Sauce over the top surface of the pancake, then drizzle the Japanese mayo over it in zigzag lines. Sprinkle some katsuobushi over it, followed by your other toppings. In my case, it was Nori Komi Furikake, thinly sliced scallions and thinly sliced pickled red ginger.