Okonomiyaki means ‘grilled as you like it’, and it’s a really fun dish to make. It’s sometimes called ‘Japanese pancake’ or ‘Japanese pizza’ but it’s not really either. It’s most popular in Osaka and Hiroshima, and both cities claim to have the best version. I’ll let you decide for yourself, so try the Hiroshimayaki recipe as well. This dish originated in the post- Second World War period, when there was a huge famine and shortage of rice in Japan, so wheat was incorporated into the diet instead. This was also the time when ramen started to gain popularity, for the same reason. As the name suggests, you can literally put what you want in it, but this recipe is the most classic one. Traditionally, it’s cooked over a cast iron hotplate or ‘teppan’, but it works fine in a non-stick frying pan with a thick base, just make sure it is smoking hot before you add the batter.
How to make Okonomiyaki
Makes: For 4 people
Time to prepare: 35 minutes
½ large Chinese cabbage (300g+)
4 spring onions (=one small bunch)
40g pickled sushi ginger
16 slices of smoked bacon
80g tonkatsu sauce (see my recipe, or buy it in Asian shops)
a handful of bonito flakes
a pinch of aonori flakes (optional)
250g cold dashi (or water)
120g type ’00’ flour
40g potato flour
non-stick flat frying pan or pancake pan
2 flat spatulas
1. Cut the ½ cabbage down the middle lengthways and discard the core. Then slice into very thin strips. Finely slice the spring onions and wash them under cold running water using a fine sieve. Chop the pickled ginger into small pieces.
2. Place all the chopped vegetables into a bowl, then add the eggs. Mix it together very gently with a spatula, so that the egg just coats the ingredients. Do not beat.
3. Whisk the cold dashi, flour, potato flour, and salt together to a smooth batter. Switch on the heat to warm up the frying pan.
4. Pour the batter into the bowl with the vegetables, and mix it gently. Mixing too much will create a very dense, heavy pancake, so keep it light. Make sure you only add the batter to the vegetables at the last minute before cooking. If you leave the vegetables in the batter too long, the water will come out and you’ll have a soggy mess that’s impossible to flip without breaking.
5. Pour ¼ of the mixture into a very hot non-stick frying pan (you don’t need any oil). Immediately shape it into a circle using a flat spatula.
6. Continue bringing any batter that escapes back into the centre, until the mixture holds together. Push down on the top so the pancake is nice and compact, put don’t squash it too much.
7. Now add 3 or 4 slices of bacon to cover the surface. Push them down using the spatula so that they stick.
8. Once the okonomiyaki starts to slide in the pan when you shake it (about 5 to 6 minutes), lift up the edge to see if it’s a nice dark brown. Once it is, flip the whole thing over using two flat spatulas.
9. Immediately collect any batter or vegetables that escape, and bring it together with the spatula. Turn down the heat to medium, and cook until the bacon is crispy (about 3 or 4 minutes). Repeat steps 5 to 9 to cook the other ones. You can use two pans at a time if you’re feeling confident.
10. Once the bacon is crispy, flip the okonomiyaki back over, and switch off the heat.
11. Cover the top with mayonnaise, then tonkatsu sauce, and finish the top with bonito and aonori. Watch the bonito dance, and eat while it’s hot!