Okonomiyaki may be one of my favorite Japanese dishes. (Along with ramen, tempura, sashimi, sushi, gomadango, sekihan onigiri, hotou, taiyaki…ok it’s too hard to choose!)
It’s hard to define okonomiyaki–but it’s often referred to as a “Japanese pancake,” although that name doesn’t really do it justice since a lot more goes into okonomiyaki.
A while ago I had my students write about different Japanese dishes, and then I sent them to the high school in the city where I used to work as a teacher in the US. The students taking Japanese there then went to various restaurants or Asian grocery stores to try and eat the food that was described to them. I haven’t got the results back yet about how it went, but I imagine it was difficult to find okonomiyaki. I’m almost certain no restaurant in our area would have it on the menu. It might be possible that the students could find the correct ingredients at an Asian grocery store and then make it at home, but I’m not sure.
Anyway, I will let my students enlighten you about okonomiyaki. Here is one on of the descriptions from a student:
When you go to an okonomiyaki restaurant, you will most likely be seated at a table with a grill in the middle. There are the occasional okonomiyaki restaurant where the chef does the cooking for you, in which case you will sit at a regular table and the following information won’t be necessary for you to enjoy your dinner.
Once you order you will be given a bowl of ingredients.
Usually this will include various vegetables, a raw egg, and meat. I also like to make sure I order one with some cheese. Yum! You can easily order it vegetarian style, too. Once you get the bowl you should mix up all the ingredients. It will look pretty messy.
Then you should put some oil on the grill. (You should make sure the grill is on, although usually one of the servers will have turned it on for you and will have shown you where the controls are, and will warn you to be careful.) At the side of the table there are usually many different bottles, and usually one of them will be the oil. Sometimes the server will bring you the oil along with your bowl of ingredients, however. After the grill is oiled up, go ahead and dump all your ingredients onto the grill.
Keep the ingredients close together and form them into a pancake shape. Let one side cook for awhile, carefully checking the underside every once and awhile to make sure it doesn’t burn. Once one side is finish, flip it over. Flipping it can be difficult and you might make a bit of a mess. It’s definitely not as easy as flipping a pancake. As you can see we failed in our flipping with this okonomiyaki. If that happens, you just have to carefully flip it over piece by piece.
Even if you made a mistake in your flipping, it’s fairly easy to cover up your errors with the sauces and other toppings provided. You should definitely spread the okonomiyaki sauce over the top. (Apparently okonomiyaki sauce is a mixture of Worcester, tomato, and soy sauces–it’s incredibly delicious.) You can also add ao-nori (a type of seaweed, it’s the little green bits in the picture), katsuobushi (fish flakes–I don’t like them so they aren’t on my okonomiyaki), among other things. I would say the standard okonomiyaki would have sauce, ao-nori, katsuobushi, and mayonnaise on top. All of these extra items should be on the table already. When it’s ready to go you can cut it into pieces and serve.
These pictures were taken months and months ago in Harajuku. The restaurant, Sakuratei, is right next to DesignFesta–an interesting art gallery. I’m still not entirely sure if the restaurant and the gallery are connected in some way. The restaurant isn’t mentioned on DesignFesta’s website, but they are actually physically connected within the building. DesignFesta does mention the restaurant on their blog, here. It was a really fun place with really quirky decor and art, and of course the okonomiyaki was delicious.