I was introduced to okonomiyaki about four years ago by a friend who lived in Osaka — the region of Japan where the cabbage pancake is said to have originated. My friend, Joe, insisted I try the dish that he fell in love with during his years in Japan’s third largest city. When I asked him what made okonomiyaki so good and so unforgettable, he couldn’t really explain it.
“It’s a Japanese cabbage pancake with bacon and mayo,” he said. “It’s just really good.” Not the most appetizing description but it sounded interesting enough, so I indulged him when he offered to make it for me.
A basic okonomiyaki is a savory pancake with cabbage and green onions mixed in the batter. It’s usually topped with mayo, okonomi sauce (something akin to a thick Worcestershire sauce), aonori (seaweed flakes) and katsuobushi (thin shavings of dry-aged smoked fish). Regional variations of okonomiyaki toppings can also include slices of pork, beef, seafood and even yakisoba noodles.
My description may not be that much more enticing than my friend’s, but at least it’s a bit more descriptive.
I would be lying if I said I loved okonomiyaki immediately. But being a grateful guest, I kept eating and after my a few bites, I sort of began to understand what Joe and millions of others find so appealing about the dish. The odd mix of flavors is strangely addictive.
I didn’t fully comprehend okonomiyaki until my second encounter with it.
Last year, while I was in Los Angeles visiting family, I had a chance to attend the 626 Night Market, which is a multi-day street festival celebrating Asian culture. There were over 150 vendors on hand and a majority of them were food stands.
I spotted an okonomiyaki stand where the Japanese street food staple was being made-to-order. The smell of the batter searing on the griddles sold me and I asked for one with everything on it.
This time, my first mouth full was revelatory. It was at this moment I realized how amazing a good okonomiyaki really is. It’s incredibly complex in both flavor and texture.
At its best, okonomiyaki is sweet and savory — the sauces add creaminess while the GBD (Golden Brown and Delicious) edges provide a slight crisp and crunch. And when slabs of bacon are involved, a smoky element is introduced.
I crave it from time to time. While there aren’t any okonomiyaki places in Salt Lake, it’s relatively easy to make at home. Here’s my recipe, which I adapted from one I found on a package of Japanese flour.
Enough to make two large pancakes about 8 inches in diameter.
1 cup Okonomiyaki flour (or all-purpose flour)
3/4 cup (dashi or water)
2 large eggs
2 cups of roughly chopped cabbage
2 stalks of green onion, chopped
Vegetable oil for cooking
Combine flour and dashi in a large mixing bowl. Whisk until the batter is smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the mixture to cool in a refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.
While waiting for the batter to set, cook the slices of bacon to your preference (I like mine pretty crispy) and set it aside.
Add the cabbage, green onions and eggs to the batter and mix just enough to combine the yolks with the rest of the mixture. Do not over mix.
Heat a large pan to medium-high heat and lightly oil it. Add the batter in the pan and form a round shape. Cook each side for 4 minutes to get it GBD.
When the pancakes are done, top with slices of bacon then drizzle with mayo and okonomi sauce. Sprinkle aonori and apply katsuobushi flakes liberally.