First published Nov 2013.
What is Okonomiyaki?
It’s a traditional Japanese savoury pancake that is sometimes also called Japanese pizza and is a very popular festival (matsuri) street food in Japan. There are many Okonomiyaki-ya, or Japanese restaurants that serve this delicious pancake, where you can even make your own with tables that have built in grill, or teppan.
It bears similarities to the Korean pajeon (spring onion pancake), and its batter is made with a combination of flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, tempura scraps and various protein like pork belly slices. But this is a recipe that you can completely make your own, fill it with your choice of protein or keep it strictly vegetarian, it’s really up to you.
Let’s do our usual language lesson:
Okonomiyaki is a portmanteau of 2 Japanese words:
Okonomi = what you like
Yaki = grilled or cooked (as in Yakitori)
Okonomiyaki = grill what you like
We love having it for lunch and it also makes great finger food, cut up in squares, much like the Spanish tortilla.
Nagaimo – like a yam, this is, to the Japanese, a must have ingredient in the making of Okonomiyaki. It makes the batter fluffier and prevents the final product from being too dough-y. If you have access to Oriental stores, you might be able to find it pre shredded in packets. My Japanese friends here, use a handful of shredded potato instead, which they insist, gives you the same effect.
I often make Okonomiyaki without either, as you will see in the video below, and yes, there is a definite difference in the texture.
Tempura Scraps (Tenkasu) – another must have ingredient to achieve a fluffy Okonomiyaki. I must confess that I often leave this out and sometimes even substitute it with some crispy fried shallots, which don’t quite give the same effect, but it’s a nice flavour enhancer, anyway!
If you don’t happen to be making any tempura prior to making Okonomiyaki, make some batter, heat some oil, dip a fork in your batter and drop the tempura batter in little drips into the hot oil. Fry for a couple of minutes, fish them out and leave to drain before using. If you can be bothered. I do this sometimes.
Dashi – click here for recipe and to read more. Dashi is Japanese stock that is made from a combination of shiitake, kombu, katsuobushi, etc. Very easy to make and can be frozen. You can substitute this with some light stock, whether homemade, or made up with a stockpot/stock cube. But make it half strength. Or just use water, there are enough flavourings here for it not to really matter, dashi or stock, just gives the Okonomiyaki batter a more rounded flavour.
- meat – think pork belly, bacon, chicken strips, mince, whatever you fancy
- seafood – octopus is in fact a very common ingredient in Okonomiyaki. I love sardines (brined), squids and prawns too, all all sorts of fresh fish
- vegetables – cabbage is one of the “standard” filling sin Okonomiyaki, but there really is no restriction. However, whatever you use, slice it thinly or shred it, as we will be doing with the cabbage here. I also love green beans and spring onions (scallions).
In today’s recipe, I’ve gone for canned sardines, which I just adore as a pizza topping and they go so well in this too!
Okonomiyaki Toppings and Sauces
Okonomiyaki is always topped with sauces and other garnish, and the flavour comes as much from what you add to the batter, as these toppings and garnish. Okonomiyaki is an extremely easy and quick recipe to put together and you can be as conservative or as flamboyant as you like with regards to the fillings used as well as the toppings.
Essential Okonomiyaki Toppings
Katsuobushi – click here to read more. These are dried bonito or tuna flakes, and they scream umami. I use these very freely in my kitchen, on noodles, fried rice, soups and always, always, on Okonomiyaki. If you can’t get hold of them, leave them out.
Nori – this is the seaweed that is used to wrap sushi. Another indispensable ingredient, I love crumbling it up and sprinkling it, once again, over noodles, rice and soups, and that’s exactly how we use it on Okonomiyaki.
Okonomiyaki Sauces – interestingly enough, Japanese mayonnaise is a standard sauce that’s drizzled over this pancake; the Japanese love their mayonnaise! Use any regular mayonnaise you can get your hands on, is fine.
Okonomiyaki Sauce can make or break the final dish, I give you a simple Okonomiyaki sauce recipe that I learnt from my Japanese culinary teacher – my old landlady. But as you can see from the images here, I am just as happy to use chilli sauce; what can I say, I love my chillies!
Okonomiyaki Japanese Savoury Pancake
Okonomiyaki – Japanese Savoury Pancake
Okonomiyaki Japanese Savoury Pancake