The upcoming Olympic Games have me thinking about Japan and how much I loved visiting there – mostly to eat!
Okonomiyaki, in particular, is one of my all-time favourite meals. A very loose English translation of the root Japanese word okonomi is “as you like” and this savoury pancake can be made in so many different variations, so the name is extremely fitting.
The components of a good okonomiyaki depend on where in Japan you’re dining. If you’re eating Osaka- (or Kansai-) style, it usually has a batter made with dashi (Japanese stock), finely shredded cabbage, thinly sliced pork, green onion and grated yam.
The other most popular way would be Hiroshima-style, which is a layered version (instead of everything being mixed into a batter) and generally includes a layer of fried noodles and egg.
Okonomiyaki is usually topped with a mixture of Kewpie mayonnaise (Japanese mayo) and okonomiyaki sauce, which tastes kind of like a sweeter brown sauce.
I actually mix brown sauce with a sweet, fruity hoisin to make something which tastes similar (never the same though).
These were quick trips, but we always stayed right in the middle of the Osaka action: Namba Station
Then, the pancake is usually sprinkled with bonito flakes (dried fish – delicious) and some seaweed flakes.
I spent some time in Osaka in and around 2007-2008 – I was living in Korea at the time, and in order to activate your work visa you had to do something called a “visa run” – sometimes, you’d be sent to China but, more commonly, you were sent to Japan for a night or two to visit the Korean embassy and have your work visa activated.
These were quick trips, but we always stayed right in the middle of the Osaka action: Namba Station.
There would be all kinds of amazing food at your fingertips, but okonomiyaki (paired with an ice-cold beer) was the ideal dinner for a hot summer evening; much like the weather we’ve been having this past week.
Here in Tipperary, I just do my best with what’s available to me
Okonomiyaki is one of those iconic Japanese dishes which isn’t easily recreated in your own home. In Japan, it’s generally made on a flat-top grill with large, wide spatulas which make flipping and layering much easier.
Here in Tipperary, I just do my best with what’s available to me. I don’t usually have dashi or bonito flakes in my pantry, so I use dried seaweed and sometime fish sauce in the batter for a bit of extra flavour.
If you’re interested in trying something more authentic, Miyazaki in Cork or Wa Sushi in Galway are both restaurants run by some of Ireland’s most talented Japanese chefs
The bacon and cabbage is easily got though, and I had some delicious Magner’s Farm mayonnaise to use instead of traditional Kewpie. This is my recipe for an attempted at-home okonomiyaki.
If you’re interested in trying something more authentic, Miyazaki in Cork or Wa Sushi in Galway are both restaurants run by some of Ireland’s most talented Japanese chefs (and my favourite spots to eat Japanese food in Ireland).
I find the best way to get the texture I’m looking for (which is soft on the inside and lightly crispy on the outside) is to drizzle the batter over the cabbage; just enough to hold everything together. I am generous with the oil in the pan, as well, and I play around with the heat – starting off low to cook the cabbage and then turning it up to medium at the end to brown and crisp the outsides.
Okonomiyaki-style bacon and cabbage pancake
Serves four to six
1 medium-sized green cabbage, thinly sliced and washed
1 bunch green onion, thinly sliced
12 thick-cut or streaky rashers, seared and set aside
130g plain flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp dulse flakes (with extra more for garnish)
1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
Vegetable oil (for frying)
Fried or omelette egg (1 per pancake; optional)
Brown sauce and hoisin, mixed
Bonito flakes (if you can get them)