And as soon as I said, or rather, thought "okonomiyaki", I suddenly realized I missed Japan. Yes, okonomiyaki is a Japanese dish, and it's a perfect excuse to talk about Japan today!
The first time I tried okonomiyaki was at a nondescript okonomiyaki-only joint somewhere in the boonies of the northern Kanto Plain. There was no mistaking it for anything else - it was a Japanese restaurant serving Japanese food.
The guests sat on the floor, but unlike at more traditional places, we didn't have to sit seiza. Under each table there was a special hole to put your legs in, so even though you sat on the floor, it was the same as sitting on a chair. Sounds very strange, but trust me, it's really comfortable.
In the middle of the table there is a hot griddle where the guests cook their own food. Yep, you cook your own food. Yep, at a restaurant. Sounds odd, but actually, it's a lot of fun. We chose the option of "tabehoudai" meaning "eat as much as you want" with the time limit of 2 hours. That meant within 2 hours we could order as much as we wanted, and eat until our clothes wouldn't fit anymore. And that is all fine and dandy, but what exactly did we eat? What is this "okonomiyaki" thing?
I've seen it called "Japanese pizza" or "Japanese pancake", but my hosts assured me that both of these descriptions are totally incorrect. Okonomiyaki simply means "fry what you want", and as long as you follow a few simple guidelines, you can indeed "fry what you want" for your okonomiyaki.
The main ingredient in okonomiyaki is cabbage, and to that cabbage you can add whatever you like - from pieces of chicken or seafood, to cheese and bacon. The only rule is that there are no rules! Sounds scary? It's not! It's delicious!
The batter to hold it all together is made from a mix of flour and potato starch, you add some water, an egg, mix it all together, and voila! You have your very own okonomiyaki. Fry on both sides, pour some sweet and tangy sauce on it, sprinkle some crushed seaweed, add some bonito flakes, and enjoy.
There are many regional varieties of okonomiyaki, but all have this in common - cabbage in the mix, pancake shaped, fried. And so we mixed and we fried and we ate until we could eat no more.
My hosts insisted that in addition to okonomiyaki, I also try monjayaki. Hmmm… how shall I say it? It was an interesting experience.
Monjayaki looks like something regurgitated by a very sick feline. You have to close your eyes in order to be able to put it in your mouth.
But once in your mouth? Bam! It's delicious! I don't know how the Japanese have managed to do this. How something that looks so vile can be so tasty. It really takes a lot of skill and imagination to be able to accomplish it.
So, are you hungry now? I know I am. Do you want to make okonomiyaki with me? Yes? Don't worry, it's really simple. Let's try to do it together! We will need:
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 egg (or 2, if you like eggs)
- a pinch of salt
- 1 T potato starch, or potato flour
- plain flour - as much as necessary
Mix everything, make sure it's not too runny or too thick. Add water and flour as needed. It should resemble pancake batter. To this batter you add:
- shredded cabbage - as much as you want, enough for the batter to hold it together
- anything else you want: shrimp, squid, chicken, meat, bacon (all cooked, of course), vegetables, cheese, kimchi, potatoes, and so on.
Mix everything carefully, make sure it's not too runny.
On a hot, oiled griddle form a pancake and fry on both sides until the batter is thoroughly cooked. Easy? Easy! To make it even easier, my hosts made for you this tutorial.
If you can't buy a ready-made okonomiyaki sauce, don't worry, you can make your own. Just mix 3 parts of ketchup with 1 part worcestershire sauce. Add 1 tsp of soy sauce for every 4 tablespoons of the mixture.
Ready? Let's eat! Itadakimasu!
P.S. Yes, yes, we guessed you would also dream of a guide for monjayaki. Here it comes. Enjoy!