The Japanese savory pancakes known as okonomiyaki are fun, inexpensive, and make a ﬁlling meal for all seasons. Okonomi means “as you like it,” and being able to mix just about any meat or vegetable you want into a batch of them is a great incentive to clear out your refrigerator. Another of okonomiyaki’s charms is that you can make them right at the dining room table on an electric griddle.
Okonomiyaki ﬁrst became popular in Osaka after the Meiji period (1868-1912) and eventually spread throughout Japan. Osakans also call them yoshokuyaki (Western-style pancakes) since they use ﬂour, an import. Whatever they’re called, okonomiyaki are still an enormous favorite in that city: there are close to 50,000 okonomiyaki restaurants in Osaka alone.
Japanese Savory Pancakes Recipe
After the Meiji period, small candy shops in downtown Tokyo used to have a heated iron plate in front of their shops where children could make their own okonomiyaki (or monjayaki as they’re called in Tokyo).
Up until the early thirties, soy sauce was used as the primary sauce for okonomiyaki. After that, a thick sauce similar to that used on tonkatsu (pork cutlets) became popular. Depending on the region, this sauce can be on the sweetish side (Hiroshima) or have a slightly spicy kick (Osaka). Hiroshima is also a renowned okonomiyaki center. I tasted them for the ﬁrst time there in a small back-alley restaurant during my college days. The generous volume of the Hiroshima pancake exceeds even that of the Osaka variety.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups water
- 4 pinches each of salt and freshly ground black pepper or to taste
- 1 tablespoon grated yamaimo mountain yam, optional
- 13 ounces 37Og cored and shredded green cabbage
- Chopped green onions to taste
- 4 tablespoons katsuobushi dried bonito flakes
- 4 very thin slices about 7 oz. or 200g of well-marbled pork
- Vegetable oil as needed
- Okonomiyaki sauce*
- 4 fried eggs
- Beni-shoga pickled red ginger, coarsely chopped and to taste
- Additional green onions to taste
- Ao-nori green seaweed flakes, optional
Prepare the batter first, sifting the flour into a bowl and slowly adding the water, salt, pepper, and yamaimo, whisking well. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the cabbage and other ingredients, including the fried eggs, and set them on the table on serving platters. Preheat the electric skillet or griddle at the table until very hot (at least 400 degrees Fahrenheit). Divide the chilled batter into four bowls and place one in front of each guest. Coat the griddle lightly with the oil. Then have each diner pour in half the batter from his or her bowl and shape it into a round pancake. Place a handful of cabbage on it, then sprinkle with green onions, katsuobushi, and top with the sliced pork. Pour the remaining batter on top. Turn the okonomiyaki over when the bottom starts to turn brown. When the pancake is cooked through, spread a thick layer of sauce over it, place a fried egg on top, and sprinkle generously with more chopped green onions and beni-shoga. Eat immediately.
Note: Other suggested ingredients include cleaned and halved shrimp, pieces of skinned squid, bean sprouts, tiny dried shrimp, ground beef or pork, tenkasu (fried tempura batter crumbs), sliced boneless chicken, cooked udon noodles, and yakisoba (pan-fried soba noodles).
*If okonomiyaki sauce is unavailable, mix equal parts of tonkatsu sauce and ketchup with a splash of Worcestershire sauce, or mix 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce, 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar (or to taste), 1 tablespoon low- sodium soy sauce, and 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard.
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