Okonomiyaki: The Pancake Pizza


Hello people of the world! Are you looking for fun meals for your home? In Japan there is a fun food for family and friends when they gather. It is Okonomiyaki!

Okay, that’s not me talking; it’s the delightful instruction booklet from the Otafuku brand okonomiyaki kit. Okonomiyaki is somewhere between a pancake and a pizza: The batter is very similar to American pancake batter (if you don’t count the chopped cabbage), and the whole thing is topped with a profusion of savory bits and sauces. Unlike, say, a Neapolitan pizza, okonomiyaki can be loaded up with dozens of toppings and still be considered authentic. After all, “okonomi” is Japanese for “as you like it.”

I’ve made okonomiyaki from a kit several times, but I needed a lesson, so I met with chef Jonathan Hunt at Boom Noodle, a new Japanese noodle shop in Seattle. Until he was preparing to open the restaurant, Hunt had never heard of okonomiyaki. “I was eating at a Japanese friend’s house,” said Hunt, “and she said, ‘How about okonomiyaki?’ I said, huh?” Now it’s the second-best-selling hot appetizer on his menu (after the gyoza).

Given that Hunt went from newbie to successful okonomiyaki-monger in a matter of weeks, you can guess that okonomiyaki is not hard to make, even without a kit. I watched Hunt ladle batter onto a griddle and top it with shredded, braised pork. It cooked mostly on the first side, and then he flipped it to crisp up the pork a bit.

He serves the pancake on a heated cast-iron plate with a panoply of toppings: tenkasu (crunchy bits of fried tempura batter), carrot and daikon slivers, sliced serrano peppers, bonito flakes, Japanese mayonnaise, okonomi sauce (sweet and ketchup-like), pickled ginger, and nori.

The result is as delicious as it is messy, and Hunt is eager to experiment with other toppings. “The okonomiyaki of the week is definitely something you’ll see here,” he said.

I headed home to give it a shot. For the batter, I started with typical pancake batter proportions: 1 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1 egg, and 3/4 cup dashi (I used instant). I used about 1 cup chopped green cabbage. As Hunt recommended, I added some grated mountain potato (yama-imo) to the batter. I’d never cooked with mountain potato before, and it’s pretty awesome: It appears to be an ordinary daikon-like root vegetable, but when it hits the grater, it immediately turns into ribbons of slime. (Fresh-tasting slime that helps give okonomiyaki its toothsome texture, I hasten to add.)

For toppings, I rummaged through the pantry and refrigerator and turned up ground pork, carrot, daikon, nori, bonito flakes, okonomi sauce, and Sriracha. Total time was half an hour (including about seven minutes of cooking time), and one pancake was just right for a light lunch. Conclusion: The okonomiyaki of the week is definitely something you’ll see here, too.

Or, as the okonomiyaki kit put it: “Everyone can enjoy an ‘Okonomiyaki Party’ at home! You cannot help having one!”

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