Tokyobling's Blog

How to Cook Okonomiyaki

Posted in Japanese Traditions, Shops by tokyobling on September 6, 2010

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Japan has some of the best food in the world. But experiencing all this great food is quite a complex problem. If you live outside of Japan you’re likely to get some b-grade sushi or half decent teppanyaki or typically chemical cup noodles. All fine, until you know the real stuff. Even in Japan, you’re unlikely to find all the best food, there are just too many choices, too many obscure restaurants, hard to decipher menus and an unbelievable number of variations on any single dish. Throw in general travelers fatigue, being on a budget or even worse, a vegetarian, it’s no wonder most visitors to Japan fail to experience even a fraction of all the good stuff there is to eat over here. Take for example the handsome young backpacking couple from Europe I met while walking around Tokyo’s Marunouchi district the other day. For some reason they had been told that the food courts underneath most department stores are cheap and convenient places to pick up food. Well, if you are well off, don’t mind spending a lot of money and then carry all the stuff back to your hotel room, then it’s fantastic. But if you’re on a budget and want to sit and eat rather than slurp it all down on some park bench in 35 degrees summer heat, a “depachika” (department store underground) might not be the best place to go.

That is why I make a point of taking friends out to all the good cheap places to experience as large a variety of Japanese food as possible, in friendly easy to understand everywhere chain store restaurants. Sure it’s not gourmet, but it is still better than most of the stuff you’d bankrupt yourself on in the rest of the world. Some of the chain store restaurants are Orijinbento, Matsuya, Yoshinoya, Sukiya, Ohashi, Hanamaruudon, Oya, Oedo Sushi, McDonalds (yes! McD is infinitely tastier in Japan than anywhere else in the world, and they often carry Japanese style food items such as teriyaki burger) etc.

All of this is great if you are in Japan, but what if you want to cook some of this stuff at home? Well, it’s not so “huate cuisine” but one of the best things to try your hand at is Okonomiyaki (which roughly means cook-what-you-like). There are some great okonomiyaki restaurants around Japan but if you haven’t done it before or have a friend to show you how to enjoy it, it can be rather daunting. Of course you can ask the staff to cook it for you but having done that once and been forced to endure the frown of the busy waitress I am not inclined to recommend it to enyone. I rather do it myself, and am now actually pretty good at it, if I may say so myself! Here’s a series of photos I took while taking my mum to Okonomiyaki earlier this year. Please forgive the bad quality of the photos, I blame bad lighting and the stress of shooting and cooking at the same time!

So here goes (feel free to print this out and use next time you visit Japan)! The first picture shows the finished result, it is one okonomiyaki and serves one person (child). If you’re a big honking westerner you might want two or three of these. But anyway, this is what you should aim for. Begin by oiling the hot plate (table) using the bottle of oil and the rake you get from the waitress. You get the okonomiyaki mix in a stainless steel bowl. Take out any hard stuff like prawns, bacon or whatever you want to fry a little bit longer and fry it first, by itself. When that is done (if necessary) you mix the slop up and heap it onto the middle of the table (the ends are not as hot as the middle) and form it like a big pancake into a half inch, one centimeter or so, thick patty (pic two and three). After awhile, when it’s solid enough to be turned, do so, and start the next batch (if you have one, this is pic four).

Then have a look at the containers next to you (pic five), start by brushing out the okonomiyaki sauce (this is where half of the flavor is so if you like is salty and tasty, bring it on as thick as you can until it starts running out on the table, less if you are concerned with your health). When that is done you move down the line of ingredients, adding the dried bonito shavings (you have to try it even if you normally don’t eat dried fish, it brings out the taste so much fuller), then the dried herb flakes (as your personal taste dictates) and finally a nice pattern of maya (again, less if you are worried about premature death). Finally, use the rake to divide in one or two (or don’t, if you’re hogging it all to yourself) and enjoy on the mini plates that you got from your waitress.

Easy to do at home as well, just use any ingredients you happen to have, pancake mix for the batter and bring home a bag of bonito shavings, herbs and a couple of bottles of okonomiyaki sauce. Easily the most fund you’ll ever have cooking for/with your friends! Things to add include: prawn, bacon, thin beef, squid, octopus, mochi, any vegetable, chicken, fish, squirrel, snake, marshmallow (maybe not…), crayfish (Louisiana Style Okonomiyaki!), egg, sausage chops, cheese, fondue, ginger, etc. As the name says “fry-what-you-like”. Okonomiyaki is most famous in western Japan (if you want the best stuff you should try a downtown Osaka mom-and-pop local mini-restaurant and get yelled at by the angry matron as you do it the wrong way, great fun and the best food experience ever, even my Japanese friends love this). In Tokyo there is a similar dish called Monjayaki that is as tasty but much more difficult to cook correctly (I’ll show you in a post next week).


7 Responses

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  1. Julie (JUURI) said, on September 6, 2010 at 2:43 am

    Ooooh, they turned out delicious-looking! Did you mum love it??? I hope you can show her so many wonderful Japanese foods… there are so many dishes/foods there that people in the West have not even ever dreamed of!!! I look forward to more “food” posts!


    • tokyobling said, on September 6, 2010 at 4:15 am

      She sure did! Or she was just too polite to say anything. Next food post coming up is about festival food! (^-^)


  2. slouchingsomewhere said, on September 6, 2010 at 3:42 am

    This looks really good 🙂 (And I love Matsuya!)


    • tokyobling said, on September 6, 2010 at 4:14 am

      It is one of my favorite! And also one of heartiest meals in Japan. Matsuya practically kept me alive my first year in Japan! I have since found better stuff but still wax a little nostalgic every time I pass one of the stores (which I do about 6-7 times per day since they are really everywhere).


  3. kes said, on September 6, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    yumm.. I love Okonomiyaki. – I tasted it once many many many years ago.

    Okonomiyaki reminds me of the “Banh Xeo”.
    Do you know? – it’s a vietnamese dish, it’s very similar to Okonomiyaki


    • tokyobling said, on September 7, 2010 at 12:31 am

      I love Banh Xeo too, I spent a lot of time in Vietnam in the 90’s, I do miss the food and the people sometimes!


      • kes said, on September 7, 2010 at 4:12 pm

        yah.. I love Banh Xeo too. – Lucky for me my parents live nearby.
        I visit them each weekend and get to eat “Banh xeo”, “vietnamese wrap” and lots of traditional dishes.

        Now all I need is a Japanese neighbour or friend. – yah.. I would really love to try Udon.


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