Okonomiyaki: Osaka-Style Cabbage Pancakes
Pay no attention. Analogies are only confusing. Okonomiyaki isn’t “like” anything else you’ve tried before. It’s better.
This recipe is for Osaka-style okonomiyaki, the city’s signature dish. I’ve seen fancy London restaurants serve it as an exotic delicacy (and charge upwards of 12 pounds for one!) but, in Osaka, there’s nothing fancy about it: it’s a cheap, filling, flavorful meal young people adore.
I’m a Kansai girl, so Okonomiyaki is definitely “home cooking” for me. Regionalism aside, though, Okonomiyaki travels well. This is the one Japanese dish that just about every western person enjoys. Even Canadian children, who wouldn’t think of eating most of the weird things I put on this blog, seem to love okonomiyaki.
Truth is, okonomiyaki is “B-Grade cuisine” – which is a polite way of saying it’s junk food. And yet Osaka people take their okonomiyaki pretty seriously. Because, while making mediocre okonomiyaki is easy enough, making blockbuster okonomiyaki is the subject of much oneupmanship.
If you find this recipe a little involved, that’s because it’s designed to wow the locals. It shares a lot of little tips and tricks (marked in bold) I’ve learned over the years. Put in the time to follow them, and you’ll make Okonomiyaki better than any foreigner is supposed to be able to!
Ingredients (for two or three okonomiyaki)
- Cabbage – one quarter
- Pork – 100 grams
- Optional: You could make it with squid, a mixture of squid and shrimp, or a mixture of squid and pork. Some restaurants go on to make any number of weird variations, but personally I stick to pork and squid.
- Optional: Beni shoga – pickled red ginger. Tenkasu – tempura detritus.
For the pancake batter
- All-purpose wheat flour – one cup (Alternatively, if you want to go all out, make it with Special Okonomiyaki Flour.)
- Salt – half a teaspoon
- Sugar – one teaspoon
- Baking powder – one teaspoon
- Water – one cup
- Dashi – two teaspoons
- Eggs – two
- Okonomiyaki Sauce – Buy this ready-made at an Asian store or online. Look for Otafuku brand “Okonomi sauce”.
(There are people who want to make the sauce at home, but don’t be ridiculous.)
- Mayonnaise – preferably tangy Kewpie brand Japanese mayo
- Aonori – Green nori seaweed.
- Katsuobushi – powdered is best, but flakes work well too.
Make the batter
- Heat a cup of water in the microwave and dissolve the two teaspoons of dashi in it
- Let it cool to room temperature
- In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder.
- Add the dashi’d water slowly to the bowl, mixing thoroughly
- Let the batter sit for a good two hours
Prepare the other ingredients
- Chop the cabbage into small (but not tiny) squares – maybe 1 cm. by 1 cm.
- Wrap the chopped cabbage in plastic wrap, microwave on high for two minutes.
- For reasons I don’t really understand, the cabbage you find in the West is noticeably thicker and much harder than the kind sold in Japan, which is why you need to pre-cook it in the microwave. If you’re reading this in Japan, skip this step.
- Slice the pork very thin.
- Lightly beat the eggs and add them to the batter, mix
- Add cabbage (and benishioga and tenkasu if you’re using that) to the batter. Toss the mix lightly, not too much.
- Heat a large frying pan, add a tablespoon of cooking oil – you need oil even if it’s a non-stick pan.
- Add a layer of batter some 3 cm. high to the pan.
- Place a layer of pork slices on top.
- Cook, covered, over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
- Flip the okonomiyaki like you would a pancake. Resist the urge to pat it down – you want your Okonomiyaki as thick as possible, you don’t want it squished down.
- Cook over, uncovered, for another ten minutes. You want a thick pancake, and you want it to cook all the way through, so it’s best to do it slowly over low heat.
- When the pancake is ready, place on a plate. If you’re sharing, cut it into squares.
- Add a generous layer of okonomiyaki sauce on top. Be sure the sauce reaches to the very edge of the pancake.
- Add some mayonnaise.
- Finally add your katsuobushi and aonori.
Today we didn’t have aonori, beni shoga nor tenkasu, but it was still very good.
When I was growing up, my mom was a typical, strict, health-obsessed Japanese mom, so we weren’t allowed to have Coca Cola or other fizzy drinks at my house. Mom would let us have Coca Cola only when she made okonomiyaki. It was kind of a family ritual, so you can imagine how special the combination of Coca Cola and okonomiyaki was to me.
Even today, I like having a coke with okonomiyaki…but I suppose the more typical way to serve it is with beer.