Okonomiyaki

A few weeks ago, I talked about some of my favorite Japanese street foods. However, I left one out that is extremely popular both on the street and in restaurants across Japan. Okonomiyaki is a fried pancake, usually composed of batter and cabbage, which can have any number of toppings and mix-ins. This is reflected in its very name; okonomi literally means “to your liking” and yaki means “cooked or fried.”

Okonomiyaki

Via Flickr

While you can find okonomiyaki all over Japan, like ramen, the styles and toppings vary greatly from region to region. It’s most popular in the Kansai area of Japan (around Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto) and Hiroshima.

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Okonomiyaki from Osaka, via Flickr.

Like takoyaki, the pancake batter in okonomiyaki is not sweet. It’s filled with a number of savory ingredients, such as octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, or kimchi.

Just some of the ingredients you can put in okonomiyaki. Green onions, pickled ginger, egg, mushroom, and pork. Via Flickr.

Just some of the ingredients you can put in okonomiyaki. Green onions, cabbage, pickled ginger, egg, mushroom, and pork. Via Flickr.

In Japan, okonomiyaki is typically served at restaurants that only specialize in this dish. There is usually a large griddle at each table or in front of the customer at the bar counter, where the chef or server will cook the okonomiyaki for you.

Okonomiyaki

An okonomiyaki restaurant in Hiroshima. Via Flickr.

There are also many restaurants where you cook it yourself (like I tried), but I wouldn’t recommend this unless you know what you’re doing, or go with someone who has cooked it before!

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Our personal grill at a cook-it-yourself okonomiyaki restaurant

First, customers order what ingredients they would like in their pancake and the server or chef brings out a bowl of raw batter, vegetables, and seafood or meat. Then, everything is mixed together and placed on the hot griddle in a pancake-like shape.

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki

Mixing the ingredients

Okonomiyaki

Once one side is cooked, you use large metal spatulas to flip the pancake over. This is usually the hardest part of cooking okonomiyaki, and without patience or practice, it can end up breaking apart.

Okonomiyaki

Definitely the hardest part of cooking okonomiyaki. It took us a few tries to keep everything together (but it still tasted delicious!)

Once the pancake is cooked all the way through, you can add traditional toppings. First is okonomiyaki sauce (basically the same as takoyaki sauce), then Japanese mayo, katsuobushi (bonito fish flakes), and dried seaweed. Okonomiyaki is then usually broken into bite-sized pieces and left on the cooking surface, so that each piece is hot and eaten right off the griddle.

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki sauce (brown glaze), dried seaweed (green flakes), katsuobushi (brown flakes), and Japanese mayo (white lines). Via Flickr.

This type of okonomiyaki (Kansai style) is the most popular and can be found all across Japan. In comparison, the Hiroshima style has layered ingredients rather than mixed. The batter is cooked like a thin crepe and the other ingredients are added as toppings, rather than mixed into the batter. Yakisoba or udon noodles are also an extremely popular layer, topped with a fried egg and a liberal amount of okonomiyaki sauce.

Okonomiyaki

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. Via Flickr.

While this dish is extremely popular in Japan, I haven’t been able to find it at all in the US. Do you know where I could find some?

In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to try cooking it myself. Just One Cookbook, one of my favorite Japanese food blogs, has a great okonomiyaki recipe. Try it out, and let me know what you think!

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Japanese Street Food

If you haven’t noticed already, food is everywhere in Japan. You can’t walk down the street without passing a ramen shop, konbini, or sushi-ya. However, one of my favorite parts of eating in Tokyo was the street food culture, found in festivals, public parks, and around major tourist destinations. Food vendors travel from place to place with traditional decorative stalls, and offer everything from chocolate covered bananas to squid on a stick.

Street food stalls near a temple in Kyoto

Street food stalls near a temple in Kyoto

Like American street fare (i.e. funnel cakes and deep fried Oreos), Japanese street food tends to be pretty unhealthy. But who’s worrying about calories?! Certainly not me. Here’s a few of the most popular and delicious foods I tried, from temples and shrines in Kamakura to festivals in Minato-ku.

1.    Takoyaki

DSC_1427Aka, the food of the gods. Takoyaki are little balls of pancake batter, filled with vegetables and chunks of octopus. Vendors make these delicious treats in a pan with half-dome indentations, and use metal chopsticks to form their round shape. They’re served drizzled with takoyaki sauce (like Worcestershire sauce), Japanese mayo (which is sweet and nothing like American mayo), dried seaweed, and katsuobushi (dried fish flakes).

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A takoyaki stall in Asakusa. Isn’t that octopus cute??

DSC_0436 Takoyaki are extremely popular at festivals, but they can be found at konbini and supermarkets too! Just don’t expect them to have the same delicious ooey gooeyness as the piping hot ones served in a takoyaki shop or in a fair.

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Making takoyaki. This was at a restaurant in Osaka in the Dōtonbori, which is a street famous for its many takoyaki, ramen, and okonomiyaki restaurants.

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 2.    Yakisoba

Traditional yakisoba, from a festival in Minato-ku, Tokyo.

Traditional yakisoba, from a festival in Minato-ku, Tokyo.

Fried soba noodles with vegetables, usually served with dried seaweed and pickled ginger. It’s like a Japanese version of chow mein, and extremely satisfying.

Yakisoba can also come with a variety of different toppings. Here, I have a super delicious fried egg.

Yakisoba can also come with a variety of different toppings. Here, I have a super delicious fried egg.

 3.    Yakitori

Nom nom nom. This is beef, from a yakitori stall in Kyoto.

Nom nom nom. This is beef, from a yakitori stall in Kyoto.

Grilled meat (usually chicken) served on a stick. It’s easy to eat with one hand, and it’s a super popular drinking food. While there are entire bars and restaurants dedicated to serving yakitori, it’s a common staple in festivals as well.

 4.    Taiyaki

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Murasaki imo (purple sweet potato) filling

Murasaki imo (purple sweet potato) filling

A fish-shaped pancake with a sweet filling inside. Taiyaki are probably my favorite street food, as the possibilities for fillings are basically endless. I enjoyed taiyaki with chestnuts, chocolate crème, custard, red bean paste, purple sweet potato, and even ice cream. If you’re not into sweets, some taiyaki even come with a molten center of cheese.

This taiyaki from Kyoto had custard inside!

This taiyaki from Kyoto had custard inside!

 5.    Kakigori

Ichigo (strawberry) kakigori

Ichigo (strawberry) kakigori

Japanese snow cones, or shaved ice with syrup. This is a particular favorite at summer festivals.

 6.    Wataame

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Cotton candy! Unline the wataame I had, cotton candy usually comes prepackaged in brightly decorated bags. It’s the most popular with children, as the bags are decorated with characters from their favorite animes and TV shows.

 7.    Dango

DSC_2881A Japanese dumpling on a stick made from mochiko (rice flour). It’s similar to mochi, and is often served with a savory sweet and salty sauce. While dango are eaten year round, the type and variety of dango often depends on the seasons.

Dango stall in Kamakura

Dango stall in Kamakura

 8.    Jaga Bata

DSC_1670A grilled potato, served with butter. Sounds simple, but it’s incredibly delicious.

 9.    Dorayaki

DSC_3863Two sweet pancakes with a filling of azuki (red bean paste). They’re super delicious served warm, especially with a dollop of ice cream in the middle.

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 10.    Hotate Bata Yaki

DSC_1669Scallops grilled in their shell with butter. These are insanely delicious if you’re willing to splurge a little on street food.

And finally…

11. Ika Yaki.

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You thought I was lying about the squid on a stick, didn’t you? Here it is. A whole squid, skewered, grilled, and basted with a sweet barbeque-like sauce.

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Yes, it has a face. Yes, I ate the face.

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And yes, it was delicious and I would do it again.

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How do these foods compare to the cuisine you find at festivals in your country? Thanks for reading, and I hope I got you ready for lunch!