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  • Tina Brand

Eating okonomiyaki and dreaming of Tokyo.

Wandering the streets of Tokyo late one night just before Christmas, we finally found the steamed up window of a hole-in-the-wall in a back alleyway. I had been in search of an okonomiyaki and all my queries had been met with (polite) detraction: why would a foreigner want to eat something as inauthentic and 'fast food-ish' as okonomiyaki with all the other fine Japanese cuisine on offer?



The simple fried wheat flour pancake which most usually just consists of chopped green cabbage and spring onions was made popular after WW2 when rice was in short supply. Okonomiyaki proved to be a cheap, filling and nutritious meal or snack.


These days the humble pancake is pimped with slices of meat and shrimp, furikake (a mix of savoury sprinkles usually made up of seaweed, sesame seeds, dried fish, etc), bonito flakes or floss, and pickled sweet ginger. Or whatever you like. It is drizzled with kewpie mayonnaise, chilli sauce, Tonkatsu, or the original sauce which I have the semblance of a recipe for below.



The okonomiyaki that wintry night with the odd snowflake falling outside was as inauthentic and as delicious as I had dreamed of finding: cooked right at our tiny table on a hot griddle by a California returned Japanese surfer dude with bleached dreadlocks, the pancakes were absolute perfection, eggs, mayo, ketchup and all.


Do make these- they are hearty, simple and delicious. To eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And use this as a start off recipe to make it your own, because after all, okonomi means 'as you like'.

Ah, Japan, I miss you.


Okonomiyaki

Ingredients:

1 tbs frying oil

150 g plain flour

200 ml water

1 tbs dashi powder

1-2 tablespoons rice flour

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1/4 head medium sized green cabbage chopped into strips

6 stalks spring onions, chopped fine

4 eggs

Optional ingredients:

chopped prawns

thinly sliced pork

anchovies


To garnish:

bonito flakes

furikake

fried onions

pickled ginger

chopped spring onions, etc.

Okonomiyaki sauce

Tomato sauce

Chilli sauce

Kewpie mayonnaise

Regular mayonnaise


Directions:

In a large bowl mix together the flours, salt and sugar.

Add the dashi powder to the water and stir till dissolved.

Pour the liquid into the bowl of dry ingredients and whisk.

Now add the four eggs, one at a time, whisking till well combined.

Add the cabbage and spring onions to this mixture and stir well to combine.

Heat a skillet and pour in the oil.

Taking a large serving spoon, scoop a large portion of the pancake mix onto the hot skillet.

Push into shape with a spoon and press down gently for even cooking, turn the heat down and cover for a minute.

Remove the lid, and taking two spatulas, slip under either end of the pancake and flip over.

Now add any additional finely sliced ingredients to the pancake if desired. Cover again and cook for a further two to three minutes on very low.

Slip onto a plate, squirt mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce, chilli or tomato sauce all over, and sprinkle with furikake and pickled ginger or scallions and serve warm.



Okonomiyaki sauce:

Mix together tomato sauce, worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce and sugar or honey.

Whisk together in a bowl, and adjust seasonings of salt and pepper to taste.


Note:

This mix will yield six pancakes slightly smaller than a side plate size.

There is not a lot of batter in relation to the veggies, but just trust that it will be enough to bind everything.

Do not substitute green cabbage for wombok as it contains too much water and will make the pancake soggy.

Chopping the cabbage too fine will also cause too much moisture to release and make for a soggy cake.

Furikake, bonito flakes, pickled ginger and dashi are all available at any Asian grocery store.