Okonomiyaki, the traditional Japanese pancake dish, is all about customising to your taste

The base of okonomiyaki is lots of cabbage and batter, but you may choose to add a variety of ingredients and toppings to customise one to your liking.
The base of okonomiyaki is lots of cabbage and batter, but you may choose to add a variety of ingredients and toppings to customise one to your liking.PHOTO: THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN

(THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake containing ingredients such as meat and vegetables, is one of the most popular requests I get from my students. I feel the dish has been getting more popular over the past 10 years.

The base of okonomiyaki is lots of cabbage and batter, but you may choose to add a variety of ingredients and toppings. You can use whatever you like - from seafood to cheese. Some people even use potato chips.

Since “okonomi” literally means “how you like it” and “yaki” means “grill” or “pan-fry”, it is easy to see how this versatile dish got its name.

Okonomiyaki is everyday food in western Japan, particularly the Kansai area.

You can also find it at restaurants that specialise in the dish. There are often dining tables at such restaurants equipped with iron griddles so you can make okonomiyaki right at your table.

At home, we often use an electric griddle on the table with family members and friends all around, and we each make our own with the ingredients we like. I like the flavour of okonomiyaki, but I enjoy the process of making it even more.

It is easy to prepare and really fun to do with friends and family.

 

The okonomiyaki batter is made using eggs, flour and shredded cabbage. I sometimes add grated yamaimo yam (also called jinenjo) to make the batter moist, light and fluffy. The grated yam has a slimy texture and my students are really surprised when they see it for the first time.

 

The ingredients you mix with this batter really depend on you. Popular ones are pork belly, seafood (such as scallop, octopus, shrimp, squid, oyster or clam), naganegi long onion, natto, mentaiko spicy cod roe, pickled ginger, mochi and kimchi.

Some use boiled potatoes, gyusuji stewed beef tendon, cheese, sprouts and noodles.

Adding potato chips or other snacks gives the okonomiyaki a crunchy texture. You can also use any leftovers in your fridge. Some mix leftover curry or stew or pot au feu into the batter. Try different combinations and discover your favourite.

In western Japan, there are two main variations of okonomiyaki: Osaka style and Hiroshima style. You often find the Osaka-style versions at the restaurants I mentioned earlier.

The Hiroshima style is quite different. All the ingredients - thinly cooked batter like a crepe, eggs, yakisoba noodles and thinly sliced pork belly - are layered rather than mixed together. This style always uses noodles, which give it a different taste.

The sauce for okonomiyaki is a thicker, sweeter relative of the familiar British Worcestershire sauce and you can find it at any Japanese grocery store.

Okonomiyaki

INGREDIENTS
4 eggs
200g all-purpose flour
200ml dashi broth or water
400g cabbage, shredded into thin strips 3cm long
300g seafood (such as shrimp, squid or clams) or other favourite ingredients
100g cheese, cut into 1cm cubes
Oil 
200g thin-sliced pork belly

Toppings
Okonomiyaki sauce
Mayonnaise (optional)
Bonito flakes (optional)
Aonori powdered seaweed (optional)

METHOD
1. Place eggs in a bowl and whisk well. Add the flour and dashi or water and mix well.
2. Add the shredded cabbage and seafood (or other ingredients, but not the pork) to the bowl and mix well.
3. Add 1 Tbs of oil in a hot pan. Pour on a quarter of the mixture. Spread it until it makes a round shape, like a pancake, with about 1½cm thick. After cooking for three minutes, place the thin-sliced pork on top, then flip over. Cook another five minutes. Repeat until mixture is used up.
4. Place okonomiyaki on serving plates. Add okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise on top. Sprinkle bonito flakes and aonori powdered seaweed before serving.

Serves four