Okonomi-yaki (Japanese cabbage pancake)

Strolling down a busy street in the afternoon in Tuscany, the smell of garlic cooking on top of a crisp pizza will make you hungry, even if you’ve just finished lunch. Imagine that pizza with a thin and crispy base smothered with garlic flavoured tomato sauce and mozzarella. In Japan too, we have been enjoying something similar to pizza for a long time. It is called Okonomi-yaki.

Okonomi-yaki is a very popular street food that you can buy at festivals and local events where lots of people gather together. We have a variety of street food, such as yaki-soba (Japanese fried noodles) and tako-yaki (pancake base with bits of octopus cooked in a crispy ball). But Okonomi-yaki has a special place and you can find lots of Okonomi-yaki restaurants especially in Western Japan. Okonomi-yaki is a kind of mix between a pancake and pizza with lots of cabbage and toppings to your liking, such as thinly sliced pork, prawns, squid and red pickled ginger.

There are some variations to the cooking method, but you always put lots of Katsuobushi, (thinly shaved dried bonito flakes) and Ao-nori (dried green seaweed flakes), with mayonnaise and a kind of oyster sauce on top.  We have a special Okonomi-yaki sauce in Japan. Even Jonathan Ross is a fan!

It’s a great snack for hungry teenagers, or a nice lunch at the weekend. It is worth trying to get the right type of cabbage for this dish. Flat Japanese cabbage is much more tender than white cabbage in the UK. A flat Japanese type of cabbage, would be perfect! (You can buy them at oriental stores, and sometimes Tesco sells it, too.)  Otherwise choose a tender type of cabbage, such as sweet heart cabbage, pointed spring cabbage, or even savoy cabbage. If you can only find hard white cabbage, just make sure to shred it very thinly!

Okonomi-yaki (Japanese cabbage pancake) serves 2:

  • Cabbage (see above about choice of cabbage) – 250g roughly and thinly sliced (if it is a hard white cabbage, shred very thinly)
  • Toppings of your choice, such as thinly sliced pork, prawns, sliced squid, chicken, bacon, ham, etc. 100g-120g
  • Mayonnaise
  • Oyster sauce (if you don’t have Okonomi-yaki sauce)
  • Bonito flakes if you have them (you can easily buy them at an oriental shop)
  • Ao-nori (green seaweed flakes) or ordinary nori (black dried seaweed nori sheet), thinly sliced (cut it with scissors)

Pancake mix:

  • Plain flour 100g
  • 1 egg
  • Water 100cc
  • Milk 25cc (If you prefer non dairy, use water instead)
  • Dashi powder, or fish stock if you have it (the one you use for Miso soup) 2 tsp

Okonomi-yakiSmall1. Put the pancake mix in a large bowl and mix well. Add the sliced cabbage and mix. Try to mix from the bottom with a large spoon to bring in lots of air.

2. Add the toppings of your choice in a bowl and mix again. If you are using sliced pork, bacon or something similar, you can put it on top of a pancake in the next stage.

3. Heat up a frying pan to a medium heat. Put the pancake mix into a frying pan. Make a round pancake shape about 2cm thick. If you are using bacon, thinly sliced pork, etc., spread them on top. Don’t try to press down from the top, as it will make the Okonomi-yaki hard.

4. When the edge of the Okonomi-yaki gets dry and the bottom side is cooked, turn it over with a spatula. Never flip it into the air, though!! You might have impressed your kids by beautifully flipping over a pancake before but, trust me, you cannot do it with Okonomi-yaki! Because there is lots of cabbage, the mix doesn’t stick together like a real pancake.

5. Keep cooking without pushing down on the top for a few minutes until completely cooked.

6. When it’s cooked, spread a generous amount of mayonnaise and oyster sauce on top. Sprinkle lots of bonito flakes and ao-nori or sliced nori on top. Itadakimasu!

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