Okonomiyaki is often referred to in the West as Japanese pancake or Japanese pizza. The reason is the circular shape and the method of slicing and serving same as a pizza.
That's about as far as the parallel goes, however, as the ingredients and cooking style are completely different. The taste is delicious so if you get the opportunity definitely give this one a whirl.
Okonomiyaki - How It's Cooked
This dish originates from 2 different areas in Japan, Osaka and Hiroshima. Today it's the Osaka version that is found in most regions of the country with the Hiroshima type generally only available in that prefecture.
It's a very social dish to eat and is often found on sale at streetside food stands during festivals or other community-based celebrations.
There are also many okonomiyaki restaurants specializing in the dish. You can choose to make it yourself at your table or let one of the staff do it for you.
What does the word mean? Well the "yaki" tells us that the food is grilled. The "Okonomi" tells us that the ingredients are, quite literally, your favourites.
The basic core items don't change - flour, water, egg and cabbage - but other than these the decision is all yours. You can have pork, ginger, yakisoba noodles, corn, onion, bean sprouts, octopus, squid, chicken, and on...
Preparing the Table
If you are cooking okonomiyaki at the table it's a lot of fun - but be warned it can get messy!
Basically, you sit down at a table that has an iron flat bottomed grill set in it. You select the ingredients you want in your meal and these are then brought to your table in a bowl ready for you to begin.
If you really don't want to do this yourself, you can ask for help, but when else will you get the chance to do this?
Mix all the ingredients and liquid together, turn on the grill, and when it's hot enough pour on your ingredients and make a circular shape.
Let it cook for a few minutes and then flip it using the two spatulas provided. Do this quickly or you'll end up with okononiyaki everywhere. It's never happened to me of course!
Actually when my fella's brother came to visit us once, we took him for okonomiyaki as a treat. We forgot what we were doing and ended up creating a wall of steam, attracting the attention of everyone in the restaurant, and desperately trying to salvage our dinner - but then that's all part of the Tokyo experience.
You can check as you go how well cooked your food is - just break little pieces off and see if it's still soggy inside. If it is, you need to grill for a little longer.
Done? All that's left is to spread on your sauce - the slightly sweet brown stuff - on top and sprinkle with bonito flakes (dried fish flakes). The first time I saw the flakes I wondered what was going on as they actually move with the heat rising from the food. They do taste good though and your okonomiyaki wouldn't be the same without them.
Some people also like to add mayonnaise on top of the sauce. If you're a mayo fan then go ahead. For me I prefer it without.
Monjayaki is the Tokyo version of this traditional dish. It is very similar to okonomiyaki except that the consistency of the finished product is not solid. Instead of slicing and serving the dish, you eat it straight from the grill using specially provided spatulas.
There is an area in Tokyo called Monja Town in Tsukishima which specializes in monjayaki.
You can also check out the yakatabune boats - special boats for wining and dining - in Odaiba. At a cost of about ¥6,000 per head you can have all the monjayaki and drink you want for 2 hours while taking in the views of Rainbow Bridge from your dining table. For information contact the Tsukishima Monjayaki Association on 03-3533-6699.