Thursday, September 4, 2008

Okonomiaki (a.k.a. the Japanese Pizza)

Living in such a culinary melting pot, I tend to tread uncharted food territories whenever I go out, gravitating away from the tried and true foods that have been staples in my Midwestern childhood (take-out Chinese, Japanese, pizza/Italian, and American come to mind). But lately I have been a bit nostalgic for my mom's cooking, and when my boyfriend came back from his home state of Maine bearing vegetables from his parent's garden, he suggested that I make Okonomiaki with his mother's head of cabbage (yes, he actually carried it on the bus - how sweet!). For those of you who don't know what Okonomiaki is, it resembles a scallion pancake (found in most Chinese restaurants), except instead of scallions, the main ingredient is very finely chopped up cabbage and a protein of some kind (I prefer pork.... mmm.... piggies...). When asking about the origins of the food, my mom says it was a Japanese post-war-I-have-no-food-so-I-am-going-to-make-the-best-of-it cuisine, which is a good an answer as any, although I am sure she made it up just to stop my incessant questioning. To make it, I used the following ingredients:

- All purpose flour
- Water
- One Egg
- One head of very small cabbage, finely, finely chopped (Japanese cabbage prefered)
- Lots of Katsuobushi (also known as shaved Bonito, which is a type of fish that has been dried and then shaved into small slivers, pictured left) - I used a big handful to put into the batter.
- Tonkatsu Sauce (a vegetable/fruit sauce - like Worcestershire, but thicker, on the right)
- Lean pork, sliced and chopped in tiny chunks
- A smidgen of potato starch
All of the ingredients are not measured, but thrown in randomly (with exception of the tonkatsu sauce) - if there is interest, I can definitely measure out the ingredients, although I think the ingredients and recipe should vary with each person, as the name Okonomiaki directly translates into the phrase "as you like it." The rule of thumb is to make sure the batter is thin, almost runny, and that the cabbage should overwhelm the rest of the ingredients. Once the batter is done, all you have to do is just cook it! Put some oil in a pan over medium heat, pour out a thin layer of batter, cover it, and flip it when the edges start to brown:
Then let the other side cook for the same amount of time - you'll know it's done when it doesn't fall apart, and the batter is not gooey. Once you are certain that the meat has cooked through and that the batter has browned to your satisfaction, transfer it back onto a plate, top with Tonkatsu sauce, and add some more shaved bonito for good measure!
Happy Eating!
Edit: For those of you who want to try the real thing before making it, a great place to go in NYC is Otafuku in the East Village. It's a bit of a dive, and it's for take-out only, but it's one of the best places for Okonomiaki that I've had in the city.

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