By Sandy Hu
I’m still reliving my trip to Japan and the wonderful meals we had. Whether an o-bento from the fabulous Japanese department stores that devote their basements to prepared foods and food gifts, to portable eki-ben meals from the train station, to ramen shops and izakaya, to more formal restaurants, our meals in Tokyo and Kyoto were uniformly artfully presented and well-prepared.
In Tokyo’s Asakusa district, after a temple festival, we wandered into an okonomiyaki restaurant. Often called Japanese pancake or Japanese pizza, okonomiyaki more accurately describes a savory, dense pancake filled with such ingredients as chopped cabbage and sliced pork, beef or seafood, then topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise and a generous sprinkling of katsuobushi, shaved bonito flakes. The bonito (skipjack mackerel) fillets are steamed, aged, dried and shaved so thinly they look like wood shavings.
We sat on tatami mats with a grill in front of us. As we discovered, you order your okonomiyaki filling combination and it is brought to you, along with the okonomiyaki batter. Your job is to mix the batter and filling together, then ladle it on to the hot grill, turning your pancake at the halfway point, then garnishing it with sauce and other fixings. Seeing we were newbies, the gracious waitress coaxed us through the process, every step of the way.
Enjoying the okonomiyaki reminded me that my mom used to make it in Hawaii. She used linguisa (Portuguese sausage) and kamaboko (Japanese fish cake). Kamaboko is seasoned surimi shaped in half-moon logs and steamed on wooden boards. In Hawaii, these are everyday supermarket items.
While some of the ingredients in my mom’s recipe may require a trip to a Japanese or other Asian grocery store, you can improvise with regular supermarket ingredients. Instead of the fish cake, just add more sausage. For the sauce, follow the instructions below for a homemade tonkatsu sauce. It’ll do in a pinch, but it’s not the same as the real thing, so I urge you to purchase the authentic sauce, if you can find it.
Okonomiyaki lends itself to a variety of fillings so feel free to substitute in this recipe.
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Kiyome’s Hawaiian Style Okonomiyaki
Makes 4 pancakes
1 cup roughly chopped, fully-cooked linguisa (Portuguese sausage)
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups water
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 cups shredded cabbage
½ cup julienned kamaboko (Japanese fish cake) cut into ¼-inch strips
Vegetable oil for frying
Okonomiyaki sauce or tonktatsu sauce
Japanese mayonnaise, optional
Katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes), optional
- Brown sausage in a skillet to render fat and drain on paper towels; set aside.
- In medium bowl, combine flour and salt; add water and egg and mix thoroughly.
- On a sheet pan, divide the cabbage into 4 portions (1 cup each). On each portion of cabbage add ¼ cup of the linguisa and 2 tablespoons kamaboko.
- In a separate bowl add ½ cup of the batter and 1 portion of the cabbage, linguisa and kamaboko. Stir well the combine.
- Heat 9-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour the batter mixture into the skillet and smooth out the top with a spatula and shape the sides to form a circular pancake. Cook 4 to 5 minutes until the bottom of the pancake is golden.
- Gently flip pancake with an egg turner and cook the other side another 4 to 5 minutes until golden.
- Repeat for remaining three portions. Keep warm in a 275°F oven until all pancakes are done.
- Serve pancakes with a dish of okonomiyaki sauce or tonakatsu sauce to drizzle over pancakes. For a more authentic Japanese presentation, use a squirt bottle to drizzle pancake with okonomiyaki sauce, then drizzle with Japanese mayonnaise from a separate squirt bottle and top with katsuobushi.
Note: Okonomiyaki sauce and tonkatsu sauce are found in Japanese grocery stores and in the Asian aisle of the supermarket. If you are unable to source either sauce, you can substitute by combining 1/2 cup ketchup, 2 teaspoons Worcester shire sauce and 2 teaspoons soy sauce.
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