We live in a world where superficiality has become the norm, with Twitter, Facebook, and the like, claiming to inform us. This is a world of bits and bites, where knowledge of a subject is assumed after reading one short article, surrounded by information bars, or by watching an hour – long TV show, cluttered with 30 minutes of ads. So to dive into a subject and really revel in it, understand it and know it is very rare. This is why I was so thrilled to hold Matt Goulding’s “Rice Noodle Fish” (an Anthony Bourdain book), in my hands; cracking open the cover and immersing myself in Goulding’s culinary odyssey through Japan. The book dives deep into the food culture of Japan, exploring each region in tantalizing detail. Goulding eats his way through the country, interviewing chefs and experts, and studying the lengthy traditions of Japanese food. He immerses the reader in regional specialties: sushi from Tokyo, udon from Takamatsu, seafood in Hakodate, and street food in Osaka, just to name a few. He introduces Toshiyuki Kamimura who eats 400 bowls of ramen a year, and chefs who have been perfecting family dishes for generations. This book is a feast for the senses. Imagine relishing the crackle of tempura just plucked from the fryer, slurping slippery noodles, savoring the silky freshness of sea urchin, and wondering at the playful stickiness of perfectly prepared sushi rice. It is a huge sigh of relief for those of us aching to truly know the food of Japan in depth, and has me drooling with excitement to devour Goulding’s next book, “Grape Olive Pig”, an exploration of the food culture of Spain.
This all leads me to today’s recipe for Okonomiyaki. Now, I claim to be no expert on Japanese cuisine, but growing up in Vancouver, surrounded by hundreds of Japanese restaurants, I thought I knew the basics. So imagine how surprised I was, while reading the chapter on Hiroshima, to learn that one of the iconic dishes of Japan is Okonomiyaki; a sort of cross between a pancake and a fritter stuffed with cabbage, prawns, pork belly and gorgeous Japanese flavours. It is topped with creamy Japanese mayo and tangy, sweet Okonomi sauce. Can you say umami?? I had never heard of it, let alone seen it on the menus of restaurants that I frequent! A friend who had lived in Japan informed me that Okonomiyaki in Japan is as common as French fries here. Well where have I been? So, as you may have guessed, I finished reading Goulding’s chapter on Hiroshima, salivating over this wondrous dish, and desperately seeking a recipe. As I was not near a library or bookstore, I turned to the internet. There are many recipes on the net, but this recipe is the one that came closest to what Goulding had described in his book: justonecookbook.com . I have modified it somewhat, and really loved the flavours and textures. But as Goulding says, every restaurant and family will have their own recipe, all claiming to be the best, of course!
Note: I had to dig around a bit to find the Okonomi sauce. You should be able to find it in any well-stocked Asian markets in the Japanese foods section. If you can’t find it, I have seen recipes for it on the internet. I really liked the one that I have shown below.
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup water with 1 teaspoon dashi powder
6 – 7 cups shredded Chinese cabbage
½ pound thinly sliced pork belly (or bacon)
½ pound prawns, thawed, tails removed and slice in half lengthwise
4 large eggs
½ cup Panko bread crumbs
¼ cup pink pickled sushi ginger
Green onions, sliced
Dried nori, cut into slivers
Pickled pink or red ginger
Dried Bonito flakes
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Mix well.
Add the dashi and water and mix well to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least one hour.
Take the batter out of the fridge. Lightly beat the eggs and add them to the flour mixture. Mix well.
Add the shredded cabbage, sliced prawns, panko, and pickled ginger and mix well. Lightly fry the slices of pork belly or bacon so that it is partially cooked.
Heat some oil in a frying pan.
Add enough of the batter to the frying pan to make a small pancake. Top with 2 or 3 slices of the pork belly/bacon, and shape into a nice circular shape. Cook covered for 5 minutes on medium-low heat. When the bottom is nicely browned, carefully flip the pancake over and cook covered for another 5 minutes.
Flip one last time and cook for another 2 minutes, uncovered.
Remove to a serving plate. Zig zag some of the Okonomiyaki sauce, then some Japanese mayonnaise. Top with green onions, more sushi ginger and nori slivers. Don’t be afraid to top with more Okonomiyaki sauce and mayo. Enjoy!