These are pancakes but not as you know them. I first had them at a restaurant called Abeno in London and on our visit to Tokyo last year they were a must eat (though they’re actually from Osaka rather than Tokyo). The restaurant we went to was a proper take your shoes off, sit on the floor effort and involved us cooking our own which is rather scary, particularly when you’re not entirely sure what you’re cooking, although we were very closely supervised (this – the cooking your own slightly unknown food – happened to us a lot in Japan).
Reading about them on our return, they were very much a thing that could be made at home. Okonomiyaki means “fried as you like” so you can add any fillings you want although the base is essentially a pancake type batter padded out with cabbage. However, the authentic version involves at least one ingredient, nagaimo, which most people are allergic to when raw. There are also several other ingredients which are a bit on the specialist side. The brilliant Just Hungry website explains all here and is what you should read if you want to make these properly. Luckily this website came to our rescue. http://okonomiyakiworld.com/best-okonomiyaki-recipe.html It has a sliding scale of authenticity, which allowed us to miss out rather a lot and not feel too bad about it.
We went for the basic flavour, easy to make option. So, 300g of cabbage, finely chopped, 2 eggs, 100g of plain flour, 160ml of water, a couple of spring onions and 100g of prawns go into a bowl. I chopped the cabbage myself and I do not have the finest knife skills so a bit of chunk won’t hurt.
Then a lot of stirring is required to get all the flour incorporated (the restaurant in Tokyo told us off for inadequate stirring). At this point it just looks likes lot of cabbage and you start to get a bit worried.
Then squash it all into a pan, and leave for about 8 minutes. You can sprinkle some chopped cooked bacon or place uncooked rashers on at this point (so that they cook on the other side). Then flip. Realise flipping would have been easier with two or three smaller pancakes. Leave for another 8ish minutes and you’re done.
Now for the topping. This is the fun part, and the only part I have anywhere near proper ingredients for. The bulldog sauce is actual okonomiyaki sauce, which is tangy and fruity and rather a lot like brown sauce. The fish tin is a mixture of nori (dried seaweed), bonito flakes (dried fish flakes) and sesame seeds. It’s technically a topping for rice but it is a good substitute for the seaweed and bonito flakes that should go on top.
Do an artistic swirl of mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce and sprinkle over your seaweed and bonito flakes. This topping seems to a fairly classic Japanese mix (the same thing goes on tokoyaki which are octopus balls). Cut into slices for serving. This was for two, but more realistically is for three and could stretch to four.
This is very savoury, filling comfort food. You can add any sort of meat or veg for your filling, I think some chewy seafood like squid or prawns is in order but pickled veg or other meat is also common. If this just isn’t enough to fill you up the Hiroshima version involves placing noodles in the middle of two of these bad boys and I’ve seen recipes that involve a fried egg too. However, the praise “you’d never know it was mainly cabbage” was enough to convince me that this completely inauthentic version of a Japanese classic will do.