It is only very rarely that I truly regret not being able to eat wheat, but the first time I saw okonomiyaki being prepared on a grill in Japan, I have to admit, I was jealous. Okonomiyaki has been called the pizza of Japan, or the “as you like it” pancake. The base is made from shredded cabbage, flour, water, and sometimes egg, although proportions and additional seasonings vary with the chef. Toppings can vary wildly, and the offerings at an Okonomiyaki shop are as diverse, if not more so, than at the most gourmet pizza place in the States. The dish itself is fairly new, having been developed around the war due to scarcity of food ingredients, but is now an established part of the food landscape in Japan. Okonomiyaki shops themselves are fun, lively places, often popular with the younger set (including my former students- senior high school students.) Each table generally has its own teppen grill and condiments and toppings set within reach. You can order your okonomiyaki and have the ingredients brought to you so that you can make it yourself, or have the shop experts construct it for you. Either way, it’s a social and delicious way to spend an afternoon or evening. Unfortunately, not being able to eat wheat meant that I couldn’t fully participate in the restaurant okonomiyaki experience, but I could (and did) figure out how to make it at home for our own Okonomiyaki parties. The trickiest part was the sauce, which is absolutely essential to the experience, but luckily I came across an excellent recipe online and have been making it ever since! Oh, and for a really divine experience, try Homemade Mayonnaise on your Okonomiyaki.
For any vegetarian readers, although I have not made this recipe vegetarian, it would be easy to do so. For vegans, Ener-g foods egg substitute could be used instead of eggs, and water or shitake broth could be substituted for the dashi in the sauce and batter. Sautee your favorite vegetables as toppings. Cheese is another fun addition for non vegans. Leave off the bonito flakes and top with sauce, mayonnaise, and ao nori seaweed flakes for a delicious, veggie version. (There are several brands of gluten free vegan mayonnaise- and you could also try my posted eggplant mayonnaise for a really creative twist.) Here is a creative vegetarian (though not GF) version of Okonomiyaki, by one of my favorite Expat food bloggers.
This recipe actually makes quite a lot of batter- you can cut it in half, leave the batter in the fridge and make some the next day (adding liquid as needed, as it will get thicker with time), or prepare the whole recipe and keep the okonomiyaki bases in the fridge for later. (Don’t top them with any sauce- just leave them plain. Slice them for lunch “pizzas” and bring along a little container of sauce, mayo, and flake toppings… Then microwave them briefly, top as if they were fresh, and enjoy!) It might be possible to freeze them, but I haven’t tried it, personally.
View regional variations on okonomiyaki and recipes offered by a Japanese food company
Kansai or Osaka Style Okonomiyaki has the ingredients mixed into the batter and is found throughout Japan.
“The batter is made of flour, grated yam, water or dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage, and usually contains other ingredients such as Welsh onion, meat (generally pork or bacon), octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, kimchi, mochi or cheese.Ookonomiyaki is prepared much like a pancake. …The batter and other ingredients are fried on both sides on either a hot plate (teppan) or a pan using metal spatulas that are later used to slice the dish when it has finished cooking. Cooked okonomiyaki is topped with ingredients that include okonomiyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter), nori, fish flakes, mayonnaise and ginger.” (Source: Wikipedia)
When Kansai style Okonomiyaki “is served with sliced cabbage and a layer of fried noodles (either ramen or udon) worked into the mix, it is called modanyaki. (Modern grill)” (Source: Wikipedia) Obviously wheat based ramen or udon won’t work for us gluten free folks, but you could easily try it with corn or rice noodles.
Hiroshima style okonomiyaki involves layering ingredients rather than mixing them together, and is often topped with noodles and fried egg.
Here is a blurb about its history:
“The roots of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki lie in something called “Issen youshoku” (one-penny Western food) that spread across western Japan like cheap candy before the war. Wheat flour was mixed with water and spread in a circle on a griddle. Chopped green onions and such were sprinkled on top, then the concoction was folded in half and served. This proved to be an extremely popular dish. As the name implied, you could buy it for one “sen” (1/100 of a yen), which at the time could purchase two large lollipops. And it made a perfect afternoon snack for children. From these beginnings, meat and cabbage were added to the mix after the war and the modern Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki was born.” (source: Hiroshima Okonomiyaki Shop Waka Taka)
Fun With Okonomiyaki Videos!
The video (in Japanese) on the left is a clip from the Japanese drama “The Man who can’t get Married,” Summer 2006. Our hero (the man who can’t get married) is at a popular Okonomiyaki restaurant. It begins with his dining companion stirring the okonomiyaki. The protagonist (or should I say, antagonist), gives her detailed instructions on how to make Okonomiyaki. Tired of his suggestions and intimidated by his specialized knowledge of Okonomiyaki making, she finally says, “I’ve totally lost my confidence, you do it.” He takes the bowl from her, finds she has stirred it badly, stirs it properly and begins to grill the okonomiyaki on the teppen grill. Note how he flourishes the metal spatulas and turns the okonomiyaki because the heat may be unevenly distributed. When it is done he spreads it with okonomiyaki sauce and sprinkles blue seaweed (ao nori) and bonito fish flakes on top. She asks, “Hey, how about mayonnaise,” and he cuts that idea short. She apologizes for suggesting it. She takes a bite at last, saying “Oishii!!!!” (delicious) and he snipes, “It was made in such a way as to make it delicious.” Such a charmer.
Here is another great video in Japanese that I found on YouTube which is taken in an okonomiyaki restaurant in Japan. This particular version is quite nouveau as it contains big blocks of cheese, which is melted and then topped with more batter and finally topped with a Shiso (perilla) leaf. Watch the experts at work! Note how the okonomiyaki sauce is brushed on. Next the server asks if the customers want Mayonnaise, to which they reply, “We Absolutely Do”… The final shot is of another okonomiyaki topped with shredded green onion (or similar vegetable) and a poached egg.
And finally, a video in ENGLISH by a sweet guy who just wants to show English Speakers how to make (mini) okonomiyaki.
Visit Odds that Never End, to see one family’s variation of my okonomiyaki recipe… It was a big hit! Yay!
Okonomiyaki Japanese As you Like It Pancake
1/2 lg head green cabbage; finely chopped
1/4 c finely chopped green onions
2 1/2 c Gluten Free Blend by Bette Hagman (or preferred flour)
4-6 tbsp dashi (stock made from bonito fish flakes)
2 c water (add more as needed- dough should be like slightly thick pancake batter)
1 tsp xanthan gum
oil for frying
optional: 4 ts Beni-shoga (red pickled ginger- dark pink and already sliced into sticks)
Some Possible Additions:
All of these things should be in bite-sized pieces.
1. Thoroughly mix cabbage, flour, dashi, water, eggs, ginger and onions in large bowl.
2. Heat lightly greased griddle or skillet over low to medium heat. Saute any meat or seafood ingredients that need to be well done. Remove from pan, clean, and lightly oil.
3. Ladle approximately 1 cup batter onto hot griddle into a circle. Add about 1/3 cup of desired ingredients (from seafood, vegetable categories etc.) on top of the batter. I like to add strips of pickled ginger on the top.
4. Cook until bottom of okonomiyaki starts to color and edges become firm. Using multiple spatulas, loosen okonomiyaki and flip it over. Cook until bottom has turned light golden and center is firm, about 6 to 8 minutes.
5. To garnish, squeeze 2 tablespoons okonomiyaki sauce back and forth over surface of each okonomiyaki. Then alternate strips of Japanese mayonnaise to add color contrast and rich flavor. Sprinkle each okonomiyaki with 1 teaspoon aonori, then 1 teaspoon katsuobushi. Watch the bonito flakes wilt because of the heat!
6. Using spatula, cut each okonomiyaki into 4 slices. You may need to use both spatulas to pull pieces apart. Serve immediately. Repeat until all batter is used.
PLEASE DO NOT REPLICATE THIS RECIPE ANYWHERE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION
Okonomiyaki sauce from scratch
2 tb tomato puree
2 tb ketchup
1/3 c worcestershire sauce (I prefer the mild Japanese brand, Bulldog)
3 tb wheat free tamari (or soy sauce)
1 ts sugar
7 tb dashi (made from katsuobushi fish flakes, this is central to Japanese cooking)
2 tb cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1. Bring tomato puree, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, sugar and dashi to boil in saucepan over high heat.
2. Add cornstarch mixture,a little at a time, and cook until thickened to the texture of ketchup.
3. Cool before serving.
All prepared okonomiyaki sauces contain wheat from wheat based soy sauce, so this is a great recipe to have. I simmer it and then let it cool before pouring it into a squirting mustard type bottle. It keeps reasonably well, too. You probably want to make the sauce a while before you actually want to eat okonomiyaki… it’s nice to have on hand, too. This recipe is derived from the out of print “Practical Japanese Cooking” by Shizuo Tsuji and Koichiro Hata.