Clever Cooks, Footnote Frivolity***, Thrifty Asian

Okonomiyaki: as you like it pancakes

Since it’s Lunar New Year Eve, I think a Thrifty Asian post is in order.

A few months ago, Cheap Geek and I honeymooned in Japan. Most of the trip was spent eating our way through Tokyo and Kyoto. We had the usual: sushi and sashimi at Tsukiji (the world’s largest fish market) and fancy s&*% overlooking the Shirakawa Canal in Gion. However, my favourite dish came from more humble establishments:

  • CREAM PAN, a soft brioche-like bun with cream custard inside. We purchased one from an unassuming train-station vendor in Ueno and I kind of got hooked on them. The unassuming train-station vendor is called Hattendo, and according to Tokyo Cuisine Guide, they’ve become ‘one of the top omiyage’s for people to buy when visiting others’ just by word of mouth.
  • OKONOMIYAKI, a savoury Japanese pancake that roughly translates into ‘what you like, grilled’. There was a DIY okonomiyaki grill called Sometaro near where we stayed and we patronised it heaps because it was cheap and tasty. Sometaro’s offerings of pizza okonomiyaki and curry okonomiyaki proved that you really can do whatever you like with the dish.
Sometaro okonomiyaki
Sometaro okonomiyaki: leftover noodles in an okonimayki.

While I can’t recreate cream pans, I can recreate okonomiyaki. Due to it’s flexible nature, it is a great recipe for using up the odds and ends rolling around the bottom of the crisper drawer and even non-Japanese cooks like Jamie Oliver use it for this purpose.

I don’t recommend you try Oliver’s Save with Jamie recipe however*; soy sauce plus tomato ketchup does not equal dashi plus okonomiyaki sauce. Little Japan Mama has a good foundation recipe that you can modify. Otherwise, SBS hosts a decent recipe that uses tempura bits (the Japanese equivalent to breadcrumbs).

My Mustbethrifty Okonomiyaki ingredients, adapted from Little Japan Mama’s list, usually include:

  • okonomiyaki mixture
    Using up my old carrots and potatoes in this okonomiyaki batch.

    Just enough cabbage and leftover veggies, shredded, grated or diced, to stop the batter from pooling at the bottom of the bowl. Leftover veggies that I’ve used in the past include Chinese cabbage, bok choy, carrot, potato, zucchini, green beans, lettuce.

  • 1 cup of plain or wholemeal flour
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 x 5g sachet of dashi powder
  • Thin slices of pork belly
    Thin slices of pork belly.

    3 slices of thinly sliced pork belly (available from your Korean-food friendly butcher). If you can’t find thinly sliced pork belly, pancetta is a good substitute. I find bacon rashers too thick and leathery for okonomiyaki.

  • 1 spoonful of pickled ginger, chopped finely
  • 1 spring onion sliced thinly (optional)
  • Mayonnaise
  • Seaweed powder (available at Japanese or Korean grocers). It’s optional but it tastes pretty awesome.
  • Bonito flakes. Again optional, but it’s the little things like seaweed powder and bonito flakes that differentiate an okonomiyaki from a fritter.
  • Lard or bran oil for the pan
Homemade okonomiyaki
Homemade okonomiyaki. Nom.

Extra tips:

  • Use a heavy pan to cook the okonomiyaki. I usually use a cast iron pan that Cheap Geek inherited from his housemate.
  • If you have time, refrigerate the batter for half an hour. This helps give the okonomiyaki more crunch.
  • Leftover okonomiyaki can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge and eaten as a cold lunch the next day.
  • My mustbethrifty okonomiyaki ingredients should make 3 servings.

*There’s a good post on the whys here.

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