How to Make Osaka Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) is a gorgeous comfort food, far removed from the more refined washoku and delicate sushi folks usually associate with Japanese cuisine. The word "okonomiyaki" can be broken down as お好み (o-konomi) meaning “preference” or “choice,” and 焼き (yaki) can be translated is “grilled” or “cooked.” The name alludes to the fact that you can choose whatever ingredients you want to add to the batter or topping, making it a highly personalised and fun dish to eat.
When I went to Japan to film my episode about okonomiyaki for TV Tokyo’s「世界！ニッポンイキたい人応援団」program (also known as “Who Wants to Come to Japan?”), I was often asked by Japanese people why I loved okonomiyaki so much. I explained that, aside from the feeling of comfort you experience when tucking into the dish, I just love how much of a social experience it is, especially compared to a “fast food” like ramen. Okonomiyaki encourages conversation—you can make it together with friends over a large teppan table, or, you can sit at a bar-style teppan alongside other patrons and chat with the chef while they make it right in front of you.
Making it at home
Although I’ve known about okonomiyaki for quite a long time, my hometown in Canada has always had a distinct lack of Asian grocery stores so authentic ingredients were both impossible to find and unreasonably expensive to import. Since moving to the UK, it’s been much easier to find everything I need (thank you, Japan Centre!), meaning the dish has turned into a very regular meal at our house.
During my trip, I visited ten different restaurants, chatted with many shop owners and okonomiyaki enthusiasts, and learned even more tips and tricks for making the perfect pancake. For this post, I’ll focus on making Osaka okonomiyaki, also known as Kansai style, where all the ingredients are mixed together in a batter prior to cooking. In addition, I’ll be using a pre-mixed okonomiyaki flour with yam and dashi included, as ‘nagaimo’ mountain yam can be quite difficult to find in many smaller markets.
(Makes two servings)
1-2 frying pans
- Measuring cup
- Wooden spoon
- Sharp chopping knife
- Chopping board
- Large bowl
- 100g okonomiyaki flour, from brands such as Nippn
- 250-300g of thinly shredded cabbage. White cabbage is fine, but savoy is nice too if you want something fluffier.
- 2-3 spring onions, thinly sliced. Separate the white and green sections into two different piles.
- 1 large egg
- 100ml water
- 20g tenkasu tempura flakes
- Beni shoga ginger to taste, diced
- Aonori flakes, to taste
- Bonito flakes (katsuobushi), to taste
- Kewpie mayonnaise, to taste
- Okonomiyaki sauce, to taste
Some toppings are more traditional than others, and pork belly seems to be the standard, but feel free to experiment with whatever you’d like to mix into the batter or add to the top. Ideas include:
- Thin pork belly
- Prawns, squid, mussels, grilled oysters
- Canned tuna mixed with kewpie mayonnaise, spread on top
- Konnyaku, chopped into cubes
- Soft-cooked oden-style potatoes
1. In a large bowl, gently mix the flour, water, egg, and about a half a tablespoon of kewpie mayonnaise into a smooth batter. Don’t overmix it or the batter will lose fluffiness.
2. With a spoon, fold in the chopped cabbage, whites of the spring onions, tenkasu flakes, and diced pickled ginger to the batter. Add konnyaku, natto, or other ingredients that don’t require direct contact with high heat to cook through, if you like.
3. Oil a heated pan and add slightly less than half the batter (you’ll want a spoonful of batter left over for later). If you have two pans, split the batter evenly, but remember leave two spoonfuls of batter for the final step.
4. Cook over medium heat for around 3-4 minutes. You may need to experiment with the cooking times based on your own cooking appliance.
7. While first side is cooking, press meat or seafood-type toppings (pork, squid, sausage, etc.) into the top and gently spread the last spoonful of batter on top to cover them up. They don’t need to be completely covered, but this step helps them from coming apart during flipping, and helps prevent them from burning or drying out, as well. If you’re adding tuna and mayo, skip this step, as the mixture should be added after both sides are already cooked.
8. Flip and cook for an extra 3-4 minutes. Resist the urge to press down with the spatula or you’ll flatten the air out and lose a lot of fluffiness.
9. Flip a final time. If adding tuna mix, add in this step. Otherwise, drizzle with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise.
10. Sprinkle aonori flakes and top with bonito. Add remaining green spring onions and a final bit of ginger in the middle for garnish!
Tips and tricks:
- The best okonomiyaki, like any dish, relies on the quality of the freshest ingredients. In Japan, different ingredients are sourced at different times of the year. Cabbage behaves differently when depending on the season and professional cooks adjust their cooking time accordingly.
- Some okonomiyaki batters made from scratch include baking powder to add extra fluffiness to the pancake. In these cases, I’ve seen cooks press down on the pancake (often considered a no-no in other batters) during cooking, and then placing a metal dome (simply called “round cover” in Japanese) over the top to allow the batter to steam and fluff up. Okonomiyaki Okura in Osaka relies on this technique, and the resulting dish was one of the best I had in Japan!
- Some restaurants experiment with adding more than just typical okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise to the top. Mizuno, one of the most famous shops in Osaka, adds two or three tiny dabs of mustard to give the dish an even deeper, more interesting flavour.
- For a sweeter taste, try making some adjustments to the mayonnaise with this recipe from a famous restaurant in Aichi: mix together 30g of mayonnaise, 15g of sour cream or whipping cream, 1 teaspoon of milk, and 1 tablespoon of sugar (or honey).
- A Japanese friend of mine recommended adding ‘Baby Star Crispy Noodle’ to the okonomiyaki for a little bit of crunch!
- If you’d like to try making the whole batter from scratch with nagaimo and dashi, check out this recipe from the one and only, Cooking with Dog.
If you have any further tips or comments, send them my way! I’d love to know how you make your okonomiyaki!