When I visited Japan, I loved everything of the country except the gastronomy. I have neve been fond of Japanese cuisine, and being on the spot did not help me to change my feelings. Until I tried the Okonomiyaki…
I confess, I am not a fan of Japanese cuisine (but you can try to convince me otherwise). When I visited the fabled country in June, I was anxious about not eating enough to give me the needed energy to walk around. And I was somehow right. The sophisticated dinner based on one prawn and two cubes of tofu did not satisfy my palate, let alone my stomach. Of course, I quickly realized that eating in touristy restaurants would not contribute to changing my mind. The soup I had in a popular bar in Kyoto was closer to my taste, and definitely more copious and satisfying.
Then I arrived in Hiroshima, and read in my guidebook that the city’s specialty is called Okonomiyaki. It looked interesting on paper. That night, after visiting the Museum, the Memorial and with my head still filled with the horror of the bomb, I wanted to spend a quite moment with my son in a simple place. We had no particular names of restaurants, so we strolled around and went into one that seemed nice. Here it is:
It’s called Nagata-Ya and it’s close to the Memorial. It’s a lovely place: all the waiters and cooks are young and relaxed. You can choose to sit in front of the big hot plate where the Okonomiyaki is prepared, or at another table, that has a smaller plate where the Okonomiyaki is served when it’s ready.
What is this dish exactly?
I could not find many explanations about its origins, but I can tell you that it is delicious. It is a sort of omelette made of thinly shredded cabbage (in Osaka) or Japanese noodles (in Hiroshima). While in Osaka cabbage, onions, bacon and whatever you want to add to it are beaten together with eggs and fried, in Hiroshima the base is made of fried noodles, and you can add whatever you want to it (actually the word Okonomiyaki means exactly “what you like”): vegetables, meat, prawns, cheese…it comes in a variety of ways. The Okonomiyaki is set in front of you on the hot plate, so you can take your time to savour it because it stays hot.
I have found a variety of recipes on the web for this delicious dish, but none of them were really loyal to what I tasted that night in Hiroshima. So, roughly, this is the recipe of my Okonomiyaki. I leave it up to you to figure out the right proportions for you.
– Japanese noodles
– Shredded cabbage
– Mirin (Japanese sweet cooking rice wine)
– Cauliflower, bean sprouts and whatever vegetables you want to add (zucchini, broccoli, etc.)
– Cheese (any kind you like that melts)
– Cook the Japanese noodles in salted water, and set them aside
– Mix a tablespoon of Mirin with water and flour. Avoid making your batter too watery: it should be the consistency of pancake batter. Whisk vigorously.
– In a saucepan pour some olive oil, then add the finely cut onions, shredded cabbage, thinly sliced cauliflower, bean sprouts, etc. Add salt and a bit of soya sauce. When the vegetables soften, set them aside.
– Take the batter and fry it in a large, non-stick saucepan, until it has formed a uniform pancake.
– Remove the pancake out, and pour the noodles into the same saucepan, pressing them down firmly. Add the vegetables, then the cheese, and finally cover with the pancake. You can decorate your Okonomiyaki with whatever you like (sesame seeds, parsley…your choice!).
Text and pictures Claudia Landini