There are as many versions of okonomiyaki as there are vending machines in Japan, which makes sense, seeing that ‘okonomi’ means ‘what you like’ and ‘yaki’ means ‘cooked’. The mixture varies from region to region, as do the toppings. In Hiroshima, they layer up the savoury pancake with noodles and other ingredients, whereas in the Kansai region, they tend to keep it a bit simpler and go for an all-in-one batter. Nori’s Mum often made it with thinly sliced pork belly, which is tasty too!
This dish is super popular in Japan – there are Okonomiyaki restaurants everywhere. My favourites are the ‘grill-it-yourself’ establishments – after choosing your fillings, your batter is delivered to the table where you then cook your own on communal hot plates. Because not everyone has one of these grill plates hanging around the house, you can either use the hotplate on your BBQ or a fry pan, like we do. If you’re using a frying pan, it’s best to keep the pancake relatively small to make for easy flipping.
We add chopped calamari to ours which adds a nice texture, but you should embrace the meaning of ‘okonomi’ and literally add what you like, which could include: thin slices of pork belly, octopus or more vegetables would be delicious too. You can easily make okonomiyaki vegetarian by using a dashi stock made from mushrooms or kombu and omitting the calamari and bonito flakes. The pancake is then smothered in okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise and topped with things like nori, bonito flakes and spring onions – DELICIOUS!
Oh, and I should also mention that you need to pay close attention to the bonito flakes when they hit the steamy pancake, or YouTube ‘Bonito flakes dancing’ – my number two reason why I love okonomiyaki. Number one is, of course, the taste!