Okonomiyaki, Osaka style

okonomiyaki1-500.jpg

Okonomiyaki is getting slowly more popular outside of Japan. It’s often described as a Japanese pizza, but it’s more like a savory pancake.

Okonomiyaki was invented, they say, in Osaka, which is a city famous for cheap and good eats. Okonomiyaki is a snack more than a full meal, though it is pretty filling. It’s a quintessential yatai or streetside food stand food, though nowadays you’re more likely to eat it indoors than sitting at an outside stall. It’s a very communal type of food, especially if you cook it on a tabletop griddle.

This is a fairly authentic recipe I think, or as authentic as a Tokyo born-and-bred girl can get.

The essential ingredients

Okonomiyaki uses some very Japanese ingredients which may need some explanation. (Check out the ever growing reader-contributed list of Japanese grocery stores to find these ingredients.)

Nagaimo

Nagaimo is a starchy root vegetable, which can be known under the names taro root or under that annoying generic term for any starchy root vegetable unfamiliar to to the Westerner, yam. It is usually sold in cut up lengths wrapped in plastic. It looks like this:

nagaimo1.jpg

You will use this grated into a gooey, sticky pulp, which looks like this. (This is where some juvenile surfer discovers this page and snarks about how it looks like spit, sperm, or a combination of both.)

nagaimo2-ground.jpg

A lot of people have a mild allergic reaction to raw grated nagaimo. I have that reaction - it makes me itch a bit. So I avoid skin contact with the raw surface by only peeling as much of the root as I need (for this recipe, about 4 inches or 10 cm) and holding the root in its plastic wrap while grating. To keep the rest of the root, let the exposed cut end dry off a bit then wrap securely in plastic.

The glutinous, gelationous quality of the nagaimo gives the okonomiyaki batter a certain bounce. I’ve tried substituting grated potato, which sort of works, but nagaimo is better. The only subsitutes for nagaimo are even harder to get outside of Japan, yamaimo or yamatoimo. I can get raw nagaimo in my tiny local Japanese grocery, so any decent Japanese grocery store should have it.

There is a dried yamaimo powder which can be used instead. (In practice though, I’ve found that if a store has dried yamaimo powder, it’s also likely to have the raw nagaimo root too, and I prefer to use the latter. If you can only get stuff by mailorder though, the powder is more handy. Japan Centre carries it.)

Aonori

This is a dried, very green version of nori seaweed. It’s usually sold in finely shredded almost-powder form. It’s quite inexpensive, so it’s worth buying. A substitute would be finely shredded regular nori, but aonori is usually a bit cheaper. Used as a topping.

Katsuobushi

Dried bonito flakes. One of the essential Japanese ingredients. Used as a topping with aonori.

Okonomiyaki sauce

This is a sweet version of tonkatsu sauce, which is described here. This is available at Japanese grocery stores. You can use tonkatsu sauce instead. It’s not essential to use this sauce - my mother for instance prefers a little drizzle of soy sauce on her okonomiyaki instead.

Japanese mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is used as the sauce on top of the okonomiyaki by a lot of people, though it does make the whole thing very rich. A Japanese brand like Kewpie is preferred, though Hellman’s or whatever works too. It adds richness and a touch of acidity.

Dashi stock

The base of Japanese food! Here is the basic recipe, but you can use a pinch of dashi stock granules (such as hondashi).

Beni shouga

Pickled and red dyed ginger. Colorful, cheap, and cheerful. Available at any Japanese grocery store.

Tenkasu

Tenkasu is little bits of batter that fall into the oil when you are frying tempura. It’s used as a flavoring ingredient in a surprising number of dishes. You can actually buy premade tenkasu in a well stocked Japanese grocery store, but I find it hard to justifying spending money for something which is just oily bits of batter. On the other hand, I don’t really make tempura often enough to have a stock of tenkasu around. So what I do is to make some of the okonomiyaki batter into impromptu tenkasu. I’ll show you how in the instructions.

Sakura ebi

Tiny dried shimp. This is an optional but nice ingredient to put in.

Thinly sliced pork belly

This is the part of pork that gets turned into bacon. In Japan you can get this part very thinly sliced, as a normal supermarket cut (butabaraniku usugiri). Elsewhere, you may have to ask your butcher to slice it for you. If you can’t get it pre-sliced, get a chunk of pork belly, freeze it until it’s quite stiff but not a solid ice block, and slice it yourself.

Cabbage, eggs and flour

You should have these around. Regular flour is fine - you only need a little bit of it as a binder.

Professional okonomiyaki stores may use beautifully finely shredded cabbage, but if your knife skills do not measure up, roughly chopping it (even in a food processor) is fine.

So, if you’ve managed to get all the ingredients together, let’s make okonomiyaki.

Recipe: Okonomiyaki

This makes 3 medium or 2 big okonomiyaki. A medium okonomiyaki would feed one person. A big appetite can handle one big okonomiyaki. You can also cut them into slices to serve many as appetizers or beer snacks. Increase the amounts proportionately for more servings.

  • 120g / 4 oz. grated nagaimo, or the equivalent amount of reconstituted yamaimo powder
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons of dashi stock, or water with a pinch of dashi powder
  • 60g / 2 oz all purpose flour, sifted
  • 3 ‘large’ (60g each) eggs
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of beni shouga
  • 4 tablespoons of tenkasu
  • About 300g / 10 1/2 oz. (about 2 packed cups) roughly chopped cabbage
  • 6 to 8 thin slices of pork belly
  • 3 tablespoons of chopped green onion (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of sakura ebi (optional)
  • Oil for cooking

The topping:

  • aonori
  • katsuobushi
  • okonomiyaki sauce or tonkatsu sauce plus optional mayonnaise

Equipment needed:

  • a griddle plate or a large non-stick frying pan
  • a smaller frying pan
  • a wad of paper towels or cotton wool
  • a grater
  • a brush for the sauce (optional)

Peel and grate the nagaimo, following the hints above for protecting your hands. Mix with the dashi and flour, and add two of the eggs. It should be a rather loose batter.

okonomiyaki-batter1.jpg

At this point, if you don’t have any tenkasu on hand, heat up some oil in a small frying pan. Dribble some of the batter in the hot oil.

okonomiyaki-tenkasu1.jpg

Cook until golden brown. Drain off the oil (you can use it to cook the okonomiyaki) and allow the tenkasu to cool.

okonomiyaki-tenkasu2.jpg

Add the chopped cabbage to the batter.

okonomiyaki-batter2.jpg

Add the other egg. Stir with a big spoon or a spatula to combine.

okonomiyaki-batter3.jpg

Add the other ingredients except the pork. Crumble the tenkasu with your hands a bit before adding. Stir to combine.

okonomiyaki-batter4.jpg

Heat up your griddle pan or big frying pan. Take a wad of cotton wool or paper towels, and spread around a thin layer of oil.

okonomiyaki-preppan.jpg

The heat should be about medium-low. Spread 1/3 to 1/2rd of the batter in a circle on the pan. If this is your first time, go with the smaller size to make flipping easier.

okonomiyaki-fry1.jpg

Place 2 to 3 strips of pork as flat as possible on top of the batter.

okonomiyaki-fry2.jpg

Put on a lid, and let it steam-cook for about 5-6 minutes.

okonomiyaki-fry3.jpg

When the pork has lightened up in color, it’s time to flip the okonomiyaki.

okonomiyaki-fry4.jpg

Take two spatulas and flip the thing over carefully. Voila! Continue cooking without a lid for about 3-4 more minutes. Lower the heat if it’s cooking too fast, or turn it up a bit if it isn’t. Try to resist the urge to press down on the okonomiyaki at this point - doing so will squeeze some air and fluffiness out of the okonomiyaki.

okonomiyaki-fry5.jpg

Flip over once more, so the pork side is facing up. Brush with the sauce of your choice - straight okonomiyaki sauce, a mix of okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise, soy sauce, etc.

okonomiyaki-fry6.jpg

Sprinkle on some katsuobushi and aonori liberally.

okonomiyaki-fry7.jpg

To serve, cut into 4 pieces (the pro does this on the plate with a spatula, but you can use a knife on a cutting board).

The inside should be just cooked through, not doughy or runny. Eat while piping hot. (Okonomiyaki is edible enough when it’s cold, but it’s one of those foods that is so much better when it’s freshly made.)

okonomiyaki2-500.jpg

Notes

A Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is either two of these with some yakisoba (pan-fried noodles) in between, or one of these as a base, topped with a mound of yakisoba, and then a fried egg. One Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki comes in at around 1000 calories. Enjoy.

You can omit the pork belly slices. You can try substituting bacon, but that would flavor the whole thing.

You can get okonomiyaki mix, which has flour, nagaimo powder, dashi, and things already in there. You just add water, or water and egg, depending on the kind. But, that’s not nearly as much fun.

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WOW

My eyes popped when I saw this recipe!!! It looks… filling. I bet it would make a good bar snack or hangover food, but to these American eyes it reminds me most of an appetizer you can get at the Unos Pizza chain… the one with mashed potatoes in a deep dish pizza crust with cheese and bacon and onion topping. I think it was ranked one of the worst foods in the world in terms of fat content and lack of nutritional value, but oh boy is it ever tasty.
I bet if I ever made this for a party and served with beer, all the men in the room would stampede for it. :)

Nico | 9 February, 2008 - 00:20

this looks so delicious…

this looks so delicious… :)

anon. | 9 February, 2008 - 02:21

It is very filling…but not

It is very filling…but not that bad nutritionally. It has very little oil in it, only 2 or 3 thin slices of bacon-like meat, and at least a whole cup or so of choppped cabbage. I think it’s probably around 250 calories for a whole one, or 300 if you load up on mayo in the sauce.

And yep, it is delicious! :)

maki | 9 February, 2008 - 09:33

Re: It is very filling…but not

An Osaka style okonomiyaki is around 1000 per serving. Not necessarily because it's unhealthy but because there are a lot of ingredients in it.

anon. | 29 March, 2011 - 00:29

I love okonomiyaki! Living

I love okonomiyaki! Living in Osaka, it’s my favourite food hands-down. Glad to have a recipe onhand for whenever I leave Japan. :)

Izumi | 9 February, 2008 - 16:40

Re: I love okonomiyaki! Living

Your not going to leave Japan if you keep eating those my friend...

anon. | 26 September, 2010 - 00:44

Great, super informative

Great, super informative okonomiyaki post! It has been a while I last made okonomiyaki.

Kevin | 9 February, 2008 - 20:51

Wow. I didn’t realize how

Wow. I didn’t realize how intricate the recipe was. All the ingredients are readily available here in Honolulu but I have only had it freshly prepard at food counters from Japanese department stores here (Shirokiya, Daiei). I have also come across a couple of Japanese restaurants that specialize in this dish. I am not familiar with nagaimo but had yamaimo growing up. My grandfather used to grate it up and put into miso soup and enjoyed it that way, I call it tororo. I however, had difficulty eating it like that as it was really slimy. Lol. Funny thing, I just looked up ‘tororo’ on wikipedia and it says that it was used during the Edo period as a homosexual lubricant. I can see why, but not sure why it wasn’t used as a heterosexual lubricant.

Mitch | 9 February, 2008 - 22:22

as other ppl previously

as other ppl previously said: wow.

i’m not sure if i can get all the ingredients here in manila, but i know this stall in a mall downtown that makes decent okonomiyaki. makes me want to go there really soon and get me a fix.

kantogirl | 10 February, 2008 - 10:37

Fellow Manila-ite~

Actually, there are some great Japanese grocery stores along Pasay Rd., near Greenbelt 3. I’ve been able to find all of the ingredients at one store called ‘Sakura’, except for namaimo and except for real dashi stock (they have dashi powder). There’s also apparently a store called ‘Hatchin’ on Sacred Heart Rd., near Makati Medical Center. Hope you get to try making the recipe too. :)

Thanks for the recipe, Maki~ Can’t wait to try making it tonight for my family. :D

Jennifer | 31 December, 2008 - 08:14

Re: Fellow Manila-ite~

Jennifer wrote:

Actually, there are some great Japanese grocery stores along Pasay Rd., near Greenbelt 3. I've been able to find all of the ingredients at one store called 'Sakura', except for namaimo and except for real dashi stock (they have dashi powder). There's also apparently a store called 'Hatchin' on Sacred Heart Rd., near Makati Medical Center. Hope you get to try making the recipe too. :)

Thanks for the recipe, Maki~ Can't wait to try making it tonight for my family. :D

If you guys want to try out okonomiyaki made by an actual Japanese community in Manila, you can check out Kagura which is in Little Tokyo (yes it's the Japanese counterpart of Binondo or Chinatown in Manila) along Chino Roces Ave. formerly Pasong Tamo. They have a bunch of other restaurants and groceries there too.

a*coz | 17 June, 2009 - 19:38

Re: as other ppl previously

kantogirl wrote:

as other ppl previously said: wow.

i'm not sure if i can get all the ingredients here in manila, but i know this stall in a mall downtown that makes decent okonomiyaki. makes me want to go there really soon and get me a fix.

Where in Manila do they make okonomiyaki? I'm actually from Baguio and have been making my own okonomiyaki thanks to Maki's recipe. But it would be great to see and taste how the pros do it (in case I've been doing it wrong all this time) haha. Thanks! ^_^

a*coz | 29 April, 2009 - 09:12

Wow Pretty Yummy!

Wow! I’m visiting Osaka in a few weeks! I will be sure to seek this out!!!

Thanks Maki!

Gigi | 10 February, 2008 - 15:03

I’m a huge okonomiyaki

I’m a huge okonomiyaki fan, and have always wondered if there was some relationship between okonomiyaki and Korean kimchijeon/pajeon? Did one inspire the other?

Phil | 10 February, 2008 - 15:11

I rather doubt that either

I rather doubt that either one directly influenced the other - they are both after all, just pancakes. Almost every country/culture that has some sort of flour has a pancake-type recipe. Both are delicious though!

maki | 10 February, 2008 - 21:48

Thank you!

I visited Japan for the first time last summer, and had okonomiyaki twice in Hiroshima. It was so delicious. I’m very glad to now have a recipe so that I can make it for myself here at home, and don’t have to wait until the next time I visit Japan.

Adina | 11 February, 2008 - 03:17

Mmmm

Hi Maki,
I really enjoy a good okonomiyaki but don’t find them too often around my area. I get to eat it only once every 3 or 4 months!

Lori | 11 February, 2008 - 10:27

Very close to the recipe I

Very close to the recipe I use at home. Dashi is hard hard hard for me to come by, so I’ve used homemade chicken stock instead, which works nicely. Also, someone I know suggested using rice krispies as a sub for the tempura bits. I like your idea of cooking some of the batter instead!

Storyweaver | 11 February, 2008 - 19:56

Hi Maki-san - I’m REALLY

Hi Maki-san - I’m REALLY hungry now…!

keiko | 11 February, 2008 - 21:19

sumimasen, keiko san ^_^;

sumimasen, keiko san ^_^;

maki | 18 February, 2008 - 18:19

This is awesome!

I love this dish, but only knew how to make it using okonomiyaki mix. The mix usually makes the pancake really dense, too much for my liking so I’m excited to try this recipe. There’s an okonomiyaki restaurant I go to all the time and they have some fun & interesting choices of ingredients in lieu of pork belly, such as: ground beef and miso, mochi and cheese, natto, spam and cheese, pork and kimchee…to name a few. I’ve tried them and they were surprisingly good. Another tip for others that are new to handling nagaimo, wear a new/clean rubber glove when peeling and grating them. They are super slippery so this allows a good grip and provides extra protection for your hand. I learned that the hard way.

Pat | 11 February, 2008 - 22:53

Saving the nagaimo in the freezer?

I was wondering if you could grate the whole nagaimo and place the pre-measured goo into silicone cups and freeze it? I always end up with a huge chunk left after making okonomiyaki, and it seems like a waste to throw it out.

Ami | 14 February, 2008 - 03:39

sure, you can freeze the

sure, you can freeze the grated nagaimo. Spread it out thinly, and break off as much as you need to use!

maki | 14 February, 2008 - 11:30

what to do with leftover nagaimo?

The last time I wanted to make okonomiyaki, I bought the okonomiyaki mix that contains powdered nagaimo. Since the mix is a little pricey, I’d rather buy the nagaimo separately.

What else I can do with nagaimo, since they sell it in about one foot-long sections here in the States. I’m not the biggest fan of tororo.

I forget where I read it, but instead of tenkasu, you can use crisped rice cereal for a similar crunch.

Jin | 15 February, 2008 - 22:49

Jin, you can freeze the

Jin, you can freeze the leftover nagaimo (see above comments), or make ganmodoki (tofu fritters). Nagaimo is used as a binder in a lot of things.

I don’t really agree with substituting rice krispies for tenkasu in this case, becase the tenkasu isn’t really adding crunchiness here, it’s adding a sort of oily-fried flavor, which rice cereal definitely doesn’t have. (adding oily-fried flavor may sound disgusting, but that’s what makes deep-fried food tastes good…)

maki | 18 February, 2008 - 18:15

Tenkasu Substitute

I substituted those fried onions you can buy in a can for the tenkasu as I didn’t have any at the time and it was a nice surpirse! Still the oily flavor crunch and some added onion flavor which I love!

Jason | 17 December, 2008 - 18:05

One of my favorite Japanese dishes

Wow, it seems like a lot of work. No wonder my mom uses a mix. Even then, I love it.

Shubo | 19 February, 2008 - 04:20

Nagaimo question....and kelp powder help please. Thanks!

Hi Maki,

I would very much like to try this recipe and finally found a store here that sells the nagaimo.

Having never cooked with this before, I still have some questions. When you actually grate this veggie, do you have to peel off the skin first, or is the skin grated with it as well?

Does this keep in the fridge for long?

Thanks a lot.

PS: a bit off topic, but a friend recently found that her natural store carries bulk kelp powder. She asked me if instead of soaking kelp in water for 20 minutes to make dashi, if she could just use the kelp powder and then add katsuobushi flakes directly into it to make dashi (better than the store bought instant dashi granules she said).

I have no idea, any ideas? And what would one use kelp powder for in cooking. Thanks a lot.

Wakkun | 19 February, 2008 - 19:33

Nagaimo should be peeled

Nagaimo should be peeled before grating.

By ‘it’ do you mean the nagaimo? If so, nagaimo does keep for a pretty long time in the fridge - a month or more even, as long as the ends are dried off before wrapping (an oldstyle way of doing this was to dip the end in some sawdust. I just wipe it off well with a paper towel and let it air-dry).

I don’t know what kind of kelp your friend got…if she finds it very fragrant and flavorful I guess she could use it for dashi. Follow your nose and tongue and see where it leads!

maki | 21 February, 2008 - 13:22

Hiroshima Okonomiyaki

I must say, when I tried the Hiroshima style I couldn’t eat Osaka style okonomiyaki anymore lol. Also..the whole 1000kcal thing…I don’t think I could eat the whole thing okonomiyaki. I always have to half it because it’s so filling.

This recipe is really helpful, since when I try to make it I fail horribly. I hope you post the Hiroshima style okonomiyaki recipe soon ^^

Mitsu | 21 February, 2008 - 09:22

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