Pancakes for dinner.
I love Asian food. And I especially love Japanese food. Japanese food often gets unfairly categorized into two narrow slots: teriyaki and sushi — with maybe a few fussy, hard-to-make dishes in between. But Japanese cuisine is actually quite varied and fun, with lots of satisfying comfort food in the mix. Okonomiyaki (roughly meaning “cooked how you like” and pronounced “oh-ko-nom-YA-key”) is the casual Japanese cabbage pancake recipe beloved as street food and home cooking alike.
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I spent my last semester of law school abroad in Tokyo, where I first learned how good Japanese food could be. The Japanese, as a general rule, take great care in the quality, preparation, and flavor of their food. This includes everything from high-end nigiri to simple yakitori. (And if you do go to Japan, do not miss the food halls in many of the department stores. They are like take-out food temples.)
I did not discover okonomiyaki, however, until later in my semester, when I traveled to southern Japan. There, the popular and casual dish is served as a giant pancake, sometimes cooked table side, loaded with bonus goodies like bacon, noodles, and shrimp, and topped with flavorful sauces, nori, and bonito flakes.
Osaka-Style vs. Hiroshima-Style Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki is most popular around the southern Japanese cities of Osaka and Hiroshima. But the dish has regional differences in its preparation.
In Osaka-style okonomiyaki, all of the ingredients are mixed together into the batter and poured onto the griddle to cook. In Hiroshima, okonomiyaki is prepared by layering the ingredients on the griddle, starting with the batter, then toppings, which are then flipped like a pancake to brown on both sides.
Both versions get topped with sweet-salty okonomiyaki sauce and other goodness like Kewpie mayonnaise, shredded seaweed, and bonito flakes.
This recipe is an Osaka-style okonomiyaki. This is the easier-style cabbage pancake recipe to make, where all the ingredients are mixed together in a light batter, rather than layered.
Recipe Notes: Japanese Okonomiyaki (Japanese Cabbage Pancakes)
- Make sure the cabbage is bone dry. If you add extra moisture to the batter, it will not brown as easily and will taste soggy.
- I like to mix everything into the batter except the bacon, which I place on top of the pancake once it is in the skillet. That way, I can ensure it browns just right when cooked.
Okonomiyaki usually is a rather large pancake affair, so large sometimes that it is cut into pieces and shared, family style. But I have found that a very large pancake requires two spatulas and careful, precise flipping — neither of which is my strong suit.
Instead, I make my okonomiyaki the size of regular pancakes, and eat two or three. Easy to flip, easy to enjoy. Keep the okonomiyaki in a warm oven until you are ready to serve.
Finally, let the translation “cooked as you like” be your guide. If you do not want to use shrimp or bonito flakes, don’t. Have some cooked noodles sitting around? Throw them in. This is a casual meal, so you can be casual about the add-ins.
Have you eaten okonomiyaki before? What do you think?
Osaka-Style Okonomiyaki (Japanese Cabbage Pancakes)
- 1/2 cup minced shallot (about 1 large shallot)
- 1 cup dashi (water can be substituted in a pinch; recipe linked below)
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 4 cups finely-shredded green cabbage (from about 1/2 pound)
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil, such as canola
- 1 cup peeled, deveined shrimp, roughly chopped
- 3 ounces raw, thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
- okonomiyaki sauce and Kewpie mayonnaise, to finish (recipe below)
- crumbled nori, to garnish
- bonito flakes, to garnish
For Homemade Okonomiyaki Sauce
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- If you are making your own okonomiyaki sauce, heat the ingredients in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves, stirring. Set aside. Make your dashi, if using.
- Put all the okonomiyaki ingredients except the bacon in a large bowl and mix well.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add half of the oil. When the oil shimmers and a drop of batter sizzles, ladle about 1/4 of the batter into the skillet, shaping into a large, thick pancake. Layer several pieces of bacon on top.
- Cook over medium-low until the pancake is browned and set on one side. Do not rush; this will take around 7 or 8 minutes. Flip, and cook on the other side. Repeat with the remaining batter.PRO TIP: To help flip the pancake, you can always invert the pancake onto a plate, then slide it back onto the skillet.
- Serve, second side up, with okonomiyaki sauce, a drizzle of Kewpie mayonnaise, the nori, and bonito flakes.TIP: Kewpie mayonnaise is from Japan, but is easily available online and in specialty markets. The taste is better and richer than regular mayo because it is made from yolks only.