Sunday, April 7, 2013

Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki

This Japanese gotochi card was sent by a Taiwanese postcrosser. The prefectural postcard shaped like an okonomiyaki brought back memories. Mostly known in Kansai, this dish has gotten increasingly popular all over Japan. The original was essentially a cabbage pancake - finely chopped cabbage mixed with egg batter and various other items of your choice: thinly sliced fatty beef, shrimp, squid, fatty pork or octopus. The pancake was usually made on a hot griddle in front of you by either a fast order cook or yourself. The pancake was finished with a generous brushing of okonomiyaki sauce, which sizzled and caramelized on top of the pancake. You could choose various toppings: pickled ginger, powdered nori, bonito shavings, mayonnaise and more sauce. You could get these at summer street fair stalls as well as food stands and lowly restaurants where you could watch couples on cheap dates make okonomiyaki for each other.  I loved okonomiyaki as a child, but also got quite sick eating them. 
Recently I learned that the sousu-aji (flavor of the okonomiyaki sauce) has become the most popular flavor among Japanese children. There are variations of this sauce - the original was used for tonkatsu (Weiner schnitzel Japanese style) and there's a version for yakisoba (stir-fried soba). The origins of this sauce is Worcestershire sauce. The Japanese has improved the flavor 1000%.
Okonomiyaki has also evolved. The Hiroshima card resembles a Japanese Dagwood sandwich, with a mound of chopped scallions, sauce, omelet, yakisoba and finally the okonomiyaki with cabbage and prawns. I've seen many other variations, including those that don't use sauce (bacon and Japanese onions), those that include mochi (rice cakes), those that include giant prawns, cheese, fried egg, double pancakes, etc. Unfortunately these modern takes on the lowly dish increase the portion size and contribute mightily to the obesity issue in Japan.