Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) or ‘fried/grilled-as-you-like-it’ is such an iconic dish that it is sometimes referred to as a ‘Japanese pizza’ or ‘Japanese pancake’. These nicknames disguise the fact that okonomiyaki is packed with vegetables and therefore, I think, relatively healthy. After playing around a lot with the ratios, I’ve settled on an easy okonomiyaki recipe, adapted for what I usually find in my fridge. Read on to find out more!
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what’s missing? (because yam might be wondering)
Some will insist that you need a certain amount of grated or powdered nagaimo (a.k.a. ‘Chinese yam’; ‘Chinese potato’; or ‘cinnamon vine’, after the scent of its flowers) for okonomiyaki. It seems the role of this sticky, starchy vegetable is to bind and bulk up the batter while keeping it nice and fluffy.
Generally, the harder an ingredient is to find in the UK, the more I reflect before including it in a recipe on this site. Nagaimo is quite rare here – but regardless, I’m not stressed about its absence from my rough-and-ready homemade okonomiyaki. Using self-raising flour (and only as much as strictly necessary) will ensure that your ‘Japanese pancakes’ stay on the lighter side anyway. The essential thing is to make sure the batter is quite thin. This will ensure that the cabbage – which makes up the bulk of the dish – cooks through. The interior should still be soft and a little cake-like when done, although possibly not as voluminous as a truly ‘authentic’ version.
Fun fact about nagaimo anyway: it’s the only member of the yam family that can be eaten raw!
other ways I’ve adapted my okonomiyaki recipe
The bacon in this recipe is completely optional. In Japan, very thinly-sliced pork is preferred (and actually available). British-style unsmoked back bacon would be the closest equivalent, but if you prefer something a little crispier, go ahead and use streaky bacon as pictured here.
There is such a thing as okonomiyaki sauce, which is similar to the more commonly available tonkatsu sauce, but slightly sweeter. (See this cool chart of Japanese sauces). I don’t eat fried foods very often, so I don’t keep commercial versions of either at home. Instead, I tend to make up a small amount when required, using other store cupboard essentials. You can use your favourite bottled sauce, try out the recipe below, or even improvise your own.
recipe: okonomiyaki sauce
A little spicier than most versions, since it’s derived from tonkatsu sauce. I’ve added smoked paprika to imitate the smokey notes of katsuobushi, which is often used to garnish okonomiyaki.
- 4 tbsps ketchup
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce ((Lea & Perrins))
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
- Combine all the ingredients, mixing thoroughly.
- Store in the fridge.
This recipe was originally adapted from Serious Eats’ tonkatsu sauce, since I wanted something a little spicy that would cut through the flavour of bacon. I liked their addition of Dijon mustard, but found the sauce much too pungent somehow, even when I omitted the garlic powder. This could be because I used vinegary Lea & Perrins rather than a mild, fruity, Japanese-style Worcestershire sauce. My version reflects my own taste, my own cupboards, and hopefully the dish which follows!
recipe: my failsafe, easy okonomiyaki
A hearty, vegetable-based lunch that doesn’t feel too virtuous. If you want traditional, plate-sized okonomiyaki, split the batter into two rather than three, frying one portion at a time if necessary. Also, use two rashers of bacon per pancake rather than one.
- 1/4 white cabbage (small)
- 1 carrot (small)
- 2-3 spring onions
- 4-5 tbsps self-raising flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 3 rashers bacon (one per pancake)
- vegetable oil (for frying)
- okonomiyaki sauce
- mayonnaise (in a squeezable container)
- Remove the core from the cabbage and discard. Finely shred the leaves. Cut the carrot into fine matchsticks and finely chop the spring onions. Combine the vegetables in a bowl.
- Add the flour and mix well to coat the vegetables. There should be none left at the bottom of the bowl.
- Beat two eggs and add them to the bowl, together with the soy sauce. Again, mix well. A pancake-like batter should coat the vegetables, without puddling. Leave to stand for a few minutes.
- If using bacon, heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan and begin frying the bacon, well spaced, on one side. Spoon an even portion of the vegetable mixture onto each rasher. If omitting the bacon, heat the oil and add the vegetable mixture to the pan directly. Try to heap the mixture into neat circles without pressing down at this point.
- When the first side is cooked, flip the pancakes over with a spatula. Keep them near the sides of the pan and rotate them so that the edges cook. When done, they should spring back when pressed without oozing.
- Serve with the (crispy) bacon side upmost. Coat the top of the pancakes with a thin layer of okonomiyaki sauce and decorate with lines of mayonnaise. Serve hot.
You may wish to add katsuobushi or powdered aonori on top of your okonomiyaki, as they do in Osaka. Don’t worry if it’s not a masterpiece of presentation – it’s a quick dish after all!