Okonomiyaki - The Japanese Comfort Food Crepe

If you haven’t lived in Japan you've probably never heard of okonomiyaki. (oh-ko-no-me-yaki). But in Japan it’s as common as hamburgers are in America, available in almost every neighborhood. In Hiroshima there are 27 different okonomiyaki restaurants in just one building.

okonomiyaki.jpg Although there are regional differences, the basic okonomiyaki is the same everywhere. A crepe of flour and water, shredded cabbage, noodles, bean sprouts, a savory sauce and spices. Most commonly, it also has meat (pork slices are typical) and an egg, but in all the places I’ve had it all over Japan, I was able to request a vegan version which, when sampled by my omnivore friends, was voted every bit as delicious as theirs.

One thing that makes okonomiyaki unique is that the counter top in front of you is a griddle. The crepe is cooked and then slid over to you with a steel spatula and eaten from the warm griddle counter-top or, to add a fancy touch, on a plate. This makes the restaurant warm and cosy on the coldest day. And in summer, arctic air conditioning keeps the place comfortably cool.

The brown sauce on top is available in many Asian groceries that offer a variety of Japanese foods. It’s a slightly sweet savory sauce made from soy and a variety of fruits and spices, a little like Chinese hoi-sin sauce. Green onions and a sprinkle of powdered seaweed are usually on top.

Here's how to make vegan okonomiyaki at home.

Ingredients: (for two main-course meal crepes)

1 C flour (whole wheat preferred)

2 T mirin (Japanese cooking sake) - optional

1 small or ½ large head cabbage. shredded

2 C cooked noodles (soba, udon, ramen or whole wheat spaghetti)

2 C bean sprouts

1 T powdered or flaked dulse (or any seaweed combination)

1 C okonomiyaki sauce

½ C green onions, finely sliced

2 T roughly crushed peanuts (optional - raises fat percentage)

½ C corn kernals, fresh, frozen or canned - (optional)

Step-by-step instructions for making your own vegan okonomiyaki:

1. Mix flour with 1½ C water (add mirin if used) and on a warm (but not-yet-hot) non-stick griddle or frying pan, spread a thin layer to make a 10" circle. Keep heat on medium-low.

2. Layer half the cabbage and half the bean sprouts on each crepe. Put about 1/4 of the green onions and 1 T peanuts (if used) on each.

3. At this point you can, optionally, add corn, strips of tempeh, seitan or veggie "meat" slices. Pour a little more of the flour mixture on top to bind the cabbage and sprouts. Sprinkle a little of the okonomiyaki sauce all over the top.

4 & 5. When the bottom just starts to slightly brown, using two spatulas, flip the crepe over and increase the heat. Push down firmly on the top with the spatulas, allowing the ingredients to cook.

6. On the griddle or on another non-stick pan, divide the noodles into two 9" round piles, add a little okonomiyaki sauce and then scoop up the entire crepe and slide it on top of the noodles.

7. This step is used to put the crepe on top of a cooked egg, but many okonimiyaki houses offer a slice of mochi (solidified rice) or a thin slice of eggplant or other bland vegetable for a vegetarian alternative. The okonomiyaki should be picked up and laid on those ingredients, if they’re used.

8. Flip the entire pie again and add the remaining green onions and the seaweed powder then spread the remainder of the okonomiyaki sauce on top.

9. Now the cook slides the finished okonomiyaki to the cooler part of the grill in front of the customer. Either the cook or the recipient uses a small spatula to cut it into bite sized pieces. (Since cutting on a non-stick surface might damage it, slide the okonomiyaki onto a plate first).

Okonomiyaki is typically consumed with hot green tea, cold beer, soft drinks, or ice water. Enjoy.