Whatever you like…grilled

Whilst I was in Tokyo, one of the first foods recommended to me was Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き). The literal translation of the Japanese is ‘grilled as you like’. It is a savoury pancake consisting of a batter, eggs and cabbage. The rest, as the title suggests, is up to you.

There are two different types of Okonomiyaki, Osaka and Hiroshima. Osaka has the cabbage mixed with the egg and batter to create a large pancake. Hiroshima style is more like a folded omelette with the cabbage and other fillings inside. I was lucky enough to try both in Japan, and I have to say, it was tough picking a favourite.

The first okonomiyaki I had was at Aqua City shopping centre in Odaiba, Tokyo. The restaurant was called Tsuruhashi Fugetsu. It was so good that we went multiple times. In fact, so frequently that the waiters recognised us.

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Osaka style Okonomiyaki

On one of many occasions we shared the above. The beef mix with a fried egg and spring onion, pork yaki-soba inside an omelette, and the pork, prawn and squid mix. Both Okonomiyaki were covered in the traditional bonito (fish) flakes, Japanese mayonnaise and sweet/smokey Okonomiyaki sauce. All of this, plus a glass of delicious plum wine, cost the three of us around £8 each.

A Japanese friend also recommended a great place in Kyoto, Issen Yosyoku (壹錢洋食), to try the Hiroshima style. It wins the title for quirkiest restaurant I have ever been to. Inside you’ll find Geisha mannequins, supposedly to trick drunken men in, and risqué wooden plaques on the walls.

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Amazing display outside Issen Yosyoku
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Quirky interior, complete with Geisha mannequins and slightly risqué decor

The restaurant name can be translated as the equivalent of 1 US cent (Issen) Western food (Yosyoku).  The menu could not have been simpler. A large picture of okonomiyaki and the price. The only question from the waitress ‘how many?’ Some people were sharing it as a snack, but we went for one each and an Asahi (Japanese beer widely available in the UK). Although it was not as cheap as 1 cent, it still came to just under £5. It was delicious, even if we could not name all of the ingredients inside.

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Variation of Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki

Having tried each variety of this Japanese snack, I loved both. Hence, naturally, I have been on the lookout for it in London. The first few times, I cooked my own. I’ll cover this in more detail in a later post, along with some recipes. However after a little research I found Abeno. I insisted my boyfriend come along, and we arrived to a quiet restaurant on a Saturday lunchtime.

Not far from the British Museum, Abeno is very inconspicuous from the outside. My hopes soon picked up when I saw the hot plate in the middle of each table.  I really liked the blue and white plates, and was pleased to see the traditional (very useful) spade-like tool for cutting Okonomiyaki.

We ordered a large Tokyo mix okonomiyaki (prawn, squid, and pork) costing £14.95, and pork Omu-soba to share (£12.95). Omu-soba is Yaki-soba noodles wrapped in an omelette and drizzled with ketchup and mayonnaise. This may be controversial, but for me an Omu-soba beats an English fry up any day! It’s a shame that Japanese food in the UK is so much more expensive. Still it’s cheaper than flying out for it!

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Pork, Prawn and Squid Okonomiyaki with bonito flakes, powdered seaweed and those incredible sauces.

To my delight, just as in Tokyo, the food was all prepared at our table. The raw ingredients were brought over, mixed and grilled on the hot plate. To try and help with the temptation to eat it early, the pancake was covered with a saucepan lid. This also has the practical element of steaming the pancake, keeping it light. In Japan there was no such lid. Instead there was a fun back and forth with the waiter. Can we eat it yet?!

The Omu-soba was cooked separately in the kitchen. I would have preferred the noodles to be put on the hot plate. This way they become slightly crispy. Despite this, everything was delicious. It was almost as good as restaurant in Tokyo.

I will continue to look for a restaurant serving the Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki. In the meantime, I have found a few more recipes to try out at home!

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