Traveling Back Home Through My Baba’s Okonomiyaki

I rubbed my eyes to rid of the lingering images from the movie I had forcefully watched on the small airplane screen. I readjusted my heavy knapsack full of sudoku, my diary, American books, and half opened bags of Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cups. I swallowed the sticky saliva that coated my dry mouth. As a wave of humid heat swept the carpeted floor of Narita International Airport, my little zombie-like body could only think of one thing: Okonomiyaki.

My grandmother’s okonomiyaki was always the first meal waiting for us after our three-month summer vacations in America. After the long drive from the airport back into the city, we would strip off our clothes, take a shower, and scramble to our dining room table. Her stout 4-and-a-half-foot figure stood at the edge of the knobby marble table with a big bowl of the thin, golden batter–even thinner than that of a French crepe. She would pour three large circles, one for each of us children, on the large hot plate placed in the middle. She surrounded herself with ceramic bowls filled with shredded cabbage, paper-thin slices of raw pork and wagyu beef, chopped squid and shrimp, dried bonito flakes, and deep fried tempura batter crumbs. She topped the thin pancakes with a mountain of the sliced cabbage and a couple pieces of each ingredient. Her hand moved deftly from bowl to bowl as we patiently waited on the margins of her large spread, chatting about our summer adventures.

Our chatter resided as she got ready to flip them; she grabbed the spatula and quickly inverted them and the savory smell filled the entire room. We squealed at the sound of the meat sizzling as it hit the pan. That same smell permeated my kitchen on 42nd and Locust as I flipped over a version of my Grandma’s okonomiyaki on my small black pan. I closed my eyes, breathed in, and I was back home.

 


Okonomiyaki (Kobe-Style)

Serves 4
Ingredients
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • Water
  • Tenkasu/Agedama (tempura batter scraps)
  • Katsuobushi (bonito flakes)
  • Cabbage, chopped into thin shreds
  • Thinly sliced pork, beef, squid, octopus or any kind of protein of choice (shabu shabu cut of meat)
  • Japanese Okonomiyaki sauce (Bulldog brand)
  • Japanese mayonnaise
  • Aonori (dried green laver)

 

Method
  1. Add the egg into the flour. Slowly add the water and mix with long chopsticks. Add very slowly and mix until there are no lumps. Once it becomes a thin batter, stir with a whisk.
  2. The batter should be just thick enough to coat the whisk, but thin enough to drip back into the bowl without leaving much of a ribbon. Cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge.
  3. Heat the hot plate and brush with a little bit of vegetable oil.
  4. Pour a ladleful of batter and spread with the back of ladle until you get a thin circle, not unlike a crepe.
  5. Add tenkasu and katsuobushi directly onto the batter while it’s still raw and it will stick to the crepe.
  6. Top the “pancakes” with lots of shredded cabbage.
  7. Place the thin slices of meat (or any protein/vegetable). Cook until the bottom pancake is cooked and slightly golden.
  8. Pour about two tablespoons of batter on top of the meat and cabbage.
  9. Flip the okonomiyaki over and cook for only a couple minutes until the meat or vegetable is crispy and the batter has sealed it together.
  10. Brush on the okonomiyaki sauce. Drizzle some mayonnaise and sprinkle on the aonori. Top with more bonito flakes and serve hot.

 


Written and photographed by Jennifer Higa

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