If you're familiar with okonomiyaki, chances are you know it as a clean-out-the-fridge-franken-pancake stuffed with cabbage and a multitude of other ingredients, such as onion, scallions, pork belly or bacon, seafood, fish cakes, udon, mochi (rice cakes), and/or basically anything else you can think of. (As you might guess it's usually something you scarf down during a night of drinking.) Okonomiyaki are well loved all over Japan, but Hiroshima and Osaka are especially famous for their regional versions. There, these pancakes can grow to several inches in thickness and normally come garnished with copious squiggles of Kewpie mayo and Bull-Dog sauce, as well as katsuobushi (bonito flakes) that wave and wilt in the steam , as thought they have a life of their own.
We lived in Tokyo, where the okonomiyaki tend to be a more spartan affair. This version is made only with cabbage and thin slices of pork belly, but feel free to gussy it up with whatever you like (or make it vegetarian by omitting the pork belly and katsuobushi). It's mercifully simple and can be prepared with minimal fuss, even after partaking of a couple adult beverages.
Recipe excerpted with permission from The Gaijin Cookbook, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019, RRP $30.00 hardcover. —Food52
4 as a drinking snack
2 1/2 teaspoons
1 1/2 teaspoons
vegetable oil (plus an additional 2 tablespoons if making a vegetarian version)
2 1/4 cups
tightly packed shredded green cabbage
thinly sliced pork belly or uncured bacon
Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the egg and 1 tablespoon oil together with 3/4 cup water in another bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix briefly until most of the lumps of dry flour are gone. Fold in the shredded cabbage.
Set a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and lay 3 strips of pork belly or bacon next to each other in it. Once the pork begins to sizzle, let it cook for 2 minutes to render some of the fat. Spoon half the batter on top and spread into a 1/2-inch-thick layer. (If you're making a vegetarian version, coat the pan with a tablespoon of vegetable oil before adding the batter.)
Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then sneak a peek underneath. Once the bottom is crisp and brown, give the pancake a flip with a spatula. Do it confidently and quickly to avoid making a mess. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until the okonomiyaki is golden brown on both sides. The inside should be cooked through, but it's fine if it's still a bit moist—the cabbage will give up a fair amount of water.
Slide the okonomiyaki onto a plate and top freely with squiggles of Kewpie mayo and Bull-Dog sauce. Sprinkle with aonori, scallions, and a big handful of katsuobushi (unless you've made a vegetarian version). Serve immediately, then use the remaining pork and batter to make and serve the second okonomiyaki.