Thursday, October 22, 2009

Oh, okonomiyaki

One of my long-cherished rants is about products that are touted as being extra-specially awesome because they have you do the work and pay extra for the privilege. Fruit on the bottom yogurt, bead shops and Korean barbecue spring to mind. Don't get me long, you'll have a long day in hell searching for someone that loves Korean BBQ more than I do. But frankly, I am just as happy when the restaurant or my dad do the grilling for me. The reason I pay for things is so that other people will do the work for me. If I wanted to do the cooking, I'd stay at home. 


It's a Japanese savory pancake that is basically one of the best foods ever. You pick the ingredients, such as pork and squid and they bring them to you in a bowl with some flour and egg. You mix it and throw it onto a tabletop grill and make yourself an amazing dinner. Once it's cooked (and flipping these bad boys is no easy task), you coat in with okonomiyaki sauce which is sort of like a cross between BBQ and Worcestershire sauce, paint on sweet Japanese mayo in a criss-cross pattern, then sprinkle liberally with katsuobushi and nori flakes. Somehow, I know that proportionately it would not even be 40% as good if they brought it out to you pre-cooked. The labor is part of the beauty of the okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki is one of my secret shames. It is the one dish that I've ever completely failed with. I had never actually eaten one, but after seeing it in a cookbook, thought I'd give it a shot. I was in Dublin so procuring the special okonomiyaki flour and toppings was no small job, but I persevered and after assembling probably €40 in ingredients, set off home to make it. Probably 2 hours later I proudly presented my brother with the finished result. He took one bite and spit it out. Seeing the distraught look on my face, he said, "I'm not going to eat this, not even for you," and then lumbered off in search of a Guinness. 

I persevered through a few bites and then had to agree with him. It was actually inedible. I later realized--and I'm terribly embarrassed to admit this--that the problem was dashi. The recipe said to include couple of tablespoons of dashi, meaning dashi stock. I didn't actually know what dashi was, so I bought a packet and put in a few tablespoons of the dashi powder, rather than making stock with it. The result was easily the most disgusting thing I've ever produced, apart from perhaps some love letter on Hello Kitty stationery from high school.


So it was with great delight that I tried my first "real" okonomiyaki the other day. This coincided with my first Japanese word learned, "nomihodai" which means "all you can drink" and is an option at only the most select establishments.

Not being able to resist the allure of the most satisfying of grills, I went back for more today. Oh, okonomiyaki, you're so cute and fun (just like me!), it's no wonder I love you. The only caveat is that it's not going to do you any favors in the smells department because the grill stank seeps into your pores, and more importantly, your sweater. As I was heading home tonight, someone scooted away from me on the subway, which I decided only shows that I am more dedicated to okonomiyaki than the Japanese.


  1. I am SO GLAD you are keeping this side-splittingly hilarious record of your trek. I love it.

    And it's making me hungry.

    Could you please FedEx me some okonomiyaki?

  2. They are dried bonito flakes: