Poultry & Pork · Uncategorized

The Duo’s Ethnic Exploration: Japanese

Woori Market

Here we are with the second challenge for Project Food Blog–cooking a classic dish from another culture. As luck would have it, we had already planned to share this month’s Ethnic Exploration with all of you, so the timing was right. We had a long list of cuisines to choose, and this time we went for Japanese. We needed to choose a classic dish, but we also wanted it to be one new to most of our readers. It was out there, and we were going to find it.

After some digging around, we discovered okonomiyaki, a savory pancake whose origin is attributed to Osaka, Japan—a place known for its fast and cheap street food. Some folks like to regard this quick snack as a Japanese pizza, often filled and topped with seafood and veggies. Like BBQ in America, okonomiyaki varies depending on the region of the country. Near Hiroshima, they delicately layer the ingredients on top of each other, while those in the Kansai region like to mash everything together into one large glob before pouring it onto a griddle. Almost everywhere, the pancake is topped with a thick, sweet sauce similar in taste to Worcestershire. There will also be lines of mayonnaise, dried seaweed, bonito flakes, pickled ginger, even a fried egg in some places. The protein can be anything from squid, shrimp, octopus or pork. The name okonomiyaki literally means “what you like grilled,” so we thought we could only be doing this dish a service by making our okonomiyaki with whatever and however we wanted.

Capelin & eelDashiKewpie mayoMiso

Armed with our shopping list and camera, we ventured to Woori Market in Little Tokyo, just adjacent to Downtown Los Angeles. The first thing you notice after passing through the automatic doors is the variety of goods for sale. Produce flanks one side with a fish section towards the back, a bakery, an area to sit and enjoy hot food and various home goods for purchase near the front. The middle of the store is packed with frozen items, aisles of dry goods and fresh meat. There were so many options on the shelves that we had to enlist the help of one of the employees to find what we needed. We were torn between Bull Dog okonomiyaki sauce or the alternative tonkatsu sauce, either of which would work, but the former is the most accurate. The employee practically dropped it in our cart. We couldn’t have gotten a better recommendation.

SojusSprouts & mushrooms

We collected everything on the list–tempura batter, dashi powder, frozen pork belly, bonito flakes, pickled ginger, nagaimo and mayonnaise. Kewpie is the most popular brand of mayonnaise in Japan. Japanese mayonnaise is typically made with sweeter vinegar compared to American versions that utilize plain, distilled vinegar. That would explain the slight difference in its taste. To offset what could easily become a heavy snack, we decided to toss in more veggies for crunch and color. Our okonomiyaki would have shiitake mushrooms, carrots, and brightly colored bell peppers amongst shreds of cabbage to fill it out.

NagaimoJapanese teasOkonomiyaki sauceUdon & noodle packets

The only thing that we were somewhat apprehensive about was the amount of dashi powder that typically goes in a recipe. Dashi is a granulated or fine powdered fish stock used as the base for many Japanese dishes, including miso soup. The brand we purchased had a strong fishy odor, which did not appeal to our tastes as much, so we decided to go light in its application. We already planned to top our okonomiyaki with shaved fish flakes called bonito, so we could make up for the flavor on that end. The most interesting ingredient on the list was the nagaimo–a very starchy Japanese yam that looks like a thick root. Many Japanese markets will sell it fresh. If not, reconstituted yamaimo powder will do. Some recipes will suggest substituting a Russet potato if you’re really in a bind, but after playing with a fresh nagaimo you’ll see the two are not interchangeable. Grated nagaimo is sticky, gooey and full of moisture that binds the other ingredients together. Use gloves when peeling and grating nagaimo as it appears to cause a bit of itching once it hits the skin.

Grated nagaimo
The gooey grated nagaimo piled up in a bowl.

Other than prepping a few of the vegetables, this is a one bowl dish. Once everything is combined, the okonomiyaki are cooked over a hot griddle in batches. We pooled the batter on the griddle grates, topping each one with long strips of pork belly. Oh so carefully, the okonomiyaki were lifted, flipped and brushed with the traditional sauce. Bonito flakes were sprinkled on top, fluttering and dancing over the surface as they hit the heat. Bright pink strips of pickled ginger found their way on top for flavor and texture. Finally, the mayonnaise and sprinkles of nori rounded off our okonomiyaki. One more lift off the griddle, and it was time to eat.

Okonomiyaki on the griddle 1
Okonomiyaki fresh on the griddle layered with slices of pork belly.

This is not a pretty dish. It’s hard to make okonomiyaki look great on a plate, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s supposed to be big and ugly with no care for aesthetics. The bigger explosion of colors, shapes and textures, the better. We were timid on first bite, but as we continued to chew, we quickly admitted it was good. Really good. It wasn’t long before the rest of the okonomiyaki was devoured, and any uncertainties disappeared. Okonomiyaki is a fairly forgiving snack that can be dressed up or down as you choose. Swap bacon for pork belly, add dried shrimp, cheese, noodles or whatever gets you excited. As the word appropriately demands, it’s “what you like grilled”, so have fun exploring the possibilities.

Woori Market
333 South Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 617-0030

This post is our second entry to the Project Food Blog contest hosted by Foodbuzz.com. We hope you will vote for us to head to round three! Voting for this round will open at 6:00 am PST Monday, September 27th and end at 6:00 pm PST on Thursday, September 30th. View our profile here, and then vote!

Stacked high with a little bit of everything, okonomiyaki is served!

Okonomiyaki– Serves 4 (adapted from Just Hungry)
5 ounces peeled and grated nagaimo (or reconstituted yamaimo powder)
2 tablespoons dashi powder
1/2 cup flour
3 eggs
4 tablespoons tenkasu (fried tempura batter bits)
2 cups cabbage, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
1/2 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 orange bell pepper, thinly
1 carrot, thinly sliced
3/4 cup shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
6-8 thin slices pork belly
4-6 tablespoons beni shouga (pickled ginger)
Mayonnaise (Kewpie brand preferred)
Okonomiyaki sauce (You can substitute tonkatsu sauce if necessary.)
Bonito flakes (dried, shaved fish)
Furikake (a mix of dried seaweed, sesame seeds and other flavorings)
Vegetable oil

1. Make half a package of tempura batter according to the box instructions. Cool on paper towels, then chop into small bits. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine nagaimo, dashi and flour with two eggs. Fold in tempura bits, cabbage and the last egg. Stir in the scallions, peppers and mushrooms until well combined.

3. Brush about one tablespoon of oil over a griddle heated to 300 degrees. When hot, gently ladle a quarter of the batter on the hot surface. Place two pieces of pork belly on top of the pancake, then cover with the top of a pot. Cook for about five minutes, or until the pork begins to lighten in color and turn white. Carefully flip the patty—use two spatulas if necessary to prevent a broken okonomiyaki.

4. Heat the other side for about three minutes before adding the toppings. Using a pastry brush, spread an even amount of okonomiyaki sauce over the top while it cooks. Decorate the surface with the mayonnaise, ginger, bonito flakes, and furikake. Remove from pan or griddle and serve immediately.

Click HERE for the printable recipe.


67 thoughts on “The Duo’s Ethnic Exploration: Japanese

  1. What a great recap and what a way to wrap it up. That dish looks just amazing. Congrats on advancing to the next round, least there was any doubt – none here to be sure.

  2. What a great recipe and entry! I actually felt compelled to travel over there and see this for myself. I also ventured out to the Asian market for this challenge. Although I wish I had friendly employees help! The Asian market by me is known to have really rude people working there. You’ve got my vote!!!

    XOXO best of luck!

  3. Great job putting this dish together. When I started to branch out with other Asian dishes, I was daunted by all the ingredients at the market. It’s great, though, to now have all the wonderful items in my pantry. You did a wonderful job–I just voted for you.

  4. I’ve really wanted to try making this – thanks for the inspiration! Love your photos of the shelves and shelves of Japanese foods – wish we had a store like this nearby. Congratulations on moving forward in Project Food Blog! Just voted!

  5. Great work you guys!
    Your okonomiyaki look fab!
    I had the luck to be taught this dish last week by a Japanese friend, who had brought her prized possession, an okonomiyaki grill, all the way from Nagasaki to Shanghai. It was great to learn how to make one of my favourite dishes first-hand.

    All the best,

  6. I can’t pronounce your dish but I know I want to eat it. Mad props on doing something that seems really difficult. Asian is super hard for me because I love the flavors without really knowing how to control them. I’ll take one with octopus please. Cheers!

  7. You never cease to amaze me with your curiosity and adventuresome foodie spirit! Great post 🙂 We have a Japan town near us, I’m going to venture over and check out some of these ingredients. Last time we were there, we grabbed some amazing tuna and made a delicious tar-tar. Looking forward to your upcoming posts! You will always have my vote 🙂

    Lick My Spoon

  8. Great job, guys! I’ve heard of Okonomiyaki once before, but it’s still a pretty new dish to me, I’ve never actually tried it! Looks good though! I voted and wish you guys luck 🙂

  9. Love these ethnic exploration posts. I get excited when I see a post title. So many ingredients in one dish here. It almost seemed a bit overwhelming, but I’ll bet it was fun!

  10. Your blog is great! Glad to run into you….and your food looks so delicious! Shopping in a market like this one is fun and confusing all in one!

  11. Oh my gosh, I LOVE okonomiyaki! It’s one of my favourite dishes from when I lived in Osaka, and I still make it from time to time 🙂 I’ve never made it with fresh nagaimo since leaving Japan because they don’t sell it around here, but I remember how gross it feels when you’re grating it.

    And I think it looks delicious in the picture 😉 You’ve definitely got my vote!

  12. I was recently in Japan and had these and I must say, yours look extremely authentic! Well done! I’ll be sending a vote your way! Thanks for commenting on my blog! Have fun cooking Turkish!

    The Young Foodie

  13. Oh I love your post! Ok, mostly because I love cooking Japanese and you guys did a fantastic job on it! Much better than my debacle. Sending a vote your way and I hope you start getting your luxury dinner party pants ready!

  14. Forget “Love is the international language”….you have proven “Bacon is the international language”. Going to vote for you right now.

  15. Ooo…I need to check this market out. There’s some Japanese ingredients that I need. 🙂

    Funny you post about okonomiyaki. I was actually craving for these last week. I was planning a trip down to little Tokyo, but sadly haven’t had time to make the trip down lately.

  16. I’m glad someone featured okonomiyaki! Its one of my favorite Japanese treats (next to takoyaki). In fact i have a previous post about this, but a seafood based one. You’re okono looks yummy, i wanna make one now!! You got my vote!!

  17. If this doesn’t get you through to the next round, then this contest is seriously rigged. This looks off the charts and you definitely got my vote.

  18. It’s not pretty, but it looks delicious to me! I love exploring new food venues in LA, so I’ll have to check out the Woori Market. Thanks for the tip–you got my vote 🙂

  19. I always love visiting Japanese grocery stores… so many new things to try but I have never really tried making something Japanese at home except for the classic teriyaki. Your post inspires me to take a chance. Best of luck in PFB!

  20. YAY! I’m glad someone did this, because I was debating doing this too. But then I didn’t have a ride to the Jap store. Yours look awesome, and if you ever think about opening an okonomiyaki store…hit me up! 😉

  21. Thanks for stopping by my blog! 🙂

    I think your entry is great too! I have heard of this dish before, but had never seen it or tried it myself. I’m so glad you took the camera with you to the market – that’s such a cool part of the process to show us! I think it turned out great in the end and love the versatility and random ingredients! That’s my kind of dish!

  22. Oh that market is amazing, I wish it was a bit closer, I had to travel for what seems like hours to get there. lol
    But I loved it. I got a gigantic bottle of sake. Your dish looks delicious. Specially with the gorgeous pork belly covering it. Yummmm. Good luck with this next round. Have a great week.

  23. I love that you included your shopping excursion- gave a great mise en place for the rest if the story/recipe/entry. And I would also just like to say that it looks sooo f-ing delicious.

  24. Oh my goodness. I SO want to eat every morsel of this creation right now! Great creativity, photos and blog dialogue. I love it and will definitely give you my vote!!!

  25. Regional Recipes, an event that I’m hosting this month, is heading to Japan and when I was choosing a recipe, this was one of the ones that I seriously considered! (You should consider submitting it if you want!) I love all of the research you did and how you headed out to an Asian supermarket to get your goods. Good luck with PFB! I’ll be voting for you!

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