A little more than two years ago, Amir and I made our first okonomiyaki. Up until that point, we had never even heard of it, but without any hesitation, we decided okonomiyaki would be the best dish to feature in our upcoming Ethnic Exploration series. Some called it a Japanese pancake, others a Japanese pizza. Regardless, it was a vegetable-filled, pork belly-covered, sauce-doused, bonito flake-dusted creation on a plate. A bit intimidating, but definitely much better tasting than it looks. Fast forward to earlier this month when I received an invitation to attend FoodStory led by chef and self-proclaimed Japanese food storyteller, Yoko Isassi. In a Downtown loft, I spent a couple of hours with fellow food lovers reliving the okonomiyaki experience.
The class size was intimate–perhaps eight of us in total, plus Yoko. We stood around a high wooden table in front of cutting boards and an array of ingredients that would comprise the evening’s menu: miso soup, okonomiyaki and orange agar-agar jelly. Just about everything was made from scratch. We grated fresh nagaimo, which would form the basis of the binding element in the okonomiyaki. Dashi stock made from katsuobushi, dried bonito flakes, simmered on a burner, and it would eventually serve as one of the basic ingredients in our miso soup. A very simple mixture of sugar, water and orange juice cooked away in preparation for the agar-agar jelly dessert. Yoko made sure we understood the names and purposes of new ingredients, including where to purchase them during our own shopping excursions.
As we sliced, stirred and flipped, Yoko answered questions fired at her about the meaning of okonomiyaki, when it’s eaten, how it’s eaten and where to find okonomiyaki restaurants in Los Angeles. Yoko’s goal is to spread education about Japanese food and its cultural meaning to groups large and small. On her website, Yoko specifically states that her aim is to “elevate the standards of Japanese cuisine in America by creating a well-informed customer base”. Her knowledge is evident, not only from her background, but also from her passion for teaching itself.
Once all of the food was ready, we all sat down to eat and talk more about the evening’s activity. The winner of the night was the okonomiyaki. The monstrous pancake was a mouthful, so half was quite enough. Thanks to Yoko’s tip, I decided to save the other half, wrap it well, freeze and enjoy the rest within a couple of weeks. I can tell you that the remaining okonomiyaki was still a good treat days later.
Yoko Isassi offers several classes and workshops in her Downtown location, ranging from sushi, Japanese desserts and tea, the making of homemade tofu, udon or ramen. It’s a hands-on experience for anyone looking to expand their at-home Japanese exploration. Tickets are available for purchase on FoodStory.
Disclaimer: FoodStory offered complimentary attendance for all participants. All opinions are our own.