Japanese pancakes - the ultimate late-night snack?

November 25 2014

A Japanese dish is gaining popularity, with trend-setting restaurants from Vancouver to Toronto adding it to their menus.

Okonomiyaki is a savoury Japanese pancake that can be topped with just about anything, reports the Globe and Mail. It starts with a simple batter of flour, water or broth, eggs and shredded cabbage. Traditionally, the pancake is grilled before toppings like squid, shrimp or pork belly are added, but at Guu in Vancouver they deep fry theirs and suggest serving it with an ice-cold can of Japanese beer.

One of the reasons okonomiyaki is gaining in popularity is how easily it can be customized. Like a tortilla in a burrito shop, it's just ready and waiting for customers to decide what goes on top. In fact, Stephen Mizuno from Sanko Trading Co in Toronto, the first part of the food's name - 'okonomi' means 'as you like it'. The last two syllables, 'yaki,' mean 'grilled'.

Mr Mizuno explains that this is a popular in Japan, and every restaurant has its own version. "Osaka is famous for okonomiyaki and so is Hiroshima," he says.

"There are seafood versions and meat versions; everyone has their own specialty," he adds. Raw egg is another favourite topping in Japan, but Mr Mizuno says that Canadians prefer to add things like shredded nori, mayonnaise, sweet and sour sauce and bonito flakes to their okonomiyaki.

In the US, chefs are experimenting even more with the dish. Ivan Ramen, a restaurant in New York's Lower East Side, makes okonomiyaki from scrapple (a meat loaf made from pork scraps, cornmeal, flour and spices) pressed in a waffle iron. Meanwhile, co-chef Aaron Israel says they serve the dish with corned lamb's tongue at sauerkraut at his Jewish-Japanese fusion restaurant Shalom Japan in Brooklyn.

Mr Israel says that the crispy pancake in okonomiyaki should be seen as a vehicle for creative toppings - and suggests other flavours to consider include pickles, organ meat, oysters, steak tartare, dandelion greens or caviar.