My first meal after I arrived in Tokyo was okonomiyaki. It was from the closest restaurant to our hostel. We had no clue what we were ordering, pointing to pictures instead from a photo album. All the while, making sure there would be no shrimp (no ebi!). We ended up with an assortment of vegetable pancakes that were cooked up on a hot grill in front of us. Some with more flour, others with different vegetables. I remember one being bright pink (I forget what made it that colour). Once the server noticed we were eating them plain, he encouraged us to try the sauces on the side. To be honest, we left wondering what the hype was about okonomiyaki.
We persevered, though. When we went to Osaka, we tried okonomiyaki again, at a very popular hole-in-the-wall resto. We had to wait in line for 30 minutes, but when we finally snatched a seat in the tiny resto, we were able to watch our cabbage pancakes being made in front of us: thinly sliced cabbage and carrots were mixed with a seasoned flour and dashi stock batter, grilled and then topped with your chosen toppings- most of them with bacon- and then it was slathered with Japanese barbecue sauce (okonomi sauce), and later drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise, and sprinkled with parsley flakes. A crispy veggie pancake with a soft middle, topped with savoury sauces. Delicious. I was hooked.
Okonomiyaki literally means as you like it. Want yours with veggies? Want yours with sauce? Do you want your toppings in the batter with noodles (Hiroshima-style), or on top (Osaka-style)?
Or in my case, do I want mine vegan? Oh yes! I was bookmarked this recipe immediately from Big Vegan because it used tofu as the base instead of the traditional flour and eggs. While I have made Kevin’s okonomiyaki before, I found it hard to flip and keep intact while cooking. As such, I was thrilled to see this version. While already nontraditional, you bake it as a huge pancake instead of frying it on the stovetop. It took more like 60 minutes to bake but it was delicious. Alone, the tofu-miso-nooch batter was flavourful even before we cooked it. The consistency was a bit more heavier on the batter on the batter-cabbage ratio than I remember mine in Japan, but it was great as is. We would definitely make this again.
My version was topped simply with black sesame seeds and toasted shredded nori, whereas Rob went more all-out with some tonkatsu sauce, kewpie mayonnaise and bonito fish flakes. Remember, as you like it. If you want to try your hand at homemade mayo and okonomi sauces, there are recipes forthcoming in Terry’s new book. I haven’t tried them, though. Big Vegan also has suggestions for wasabi-mayo and tomato sauces. Or go simple like Heidi, who used almonds and chives to garnish her veggie pancake.
I was planning on talking about Mixed Diet relationships in this post, but I think I will save that for my next post.
Vegan Okonomiyaki (aka Japanese Vegetable Pancake)
Adapted from Big Vegan
2 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup chopped onion
15g dried shiitake mushrooms (around 4), rehydrated, stems removed and caps sliced
12 oz (340g ) silken (soft) tofu
3 tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot powder
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp white miso
1 tbsp mirin
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp black sesame seeds, for garnish
2 tbsp shredded toasted nori sheets, for garnish
1. Preheat your oven to 400F. In a large bowl, mix together the cabbage, carrot, onion and shiitake mushrooms. In a food processor, puree the tofu and scrape the sides as needed, until the sauce is creamy and smooth. Add the cornstarch, yeast, miso, mirin, salt and process until well mixed. Stir the tofu puree in with the shredded vegetables.
2. Coat the bottom of a 10-inch (I used a 9-inch) springform pan with half of the oil. Spread the tofu into the pan and press it to make a flat, thin pancake, then drizle the remaining oil on top. Bake until the the pancake is golden and firm in the middle. Asbell suggests 30 minutes, but ours took more like 60 minutes.
3. Allow to cool. Cut into 4 pieces and drizzle with the okonomi suace and mayonnaise. Then sprinkle black sesame seeds and shredded nori overtop.