Friday, February 10, 2006


Two Okonomiyaki

When most people think of Japanese food, sushi is usually the first thing that comes to mind. Those who are a bit better versed in Japanese cuisine might mention tempura, and the more intrepid might even be able to tell soba from udon.

But unless you’ve actually been to Japan, chances are you’ve missed out on one of Japan’s tastiest, most versatile, and most fun types of food: Okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki literally means “fry what you like.” It’s actually a pancake of sorts, though not the kind you’d eat for breakfast. Just like all pizzas start with crust, sauce, and cheese, okonomiyaki starts with batter, shredded cabbage, and pickled ginger. From there, you can add all manner of extras, from something simple like tender, paper-thin morsels of beef, to the more exotic combinations like cheese and lotus root.

My favorite okonomiyaki restaurant is called “Aoi.” As you climb the long, narrow staircase, you are drawn in by a festive sounds of boisterous laughter mixed with the sizzling delights to come.

Other customers at the okonomiyaki shop

This particular shop is owned by a former record company executive. When he got tired of the 9 to 5 grind that his life had become, he convinced his wife to let him remodel her little okonomiyaki shop and manage it with her.

The rock-lined pathway at the Okonomiyaki shop

Once inside, you walk along pebbled walkways large, flat stepping stones; the setting is almost Zen-like, as it leads to sleek, griddle-topped tables nestled among straw tatami mats. You take your shoes off when you get to your seat, and sit on the mat, while your feet dangle under the griddle.

Singer pix at the Okonomiyaki shop

The walls all around are festooned with autographed photos of Japanese singers of Enka, or
pseudo-traditional pop music.

Beer at the okonomiyaki shop

But even the best décor means nothing if the food is not up to par. And in this case, it is and then some. My friend and I started our meal off with an ice-cold beer. It arrived with a small dish of prickly-hot kimchi-pickled cucumbers to whet the appetite.

Okonomiyaki Batter 2

We then ordered our food, and the cute, chirpy waitress clicked on the griddle before scuttling off to take our order to the kitchen. Moments later, our orders arrived in small clay pots with a spoon to stir it up with.

Sizzling Okonomiyaki

The best part of okonomiyaki is that you get to cook it yourself. You start by brushing a light layer of oil over the griddle, while someone else mixes up the batter. Then, just like a pancake, you drop it on the griddle.

The real fun comes when you try and flip the thing over. It takes experience to do it right. There are always first-timers trying to flip one, only to have the whole thing break apart like some child’s doughy concoction. But that’s half the fun: even if you’re no master, it’s still fun to take a crack at flipping these things over.

The finished product

Once it’s cooked through, you chop it up into slices like a pizza, and serve it up, drizzled with a thick, dark, sweet and tangy sauce. Other toppings include mayonnaise, flakes of nori seaweed, and dried shaved katsuo fish flakes.

But one of the best parts about okonomiyaki is the price. My friend and I had two, along with a beer each, and the bill came to just under 3000 yen, or about $30. We paid our bill and said goodbye as we headed down the stairs, filled with both great food and a great experience.


At 3:00 a.m., Anonymous Meowth said...

Nice. Very nice. Food looks great. I have tried Japanese food down @ Vancouver a few years ago and it was just deliciouse. Do you know of a place in Prince Rupert or near Prince Rupert to go?


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