July of 2007, Boot Size 10/11
Konichiwa, watashi no namae wa Viviana Ayre.
Yes, I am a Japan nutter. Ever since I learned to hold a pair of chopsticks I have loved everything about Japan. The food, the culture, the fashion, and who can forget the television shows?! My love for Japan is probably the largest aspect of my nerd-dom, challenged only by my steampunk tendencies. So you can imagine my excitement when I was invited to be a student ambassador to Japan for a whole two weeks. I am being one hundred percent serious when I say I shook the house with my excitement.
My journey to Japan is to this day my favorite journey into the unknown. I grew mentally, emotionally, and in age (I spent my birthday partying it up in Tokyo). Yes, I’d watched more anime and read more manga than you could shake a stick at, but I am not one of the anime-freaks who think that if they just read Naruto they know exactly what Japan is like. No, I’ve been studying the culture and history since middle school, and I find their “alien way” of thinking one of the most fascinating aspects of human nature.
But, I digress. There was one aspect of this journey I know I would have a smaaaaaall issue with: the food. What is the main staple for the Japanese? That’s right, rice. But not far under that is fish.
I am not fond of fish.
I have no problem with the creatures themselves. They are wonderful for our environment and I love reef fish. But I personally do not look at a salmon and say “Yum!” It was not by choice; honestly I am all about health and since fish is good for you I actually am sad that I dislike devouring our fish-y friends. I’ve tried salmon, white fish, non-white fish, raw, cooked, and with different cooking methods. With my taste bud changing cycle, today I can have salmon once in a while and actually be satisfied orally. But back then, I still did not like fish. At all.
Now I knew this small dilemma in advance, and I was very nervous about it. I am hypoglycemic, and must eat a lot otherwise I get very shaky and often times get really cranky. To give you an idea of how extreme my needs are, I have to eat about every two hours unless I spend all day lazing around in bed. Needless to say I was a little worried about having to eat fish every day… and thus eating very little.
Thankfully this problem did not occur. I was actually surprised to find that we rarely HAD fish. Instead I was assaulted by different snacks, goodies, and traditional foods that in no way had to do with fish. But by far my favorite food was okanamiyaki.
For those of you who do not know, okonomiyaki is a popular and traditional meal commonly found in Hiroshima, Japan. It translates roughly to “pizza-pancake.”
Yep. Pizza. Pancake.
When I heard that we were going to be feasting on a pizza pancake I was intrigued and excited. Our tour bus pulled up to a restaurant called “Three Three Three.”
After exiting our tour bus, we were taken in to see what I’d only seen in anime and manga. Our table consisted of a giant grill with a thin, half-foot-wide wooden platform to eat on. And on two plates were a giant mound of cabbage, pasta, and three strips of thick, delicious looking bacon. A small bowl contained what looked and smelled like pancake batter.
What was I getting myself into?
After seating ourselves, it was time to learn how to cook our own meal. It’s quite simple, and I will share with you the basics in making okonomiyaki.
First, spread out a circular, thin amount of pancake batter and let it cook. Easy enough, neh?
Once the pancake flour base is cooked solid enough, add your massive mound of cabbage. On top is a drizzling of okonomiyaki sauce, which I won’t lie…. I had to go online to find out what was actually in it. The interwebs informed me that is is like a thicker, sweeter Worchester sauce (online recipes say you can make a homemade recipe, listed at the end of this post) All I knew at the time was that it delicious. (Tell us what’s in the sauce? I for one am curious xD) Then add the three pieces of bacon and a thin spread of the pancake batter drizzled on top. Cooking commences (okay well the batter was already cooking) as you take up your handy dandy flippers- which look like chisels- and flip the entire pile of delish over.
Once your bacon is cooking, it’s time for the noodles that you see in the video. Merely slap those onto the grill, and you’re good to go. After a few minutes, the meat and vegetable should be cooked, so use your spatulas to move it onto the noodles to make it easier to flip so it is facing right side up. Once the pile is moved, it’s egg frying time. Crack the egg, break the yolk, and let it cook.
When the egg is done cooking, shift the batter, cabbage, bacon, and pasta onto the egg, and flip the entire mass over so the egg is on top. Drizzle as much okonomayaki sauce as desired, slice into pieces with the spatula, and enjoy.
Overall? Okonomiyaki is delicious even if you, like me, hate cabbage. The oddest assortment of ingredients has been transformed into a savory meal that is wholly Japanese.
To clarify, what I had was Hiroshima’s okonomiyaki. There is another kind that is found in Osaka, which has similar ingredients but it is mixed together before being grilled, while mine is layered. This just means I need to return to Japan and try Osaka okonomiyaki.
Lesson of the story? Even if there is an ingredient or food that makes you nervous, always be willing to try something new. Especially when you are in a completely new culture.
Until my next adventure,
Homemade Okonomiyaki Sauce
Please note that I cannot guarantee the accuracy of this recipe that I magically produced from the internet, since I have not had the chance to try it for myself.
1/4 cup ketchup
1 1/2 Tbsp. worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. rice wine
1 tsp. soy sauce</>
Combine ingredients and cook in a pot/pan until warm and bubbly. 🙂