This week I was introduced to okonomiyaki by a couple of friends who had spent time in Japan. On the face of it it didn't sound that much of a draw - a sort of Japanese pancake with cabbage and various other bits in it - but after I'd eaten it I could completely understand why they'd been raving about it.
In fact it's more like a particularly delicious bubble and squeak. You can order various varieties which are cooked by the server on a hot plate in front of you teppanyaki-style or at least you can at Abeno in Museum Street which is where we all went. I had a Tokyo Mix which included prawn, squid and belly pork (although it looked and tasted rather more like bacon) (plus spring onions, ginger and (according to the website) tempura batter.
They have a particularly good series of pictures on their website which are better than my rather blurry shots but basically the process goes like this:
1. They present your ingredients in a bowl with the pork (aka bacon) on a plate on the top
2. The server mixes the ingredients in each bowl vigorously, turns them out onto the lightly oiled hot plate and shapes the mixture into a cake
3. She (or he but there were more waitresses) fries the bacon separately on one side on the hot plate then places the slices, cooked side down on the cake, then flips over the cake to cook the other side. This cooking process takes a good few moments, I'd say 5 minutes a side.
4. More flipping continues until the crust is beautifully brown.
5. Each cake is then sprinkled with ground nori, anointed with a sort of brown sauce and mayonnaise squirted in circles round the surface and dusted with a sprinkling of bonito flakes which amusingly flutter on the top like feathers.
6. You then use a small palate knife to cut up your okonomiyaki into wedges (by this time you're quite starving) and eat it. With more mayo, chilli sauce and soy sauce if you want plus pickles like kimchee (fermented cabbage) and seaweed and cucumber pickle which we scoffed before we had even started.
If you have much the same reaction as I did when I was told about it don't let it put you off. It really is one of the most delicious fast(ish) foods imaginable - a real umami flavour bomb. Not having an okonomiyaki restaurant in Bristol I'm trying to work out how to do it at home. It must be one of the ultimate frugal dishes . . .
No sooner have I said there isn't one in Bristol, I've discovered there is. Obento near the Old Fish Market for fellow Bristolian okonomiyakiphiles.