This story begins long, long ago, circa 1990 or so when I was in the fifth grade.
My mom had signed me up for an introduction to Japanese language and culture class. It was love at first sight as I was introduced to Japanese letters, snacks, popular culture, and especially the food.
Our sensei (who later became my Japanese teacher in high school and whom I still keep in touch with via Facebook) had us make okonomiyaki together in the school kitchen; it was my first introduction to Japanese food and it left a lasting impression.
Fast forward to the present day: a couple of weeks ago, I received my copy of Meera Sodha’s newest book “East”, which collects vegan and vegetarian recipes from around Asia, including Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and India.
I had already made several of the Japanese dishes from the book, including the curry rice and the soymilk ramen, and had my eye on the okonomiyaki. Truth be told, I had never had it again since that first experience in the fifth grade. Our reacquaintance was long overdue...
The past couple of weeks have been extraordinarily busy, so I purchased the necessary ingredients (shredded cabbage, eggs, flour, tonkatsu sauce) on the way home from work.
Making the batter was extremely easy, you simply mix the flour, salt, eggs, and water until lump free, stir in the shredded cabbage and green onions, and then bake in a preheated skillet with a little neutral oil. Once the first side is set and browned, flip it over and cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes or until done to taste.
Traditionally, okonomiyaki is topped with okonomiyaki sauce, although you can also use tonkatsu sauce if you have it on hand. I brushed on the sauce and then added Japanese mayonnaise, dragging a chopstick through it to create the geometric pattern. I then sprinkled the remaining chopped green onions on top (her recipe also calls to sprinkle with fried onions, but I didn’t have any available). How was it?
With that first creamy, crunchy forkful, I was transported back to the fifth grade and the magical experience of encountering Japanese culture and food for the first time.
That magic has sustained me through adulthood and even though I have lived in Japan for four years, I try to recapture that sense of wonder daily and to pass it on to the readers of my newspaper and magazine articles.
If you are looking for a quick, easy, healthy weeknight dinner, look no further than okonomiyaki and Meera Sodha’s “East”.