Okonomiyaki is a traditional Japanese dish best described as a savory cabbage pancake. It is typically made of cabbage, an egg-based batter, and protein, usually pork belly, squid, or shrimp. Standard toppings include bonito flakes, okonomiyaki sauce (think Japanese bbq sauce), kewpie mayo, and aonori (a type of seaweed). However, Okonomiyaki literally means “as you like it cooked” so despite what I’m describing here, the dish can take on a variety of forms. Learn more here.
I did not like the Okonomiyaki I grew up eating (home-cooked in a Japanese American kitchen) - they were dense, cake-y and lacked chew or crunch, my two favorite textures. As an adult, I started making Okonomiyaki as a budget-conscious way to connect to my roots. While the traditional toppings may be more “exotic”/inaccessible in standard grocery stores, the key ingredients, cabbage, flour, and eggs, are cheap and abundant to most.
I have since created my own Okonomiyaki recipe, entitled “Faux-konomiyaki” as a nod to my recipe’s lack of authenticity. I substitute easy-to-find bacon for the more traditional pork belly and use a thin, scant amount of batter so that the cabbage is looser and forms a thin pancake with a deliciously crispy exterior. Feel free to skip the bacon if you’re vegetarian or substitute your favorite protein.
Afraid of trying something new? If you’re unsure about this recipe, give it a try without the toppings and then work up to the mayo/fish flakes combo.
- 1/2 medium head of cabbage, shredded (pre-shredded cabbage/undressed coleslaw mixes also work great)
- 4 eggs
- 4 T flour
- 1/3 C vegetable oil
- 4 strips bacon
- toppings of your choice. I recommend: Okonomiyaki sauce, kewpie mayo, bonito flakes, thinly sliced scallions, furikake, toasted sesame seeds
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, flour, 2 tablespoons water, and a pinch of salt. Add cabbage, and a large pinch of salt. Use clean hands to mix the batter and cabbage, tossing to coat each piece in the batter. Allow the cabbage to sit and release some of its water, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, slice your bacon in half to make 8 short slices and begin warming a large cast iron pan over medium heat. If you don’t have cast iron, non-stick will also work, but you don’t need to preheat it for 5 minutes before cooking.
After 10 minutes, toss the cabbage mixture again. Add 1-2 tablespoons oil to your hot pan and place 2 of your short slices of bacon in the pan. Working quickly, use tongs to turn the bacon over repeatedly until it is half cooked. The goal is to evenly cook the bacon so that it doesn’t curl and will lay flat on the bottom of your Okonmiyaki.
When the bacon is half cooked, place the pieces about an inch apart in the pan. Scoop 1/4 of the cabbage mixture and place it directly on top of the bacon. If any batter has accumulated at the bottom of the bowl, pour a little on top of the cabbage. Using the lid of a smaller pan, press down the Okonomiyaki so that all of the cabbage makes contact with the pan.
After 5 minutes, lift up the lid to check the edges. If they have begun to brown, it’s time to flip. If not, allow the Okonomiyaki to continue cooking, uncovered. Once the edges are clearly brown, use two spatulas on opposite sides of the pancake to gently release it from the pan, wiggling the spatulas along the edges. Once the edges have released from the pan, in one swift motion, flip the Okonomiyaki over. If it breaks apart, simply smush it back together and press down on it.
Allow the Okonomiyaki to continue cooking until the underside is browned, about 5-7 minutes. Remove Okonomiyaki to a plate. Repeat this process 3 more times until all 4 pancakes are cooked.
To serve, top Okonomiyaki with desired toppings. In the photo, I’ve used Okonomiyaki sauce, Kewpie Mayo, bonito flakes, and scallions.