Okonomiyaki: Making Japanese Street Food

When Wifey first made me okonomiyaki I had no idea what to think. I remember an exchange student my family hosted when I was in high school attempted to make this for us, and it wasn't very good at all. Maybe it's because she didn't get the right ingredients, or maybe she wasn't a good cook, but it didn't translate for us all that well. I mean, cabbage pancakes? Really?

So I wasn't sure what to expect when Wifey made it the first time, so many years ago (you know, cause I'm super old and all). However, hers were very different from what our exchange student made. For one thing they had pork, which is never bad. They also had the necessary sauce - okonomiyaki sauce if you are curious, and I have no idea what's in it, similar to tonkatsu sauce with elements of soy sauce and sweet, but in a very finite ratio. And it was outstanding! Mostly because Wifey is an awesome cook, but also because it was more styled like actual Japanese street food. Our poor exchange student was limited to the typical American pantry and grocery store when she made it, so doubtlessly she had to make some changes and it didn't turn out right. Not her fault.

Probably over half of my three readers are now wondering just what the hell I'm talking about. Cabbage pancakes? Sort of - okonomiyaki is a mixture of shredded cabbage, shredded meat, a specific flour, egg, and water. Very simple, and very yummy - and you can add whatever you want to it - more on that later.

We went to Japan a few years back, visiting some family and seeing some sights, and one of the things we really wanted to do was get some Japanese street food, namely things like okonomiyaki and ramen. Want to know the trouble with that? Well, in Japan these items are not exactly considered the nation's shining beacons of culinary excellence, so your host is apt to steer you in another direction. Which isn't bad, because everything was outstanding, but it's still not what we wanted. And when you are at the mercy of others driving because your Japanese is passable at best and you have no idea where to go anyway, you go where the car goes. Again, it was awesome, but we wanted some of the basic stuff in addition to the crab overload meal (and yes, crab overload was one of the greatest meals ever).

We ended up getting ramen at a place outside of a shrine in Nara if I remember right. It was good to us Americans - better than anything here - but it was also outside a tourist spot, so was it really good? I'm not sure.

Okonomiyaki, now, we got the good stuff. Every city has their own take on it, but the style we had was on a trip to Hiroshima. Wifey's uncle found a third floor area in a mall (I think, maybe it was an office building?) that was literally nothing but places doing okonomiyaki. There were well over 20 vendors, all with big grills ready to cook up all sorts of different specialty okonomiyakis as your heart desired.

I have no idea why I have no pictures - I guess that means we have to go back (oh darn).

We went to a specific place - not sure how her uncle picked that particular  one out - but then proceeded to have one of our best meals in Japan. It was also the most entertaining, because making okonomiyaki in that setting is partly about the show and presentation as well - and that part's free.

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki also includes egg and yakisoba noodles, which we thought was fantastic, so now that's how we make it at home. It's also really easy to make, though it will require a trip to your local Asian food market (Uwajimaya or something similar) - if you've never been that's an afternoon of free entertainment and exploration for you as well.

Want to learn how to make it? Here you go.

What you will need:

Head of cabbage
Thin sliced pork
Yakisoba noodles
Okonomi sauce
Okonomi mix

Notice none of these have amounts - that's because it depends on how much you want to make. The instructions on your mix (baking aisle, I think, in Uwajimaya - the sauce is by the tonkatsu/yakisoba sauces) will probably be in Japanese, but the basic mixture has these ratios:

100 grams of mix (and mix is made from a starch, Japanese potato or yam I believe, along with other necessary ingredients I have no idea what they are)
100 milliliters of water
1 egg
250 grams of shredded cabbage (food processor rocks here)
1/4 pound of thinly sliced pork (this is my rough estimate, adjust up or down as you see fit on this one), cooked

And that's it. Mix up the flour and water, mix in the cabbage and meat, and then mix in the beaten egg. This will make about five five-inch pancakes (or so, that's a rough estimate). We usually double it, because leftovers kick ass.

It should look something like this (camera work is not my forte - I'm a better cook than photographer, but I'm working on it):

The Mix

Then heat up your cooking surface. I use an electric skillet for the cooking area, but you could use a griddle or frying pan. Having sides is nice for me since I cook the pork in here first, and then follow the cakes with noodles and eggs. Cook them for about three minutes a side on 300 degrees, or until they have a light brownness to them.

In the Pan

After the Flip

Next comes the noodles. Again, the amount you cook really depends on how much you want to eat and/or save. I toss roughly half of a one-pound package into the skillet with a little sesame oil, which adds a nice flavor. Just fry them up until they are a little crisp, but not burned.

Pile of Noodles

Then crack in the eggs (after taking out the noodles, unless you want scrambled). There should be leftover oil from the noodles, so no need to add any more. Salt and pepper would be a personal preference, I don't use it. As far as done-ness, I like my eggs to be soft enough to leak yolk all over my noodles when my fork cuts in; it's basically the same as any other fried egg you cook.

Hey, It's A Fried Egg

Next you just layer it out onto a plate. First the noodles:

Then the egg:

And finally the actualy okonomiyaki, topped with a light layer of mayo (I know, it sounds weird, but it's yummy), and then a nice criss-crossing of the okonomi sauce. At this point I'm usually done, but you can add pretty much whatever topping sounds good. Dried shrimp, dried seaweed, pickled ginger - whatever your palette desires.

And voila, the final dish!

Top View

Money Shot

Tell me that doesn't make you hungry?! Every time I make it not only do I eat too much, but I'm instantly transplanted back to that simple yet amazing meal in Hiroshima.

Thank me later; now go run to Uwajimaya and make it for yourself, then come back and tell me how easy it was and how damn yummy it was. Impress your friends - chances are most of them will have no idea what you made them, but they will like it. And want the recipe. Email them this link.


  1. This recipe sounds great, I'm going to try to make it. How do you cook the pork?

  2. Good luck! I buy thin-cut pork strips (can also use bacon if you like), and then slice them into quarter inch pieces. Then I just pan fry them and let them cool a bit before mixing them into the cabbage.