Okonomiyaki in Osaka

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You think you’ve tried every kind of pancake out there? Sure, you’ve had the sweet ones with ricotta, topped with fruit, or maybe the savory ones embedded with sweet potatoes or some other nonsense, but I’m guessing you probably haven’t seen (or tasted) a lot of okonomiyaki. This savory cabbage pancake is the star of Osaka (along with takoyaki – see yesterday’s post) due in part to the range of potential flavors. “Okonomi” means “whatever you like” so diners typically go for things like pork belly, wagyu beef or seafood; I’m fine with shrimp and scallions, frankly. The thin batter always contains dashi – the building block of Japanese cuisine – made from kombu (dried seaweed) and katsuobushi (thinly-shaved, smoked and dried skipjack tuna). Although in Osaka, the dashi tends to be more kombu-based, which means more gentle, and less intense than in Tokyo. The must-have toppings are okonomiyaki sauce (think sweetened A1 or worcestershire) with a healthy drizzle of Kewpie mayo (the version at Fukutaro is cut with white wine and mustard) and a vigorous shake of finely-minced nori (dried seaweed). Personally, I don’t think these pancakes need all of that sauce; there’s plenty of umami going on without it, and you sacrifice a crispy exterior, but that’s just my opinion. In Chicago, Ramen-san offers a limited, so-so okonomiyaki menu on Saturdays, but the best version I’ve had locally was the one from Tsukiji Fish Market on West Grand Ave (where they also have takoyaki).

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