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Mar 7, 2011 10:41 AM

Sukiyaki or okonomiyaki in Boston?

I haven't been able to find a Japanese restaurant serving either of these dishes... has anyone had them anywhere around Boston?

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  1. bon chon on brighton ave in allston has okonomiyaki

    13 Replies
    1. re: galangatron

      Huge portion and very good. Be prepared to share.

      1. re: adobokid

        Is it Kansai (stuff mixed in a pancake and topped with sauce and mayo) or Hiroshima (more like a giant pile of stuff on top of a pancake, usually with noodles on top) style?

        1. re: Jenny Ondioline

          From the photo of it on Yelp, it looks like Kansai style. Topped with sauce, mayo, and bonito.

          1. re: Boston_Otter

            Yes, that's definitely kansai-style in that photo. Although I love me some bonito shavings, that seems a bit zestily topped with same!

            There's a photo of the menu on Yelp as well -- looks like the okonomiyaki is dinner only, which is good to know.

            1. re: Boston_Otter

              Crap, I prefer Hiroshima-style. Oh well, I'm still going tonight.

        2. re: galangatron

          We were craving okonomiyaki tonight and feeling lazy about cooking it, so we stopped by Bon Chon to check out their version. It was indeed quite large, but also very thin, and quite tender inside and crispy outside. It's fairly plain- it just has the seafood and bacon (they can customize it by leaving things out if you want; I'm not sure if you can ask for additions), and is topped with okonomi sauce, mayo, and bonito. We already went expecting that it might be more like Korean pajeon than like okonomiyaki, and that was true, so we were mentally prepared and not too disappointed.

          If you're looking for "true" okonomiyaki, here were our points of comparison:
          - Pro: fried pancake with okonomi sauce and mayo, likely to be tasty. The generous bonito also helps remind you of okonomiyaki.
          - Also good: the tender and crispy texture was nice, though quite different from the sturdier mountain yam batter that its more typical. We suspect that their batter is made partly or entirely with rice flour, giving it a nice crispy exterior, but requiring that the pancake be thin.
          - Accordingly, the interior of the (very thin) pancake is quite "homogenous", and missing all the fillings that you might be expecting (cabbage, tenkasu, pickle, etc). I have to admit that I'm a sucker for fillings like corn, or kimchi+natto (popular in LA), or things like that . This was quite plain.
          - We were also wishing for some aonori on top. Also, if you cook it yourself tabletop you can baste it with a little okonomi sauce as it cooks (probably frowned on, but I like the extra flavor), and add lots of mayo and spicy mustard.

          Overall, it was tasty enough that we'd probably get it again, but if we're really craving okonomiyaki, it seems like the best bet is still to make it at home...

          1. re: another_adam

            Can you recommend a good recipe and/or mix? I keep hearing that it's supposed to be made with mountain yam, but I don't have one sitting around at the moment :)

            1. re: Boston_Otter

              You can get mountain yam at Russo's sometimes!

              This page has, as it claims, the best okonomiyaki recipe, plus variations based on scarcity of ingredients and hints on how to assemble and cook it. Even without the mountain yam, it's delicious, and couldn't be simpler to prepare.


              1. re: Boston_Otter

                It won't kill you not to have it. You can buy mixes at stores, which as salt already, so be careful and read the ingredients. Sometimes I buy the Korean panjeon mix. Sometimes I just use plain old flour. Here's a recipe from my last experiment. It's really detailed and technical in terms of cooking.

                I find Okonomiyaki a bit bland and doughy tasting most times, even from restaurants. After a few bites, sometimes I'm even turned off and say to myself "What am I eating??" So after some thinking I decided to give it another go and mix it up. After all it's not a set recipe. Here's what I came up with. Hopefully you'll like it too.

                1 Big Ass Okonomiyaki for Two

                Few Handfuls of Shredded/Chopped Shanghai Bok Choy (1 or 2 of them)
                1 Shredded Carrot (Just use a box grater or be lazy and get it from the salad bar.)
                Handful of a mix of herbs, Cilantro, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, whatever
                Protein, I like Scallops or Octopus, but Shrimp, or meats are fine, chop small bite size
                Flour or Okonomiyaki mix from the store (usually has salt and yam flour added)
                Some Grated Ginger
                Sesame Oil
                Black Pepper
                1 or 2 Eggs
                Salt (leave out if using flour pre-mix)

                Condiments (Pick and Choose)
                Okonomiyaki Sauce
                Mayo, either Kewpie or normal, Kewpie Brand is more tart, like Miracle Whip
                Powdered Dashi Fish Stock or real Katsuobushi Bonito or Skipjack Tuna Fish Flakes
                Aonori, aka Green Laver seaweed
                Scallions or Chives
                Roasted Sesame Seeds
                Ginger, Pickled Ginger
                Leftover Tempura Flakes from the fancy Tempura dinner, yeah right

                Frankly you can put whatever vegetables you want, but cabbage forms the body. I find the whole thing kind of blah, so I've been experimenting with different cabbages. I've even tried brussel sprouts. (Too bitter, but ok.) Shanghai Bok Choy, a small variant of Bok Choi, differs from Baby Bok Choy still. The leaves are much greener and the whole thing has more "spice" and "bite" than cabbage, so it's right for me. I like the added greens too.

                After throwing the Bok Choi, Carrots and everything else in a mixing bowl, start throwing some flour in there to coat everything and mix. After it has some sort of consistency, add more. I don't really eye it, I cut up a generous amount of veggies, like say for a salad for dinner, and double it. So think two salads for each person roughly. Then I kind of add about as much flour that should go with that, about a cup, cup and a 1/4 for each person. It should be kind of gloopy but hopefully still dry-ish, not really runny. Adjust flour as you see, make a mental note for next time depending on results. Crack an egg or two, incorporate. I guess I don't add much water, I figure the veggies will steam out enough moisture, especially if they are damp from washing. The egg is wet too but binds it.

                My addition of sesame oil and ginger in the mix adds a nice fragrance. (Some restaurants use pickled ginger, but I like fresh, Okonomiyaki is always kind of "dead" to me.) I also add Dashi to make it more savory, perhaps it's only appropriate with seafood as I cook always, so I put it in the mix, not as a condiment. I don't like powdered Dashi, it's crap. I buy Katsuobushi in large teabags and simmer my own. After making a pint or so, I put it in a jar, put 2-3 drops of vinegar in there to preserve and put in the fridge. Bingo, good Dashi anytime you need it. Actually I keep it in a leftover soy sauce container, with plastic wrap jammed in the top to keep it from drying out. (I do that with soy sauce too.)

                The key to cooking is slow and low. I'd put the stove on 4-5, 6+ will burn it. Oil up a well-seasoned cast iron skillet or non-skick, heat up and dump it in. It shouldn't be so runny that you can't form it somewhat, but if it is, don't worry, just fill up the entire pan. Cover immediately, let it sit for a good 7-10 minutes, depending how big it is. Don't walk away, be careful not to burn, watch heat like a hawk and smell for burning. If you detect any kind of burning by 5 minutes in, I'd advise taking off heat immediately and scrambling the whole thing like scrambled eggs. It'll cool down some. You'll have to re-form it some, but don't sweat it. The whole thing should be quite thick, a good inch, inch and quarter.

                Time to flip, check for that nice golden brown, stove two spatulas under it and flip it. But you know that's not going to work. So don't be lazy. Wrap the top of a cutting board in aluminum foil, and very carefully shimmy the entire thing onto the board using a spatula to coax, but not lift, it out. You can perhaps recoat the skillet with more oil, and invert the pan on top of the pancake and invert the whole thing carefully. Perfect! But make sure it is kind of holding together, otherwise cook more. If you got a non-stick, I dare you to flip in the air. Forget it, it's too heavy. Finish cooking without covering, we want to drive off water now, now that the veggies have basically steamed themselves while covered. Cook until the other side gets some color and the whole thing is cooked through.

                Plating. Well just grab the plate, put it on top upside-down right in the pan and carefully invert again.

                The classic way to dress is mayo, okonomiyaki sauce and katsuobushi. You won't get those nice cake-like piping lines you sometimes see at restaurants from the containers you buy them in. Either use piping tools or don't worry about it.

                I think I like the sauce in a small amount, very little mayo and aonori. If you don't have Okonomiyaki, a mixture of ketchup, honey, and touch of worcestershire or soy sauce is a ghetto substitute, but it works.

                Next time I try it I will cut the Bok Choy in very long thin strips instead of shredded. I think it will help it have more structure and allow it to be thicker.

                Big A
                84 Cambridge, Brighton, MA 02135

                1. re: Boston_Otter

                  I've seen the mountain potato (yama-imo) at places like CMart, too, and maybe also HK Market? I'm not sure about the latter-- they do have a much better yam department than Super88 ever did, so it's certainly possible. To be honest, unless we're having an okonomiyaki party, I usually don't bother and just make the mix, since okonomiyaki is very much a fast food for us.

                  I think I've only ever found one brand of mix in Boston, which is the Nissin Okonomiyaki-ko (600 gram bags). I believe it uses cornstarch instead of powdered mountain yam, and contains MSG-- but if you don't mind that, it's pretty convenient for a quick weeknight supper or lunchbox item, since it has dashi flavor, salt, baking powder, etc. already mixed in, so you can make a customized amount. I've found it at just about every Japanese market- and Korean markets like Reliable and HMart have it, too. (Possibly not more dedicatedly Korean markets like Mirim, I'm not sure). They also carry tenkasu, the "tempura dregs" that are usually added to the batter-- though I've found that area markets must have low turnover for tenkasu, and they tend to be a bit stale. Cherry Mart on Newbury keeps the tenkasu in the freezer, which is how we keep them at home, too. I bet you could probably substitute rice crispies for a similar effect, though!

                  I use plain green cabbage, since it's firm and can be sliced finely, and often some kimchi, too (in which case I skip the Japanese pickles). Seafood, corn, tuna, bacon, all work fine in whatever combination you want- in fact, for a while in LA there was a fad for the ume-shiso combination. The pancake can be sort of thick and dull if it's not fried fully or cooked all the way through, so I try to spread it relatively thinly, and make sure that it's on high enough heat to brown nicely. I also find that in addition to okonomi sauce, ao-nori, bonito, and mayo (kewpie, always), some spicy mustard (karashi) is key, with a light beer. All of the above can be stocked up on at Reliable market or HMart, or one of the Japanese markets around!

                  1. re: Boston_Otter

                    This is my favorite Okonomiyaki recipe...It's great, easy, and most important, hysterical!
                    To keep this Boston-centric, I usually find Mountain yam at Russo's, always at Reliable. If you wrap it well in foil, it keeps for weeks, even months...

                2. re: galangatron

                  OH MY GOD, YES!!! FINALLY!!! I'm going ASAP!!

                  1. re: globalgourmand

                    Nevermind, I'll wait until Taiwan. Once again I get excited before reading the full thread (serves me right). This will not satisfy my craving. Doh.

                3. I think Toraya in Arlington has sukiyaki.

                  Toraya Restaurant
                  890 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476

                  15 Replies
                  1. re: maillard

                    I think they do, I have seen it mentioned in other reviews although I have not tried it myself. Sukiyaki can be considered the first cross-over Japanese food in the states, dating back to the 50's. The kitchen at Toraya is very good, so I wouldn't hesitate to try it. It's also a very simple dish to make at home, especially if you have a table-top burner. Start it off with a big hunk of beef fat.

                    I've never seen Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki on the east coast. Since Korean PanJeon is similar, I would hesitate to order it, unless I was willing to be flexible on my expectations. I'd hope to spy it on another table first. It is also very easy to make at home I find, and it's kind of a late night go to dish if I need to use up some cabbage and random veggies.

                    Toraya Restaurant
                    890 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476

                    1. re: tatsu

                      I'm told Okonomiyaki means "everything you like-grilled". Essentially a big crazy omelet with the kitchen sink piled on. I have enjoyed it in Hanshin where this pancake thing was born, but heartily agree the best versions are often made at home although it's great when someone else has okonomized for you, leaving one free to socialize and drink way too much. Hiroko Shimbo is a really tremendous Japanese Chef, teacher and author. She recently had a dozen students of the French Culinary whip up their own versions of Okonomiyaki and the results were diverse and splendid. Some super simple plates let an ingredient like pork belly shine. Several used mochi sticks after the cooking started. Others were tarted up with caviar and gold leaf. Most had the katsuobushi dancing on top and kewpie is also key. The sauce however is most important for me. The savory Nipon pizza is anointed with a sweet sort of teriyaki.
                      Learn Japanese: hungry - 飢えた Maybe it's a Bon Chon day?


                      1. re: EATTV

                        Yesterday was. Laissez les bon chon rouler !

                        1. re: Nab

                          well played, sir. On topic, I recall a place in Toronto called Okinomi House that was there for many years. Maybe Boston can support the variety of specialty Japanese restaurants and shops such as Okinomi, Ramen, teppanaki, yaktitori, etc.

                          1. re: gourmaniac

                            Okonomi House is still there and still excellent.

                            1. re: gourmaniac

                              Nice memory ! A best friend of mine lived directly across the street from the Okinomi House in the U of T family apartments.

                              I long for a day when Boston has those specialists in town. On a somewhat related note, I was disappointed in the "yakitori"-ish offerings of Dumpling Cafe, don't think they even came into contact with a fire, but will certainly give Basho a whirl at some point.

                              1. re: Nab

                                I'd settle for a Vancouver style izakaya and a japanese chain ramen shop.

                                1. re: Nab

                                  I agree that Basho rocks the teppen-esk and kushiyaki specialities including the chicken skin (my favorite) even at so precious a price. However- just had crazy okonomiyaki lunch at Bon Chon where indeed laissez les rouler. Soju, bon chon, okonomiyaki (bacon/shrimp/scallop) and perhaps the best waiter of 2011. Eddie was getting killed at a lunch in the weeds with only 3 people on a floor of twelve 4 tops+ but totally delivered. The sushi specials: Cali Uni and Botan Ebi 牡丹海老 were perfect. Many thanks to Chef Jin!

                                  1. re: EATTV

                                    Okay, clearly those really long pieces on top aren't bonito shavings, so what are they?

                                    1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                      Katsuobushi on top doing the dance. Underneath cabbage, scallops, bacon, shrimp and ambrosia.

                                      1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                        This is the blade/mandoline like device to make the shavings

                                        And there's a whole chunk of the bonito.

                                        As you can imagine it can get really expensive, like fine spanish or italian hams. I actually don't know any households that do this however.

                                        For some reason I associate high-quality katsuobushi with long, very thin shavings, kind of like how I think very uniform coffee beans are a mark of high-quality. If it's all in tiny pieces or long thicker strands I start doing the japanese squinting bit.

                                        1. re: tatsu

                                          I see. What's confusing me is that in your photo, it looks like there are shavings of two different colors on top, only one of which is the color I associate with bonito. Is that just a trick of the light?

                                          1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                            No, not all. The shavings look like bacon. Rainbow tuna?

                                2. re: EATTV

                                  Yes, I see that her book is no longer on my shelves, so a friend must of swiped it. "As you like it" sauce is kind of important, and I have been caught without some, so I make do with ketchup, soy, and worcestershire mix.

                                  Last time I made it I used some random Boca vegan chicken patties cut into strips. This is one dish that could actually benefit from bacon, to be honest. And the time before I used Shanghai Baby Bok Choi instead of cabbage. I had a recipe somewhere but I can't find it now. The kimchee add-in taken from similar Korean PanJeon is another variation, and I almost always add ginger and sesame oil and some hot pepper flakes, sometimes dashi right in the mix if I don't have Katsuobushi. I certainly don't have any rules!

                                  It's not really the most delicious thing, not everyone I serve it to likes it, but it's definitely one of those items that Japan-o-philes seek out, as in this thread. The version at Bon Chon looks pretty decent, I have to say.

                                  Boca Bar & Restaurant
                                  11 Pine St, Waltham, MA 02453

                            2. Douzo has Sukiyaki...or did last time I was there several weeks ago

                              131 Dartmouth St, Boston, MA 02116