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Okonomiyaki: SFBA Dish of the Month August 2014

Okonomiyaki is the August 2014 dish of the month!

Dish of the Month is an activity where we collectively try as many versions of okonomiyaki as we can, reporting back with details and photos.

Never heard of Okonomiyaki before? Great! Now's your chance to try it for the first time and tell us what you think! They're a Japanese type of pancake: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okonomiyaki

Know a lot about Okonomiyaki? Try some new versions and guide us how they differ from what you've eaten before.

This might be out dated, but this site has a listing of some places that had Okonomiyaki in the past.

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  1. With pic: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9704...

    Photo there of okonomiyaki variations at Bushido Izakaya, Mountain View -- where they were rather rich, and flamboyantly garnished with condiments and drizzles.

    Trivia note: Though Wikipedia's explanatory article cited in the original posting manages not to touch on this point (other than in its See-Also links), I'm struck by the overlap in concept and ingredients with the Korean "jeon" savory pancakes, to which I was introduced by a Korean restaurant in Berkeley 30-some years ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeon_(food)

    1. the Namu Gaji version seems to be very highly regarded. what was your impression ?

      1. Namu Gaji (Corner of Dolores and 18th St) introduced me to Okonomiyaki and it is the only one I have had (so far). So, I can't say how authentic it is, but it is so good that it has kept us coming back to Namu Gaji many times. From what I learned in an earlier thread, this appears to be a dish that straddles the straits between SW Japan (Nagasaki) and Korea.

        The dish is not easy to describe. Namu Gaji's version comes in a very hot cast iron pan and is kind of a pancake with some oysters, kim chee, sprouts and I am not sure what else in it. On top are bonito flakes that persist in wiggling around sensuously, driven by the heat, for most of the time you are consuming the Oknomiyaki. At the end you get to scrape up the caramelized bits. Whole thing is delicious.

        One Namu Gaji Okonomiyaki is just fine for 2. We usually get there early enough (before 630) to order the "happy hour" Korean Beef tacos. With the pickles that is a fine meal polished off next door, if the lines are not too long, with a salted caramel and honey lavender cone at BiRite.

        Namu Gaji has lots of other very interesting items, including their Wednesday night KFC (Korean Fried Chicken), an interesting cured salmon and beans salad, a mushroom thingie, ... I was less impressed with the hamburger which is not up to Mission Bowling, for example.

        16 Replies
        1. re: Thomas Nash

          thanks much for the description. their menu lists the Korean sweet potato ('mountain yam' in other nomenclatures) as an ingredient, so the pancake itself is probably a form of sweet potato pancake, if that makes sense with your experience of it.

          1. re: moto

            I don't recall sweet potato in the dish at NG. Like ThomasNash, this is where I was introduced to the concept, so I have no basis of comparison except to say I've had it several times, with different dining partners,and each time was thoroughly enjoyed. My impression is that it's a medley that always has oysters, sprouts, bonita flakes. After that, it depends on what's in the kitchen.

            1. re: escargot3

              Grated mountain yam is gooey and bland and very different from the sweet potatoes commonly eaten in the US


            2. re: moto

              I have had this twice at the same place in Tokyo. I am pretty sure it could not have been considered a sweet potato pancake.We liked it so much the first time that we went back a second time. Not quite as good, but slightly different, whatever was in the kitchen as mentioned earlier.

              1. re: wally

                Okonomiyaki is, of course, an Osaka-area dish, imported to Tokyo at varying levels of authenticity. When I've had it in Osaka, it's been cooked on a grill in front of me, and one gets to call the ingredients (think burrito-line in CONCEPT, but the ingredients are in plastic tubs behind the grill, and you actually sit at the grill and eat, or carry away on a paper plate).

                It is valid to cook in the kitchen and serve on a steel plate like at Namu Gaiji, but also think of an upscale restaurant serving burritos. They can't have a line, so they do it in the kitchen and bring it out on a plate.

                The Tokyo-area equivalent is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monjayaki , which is apparently unavailable in the bay area and not yet "discovered".

                The key element is that funny bbq sauce. It's the same sauce as on takoyaki balls, which give the tart and sweet taste.

                1. re: bbulkow

                  I'm probably in the minority but I thought the okonomiyaki at Namu Gaji was awful. It may have been an off night, but it was the worst of a number of badly-executed dishes I had there - about a year ago. The okonomiyaki was way too saucy, too salty and had too much mayonnaise. Maybe because it had kim chee instead of unprepared cabbage, it lacked any sense of freshness.

                  1. re: calumin

                    Agreed. I've never had okonomiyaki in Japan but imo the Namu Gaji version was too sour, and I felt like the oysters didn't add anything. They really need to rebalance the flavors. I think kimchee can work in okonomiyaki (it certainly works in Korean pajeon) but you need fewer elements going on.

                    1. re: calumin

                      I agree. I thought it was terrible. The kimchee was nasty. Okonomiyaki is one of my favorite foods, but I will never have it at Namu Gaji again.

                      1. re: pauliface

                        I wouldn't go as far as to "terrible" and "nasty" but it didn't work for me.

                2. re: moto

                  i dn think mtn yam is that similar to swt potato in this use. a japanese friend who made my one and only taste of okonomy says it helps to bind and fluff the pancake. she sometimes uses baking powder if no yam. my recollection of korean oyster pancakes is that they're not as fluffy and light. plus there are sauces and the aforementioned wiggly fishflakes that keep okonomy distinct.

                  1. re: rubadubgdub

                    We make okonomiyaki every year with a Japanese club I belong to. Mountain yam or yamaimo is kind of the secret ingredient! You grate it on a fine rasp and it comes out sorta gluey, with a texture reminiscent of the "slime" from okra. It does seem to act as a binder but doesn't really seem to add taste.

                    I'm curious if any restaurants in the SFBA serve the Osaka variant of okonomiyaki nikudama soba or nikutama-soba which includes noodles and pork. I believe it is also referred to as modernyaki :-). That is my absolute favourite and I would love to try it on our next visit.

                    1. re: grayelf

                      Several posts in this older thread recommend the modern yaki okonomiyaki at Izumiya in SF Japantown.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Thanks for the tip, Melanie. I had a look elsewhere on line and I think they do a modified Hiroshima style with yaki soba in the centre. Not quite what I'm after, alas. There's something about the crisping up of the pork slices and the noodles under the creamy pancake part... drat, now I want okonomiyaki with noodles!

                        1. re: grayelf

                          Walked thru Jtown this morning. Izumiya was closed today, but here's a shot of the plastic model on display. No idea how close to reality it might be.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Wow, thanks for doing that, Melanie! As I suspected, yaki soba a dentro, which I'm sure would be great but not precisely the ticket :-).

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              This photo of Modern-yaki looks a bit more vertical than the real thing, and likely models are made as caricatures of the real item in order to emphasise their features. Likely the model was made in Japan.

                3. They have it at Majikku Ramen in Daly City. I know we tried it but it wasn't memorable.

                  It's on the dinner menu at Iyasare in Berkeley: "black tiger shrimp / squid / scallop / shiitake / bonito flakes / mentaiko aioli / chili ponzu"

                  1. Be sure to make a distinction between Osaka style (the most prevalent) and Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki. Hiroshima style is thin and crispy, unlike Osaka style which is thick and doughy.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Tripeler

                      When I had it in Hiroshima, it was very different. No yamaimo (mountain potato), but it had noodles and an egg (almost like a thin omelet) on one side. Really good. Perhaps the Hiroshima-style is spreading, as it was also on the menu (along with the traditional Osaka style) at the two places we had okonomiyaki in Osaka.

                      I'd love to know if there is any of the Hiroshima style in the Bay Area.

                      1. re: jmarek

                        The Hiroshima style that Cooking with Dog demonstrates starts with a thin batter (flour, water, no eggs?), piles it high with shredded cabbage and seasoned with dashi granules, and pork belly slices.

                        Yakisoba noodles are fried, seasoned the okonomiyaki sauce, and formed into a cake. The main cake is turned, and then placed on top of the noodles.

                        Finally an egg is fried (more of a simple broken omelet), and the cake placed on top, completing the stack.

                        So while the batter is thin, the final product is a rather thick stack.

                        1. re: paulj

                          In most cases, the Hiroshima style uses a lot of finely chopped green onion (the fat ne-gi type) which is cooked down considerably. Overall, Hiroshima style is lighter and more vegetable heavy. Done well, it is breathtakingly good.

                    2. Gaja Moc booth at 41st Annual Nihonmachi Street Fair in San Francisco Japantown

                      $5 for the okonomiyaki alone (vegetable, cheese or curry) or $8 as a combo with fried squid legs. I noticed that most of the orders that folks were carrying only had tonkatsu sauce squiggled on top. Katsuoboshi and nori toppings are also available by request, then I added my own mayonnaise.

                      Gaja's is a thin type that I ordered extra crispy. Soft and gooey inside from the addition of mountain potato and there was no raw, uncooked flour taste. I liked the crisp browned edges, and the shreds of red ginger gave the flavors a nice pop. It could have used more nori flakes on top.


                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Damn, I didn't realize they had katsuobushi on the side. This version was pretty good I thought, it just needed more components because it was a little bland. Katsuobushi, more sauce, more fresh benishoga, maybe a fried egg...

                        1. re: ajyi2012

                          Oh no. What was served at the festival seemed like just a baseline. It needed a whole lot more to be truly satisfying. Sort of weird that something named okonomiyaki has so few options.

                      2. Kenta Ramen in Foster City has it. I only had a version before in Whistler, BC at Jeggs, which makes it at the farmers market. I'd love to hear what people think of the version at kenta. I had the corn and pumpkin, very different from the cabbage version with mochi bits, wrapped in a thinly fried egg one at Jeggs.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: peppatty

                          Kenta Ramen in Foster City offers eight types of okonomiyaki : Corn & Veggie, Pumpkin & Corn, Beef & Veggie, and Seafood & Veggie and the same varieties topped with noodles and egg (modern yaki).

                          I got the modern yaki with pumpkin and corn. The top of the dish contained a fried egg, large/wide bonito flakes, mayo, and brown okonomiyaki sauce, and the bottom was a nicely browned omelette. Pumpkin and corn were a good flavor combination. The texture was weird--- when it was warm, each bite of the omelette made me wonder whether I was eating raw batter or a piece of soft pumpkin. I'm glad I hung onto the leftovers for the next day--- this texture issue disappeared once it cooled.

                          The composition of the dish perplexes me. I've only had modern yaki at Izumiya in Japantown and I (mis?) remembered some continuity between the noodles and omelette. Here, the noodles sat in a hill between the fully cooked omelette and the toppings. Nothing connected them. Is that typical of modern yaki or is it more common for them to be integrated as in an Italian spaghetti pancake, or at least flattened to the shape of the omelette?

                          1. re: hyperbowler

                            Saw a very similar oknomiyaki selection at Majikku Ramen, next to 99 Ranch, Skyline Plaza, Daly City, but didn't have a chance to try.

                        2. In search of okonomiyaki in San Mateo, I hit three places and ate one okonomiyai-ish dish that tasted pretty good.

                          My first stop was Kitcho Japanese Restaurant. Apparently they took them off the menu.

                          A few doors down is Izakaya Mai, which serves them, but they are closed on Mondays.

                          And so I landed at Izakaya Ginji where I had a good meal, including a riff on okonomiyaki they call "tofu okonomiyaki." It's not a pancake, but a soft-tofu, egg, and corn kernel casserole topped with that brown okonomiyaki sauce. Bonito flakes, which I grabbed from a salad I'd ordered, helped bring the dish more into okonomiyaki-land. The softness of base was pleasant and avoided the overcooked egg flavors and puffiness I've had before at Izakaya Mai. There was a lot of sauce, but it was the right amount of umami for the creamy ingredients underneath it.

                          The dish stayed warm throughout the meal. Despite it's creamy character, it was not successful at taming the spiciness from their "takoyaki roulette," five regular takoyaki and an unmarked one filled with something called "Death Sauce."

                          1. Osaka okonomiyaki with octopus and pickled red ginger at Kitchen Kura
                            (no katsuobushi topping)

                            My cheap-and-filling student meals in Kyoto were okonomiyaki, yaki soba, gyoza, and ramen (circa 1968). I also learned to like the shredded raw cabbage that came on every plate.

                            Service at Kitchen Kura is warm and friendly.
                            Note that the combination dinners will satisfy any hearty appetites. Nanban chicken is popular.

                            1. The version at Iyasare (4th St., Berkeley) is sublime. As Robert Lauriston noted,
                              their rendition has black tiger shrimp / squid / scallop / shiitake / bonito flakes / mentaiko aioli / chili ponzu. It's a refined version of this comfort food, each of the component of high quality and the tastes remained distinctive; elegant presentation on a shallow, oblong cast iron pan. The bonito flakes added some wonderful theater--flakes were ethereally thin and light, shaved on top just as the dish is served so they dance on the surface of the pancake for the first 10-15 minutes of the meal. At $18, probably at the high end for this Dish of the Month, but with the beautifully updated dining room, excellent service and sake options, completely worth it.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: dordogne

                                Agree about the Okonomiyaki at Iyasare and remember it exactly as you described. Elevating simple dishes doesn't always work, but I thought theirs was a home run.

                                1. re: dordogne

                                  Based on this stellar review I trotted over to Iyasare to try it. I was sadly disappointed. In particular, I could not taste the seafood (even the bacon was a bit muted), nor did it have an interesting texture. The primary flavor was the bonito, which was good, but not all that I expected. We didn't finish it. My only comparison point is a bacon/cabbage version that a Japanese friend made that was more everything: crispy, creamy, fluffy and tasty.

                                2. Looks like oknomiyaki will be available in significant quantities this weekend atthe SF Street Food Festival:

                                  1. Saw okonomiyaki at SF Street Food Fest at Namu Street Food. Had only $11.60 so could only afford chicken version as beef was $12. Dry chicken. Pancake with kimchee similar but inferior to Namu Gaji. No surprise as same people. So I am still looking for a Japanese style version.

                                    1. Izakaya Kou, San Francisco http://www.izakayakou.com

                                      Okonomiyaki, $12, Japanese style pancake with bacon

                                      Thick type and gooey inside but not undercooked. Topped with a layer of bacon, mayonnaise squiggles, brown sauce, and bonito flakes. Very smoky and rich, one small wedge was plenty for me.

                                      1. I stopped by and looked at and even asked at a few of the neighborhood Berkeley Japanese restaurants that are my usual go-to for regular mom and pop style Japanese food. Musashi, Norikonoko, Temari, and Anzu do not have it. This is unfortunate, as I've not been a huge fan of the okonomiyaki I've had in the past, and wanted to sample some other interpretations. (Actually, the Iyasare version sounds good to me, as it subs out my least favorite element, the sticky sweet okonomi sauce for chili ponzu, but I've yet to try, and imagine I'd be more tempted by other items on their menu.)

                                        In any case, I've felt like many of the DOTM dishes, perhaps because of the price ceiling, are often dishes that fall on the easier/better/cheaper to make at home side of things for me. Of course, this is no reason not to try versions during DOTM, as it is always interesting to sample different interpretations to gain insight to the essence of the dish, or the elements you prefer. Anyway, I gave okonomiyaki a try...

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: ...tm...

                                          Great job! Reading your experience and the recipes you linked, it seems like what you do with the noodles in modern yaki may depend on regional variations. My personal preference would be to have the noodles fried like hell.

                                          BTW, I love the idea of making a companion Home Cooking thread for DOTM's. For Sept., I'll put a note to create a spinoff thread on the home cooking board should anyone want to make a home version.

                                        2. Izakaya Restaurant in San Jose has four variations on the menu
                                          -Okonomiyaki - Japanese pancake w/ octopus $10.75
                                          -Okra okonomiyaki - pancake w/ okra $10.75
                                          -Buta okonomiyaki - pancake w/ porkbelly $13.75
                                          -Mochi okonomi - pancake /w rice cake, cod fish roe $13.75
                                          +2.75 add tako/mochi/okra

                                          I got the basic one. It's Osaka style, ~8" and 1/2" thick pancake on a cast iron pan and topped with sauce, mayo, shaved bonito, pickled ginger, and nori powder.

                                          I liked their version. The moist inside of the pancake had a decent amount of octopus and also had some of the red pickled ginger. Not too much of the tart sauce. I ate about half and the bottom stayed reasonably crisp while I was eating it.

                                          1335 N. 1st St.
                                          San Jose, CA

                                          1. Yume-ya (Sunnyvale) serves a single variety of okonomiyaki with seafood.

                                            For those who haven't seen the dancing bonito flakes, I offer the following video taken at Okan, Brixton Market, South London:


                                            I seem to recall Yume-ya's bonito flakes being finer than Okan's.

                                            1. Aha. I've tasted my memory of okonomiyaki at Izumiya - like Goldilocks, it's just right for me. Sah.
                                              The right balance of crisp shredded cabbage, meat, sauce, katsuobushi, Kewpie mayo, pancake cooked as I remember... simple fare. It's a throwback to comfort.
                                              Also offered: mixed, seafood, beef. This one is pork.

                                              1581 Webster upstairs near Kinokuniya Bookstore in the J-town mall
                                              Ste 290

                                              1. PSA: Ramen Tomo in Oakland no longer serves the French Fry Okonomiyaki that's on their online menu.

                                                They do have "French Fries with Ramen Spices" on the menu, which I didn't try.

                                                1. Okonomiyaki is not a menu item; this is a special request and right at the top of the pick. It's delicious and large enough for two to share the seafood okonomiyaki at Minako Organic Japanese Restaurant at 2154 Mission Street.
                                                  The search for a new location continues; not South Van Ness and 14th Street.

                                                  1. On the Bridge, San Francisco Japantown

                                                    Best for my month turned out to be okonomi yaki pizza. Something about an herby marinara sauce tames the inherent fishiness. And I liked this chewy pizza crust better than the soggy candidates.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                      You've a Brave Heart! I am screwing up courage to chew on this okonomiyaki pizza.

                                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                          The crust on this pizza beats out the typical California blonde style. It looks like Boboli from the top view, but is quite a bit thinner.

                                                        2. I really liked the okonomiyaki with egg at the Namu stand at the ferry building farmer's market. alongside some raw oysters, a perfect breakfast in my view.