March 1, 2010

Okonomiyaki and Monjayaki: Japan's Delicious Savory Pancakes

Okonomiyaki and Monjayaki: Japan’s Delicious Savory Pancakes

Okonomiyaki and monjayaki are two distinctive types of savory Japanese style pancake. They are made with seasoned flour and a variety of other ingredients, such as cabbage and sprouts mixed into a batter, then cooked on a hot iron plate. Both types of pancake are popular with the general public, as deliciously filling meals at reasonably cheap prices. Many okonomiyaki restaurants offer monjayaki as well.

The main differences between them are the amount of seasoning used, and the way they are made. Okonomiyaki batter has all the ingredients mixed together and molded into a firm, round, pancake-like shape when cooked, then topped with sauce, mayonnaise, dry seaweed, and other condiments like bonito flakes for flavor. Monjayaki batter is softer, and is spread evenly throughout the iron plate. It’s made by cooking the main ingredients first, spreading them into a circle on the grill, and then pouring the batter into the center. It is most often eaten when partially cooked, using a spatula-shaped spoon. Read on to discover more about these popular Japanese-style pancakes.

What is Okonomiyaki and Monjayaki?

A Brief History of Okonomiyaki and Monjayaki

Both types of savory pancake can be traced back to Japan’s Edo Period. In those days, the batter consisted of flour and water, lightly grilled and topped with savory miso, then rolled up. Monjayaki came about first, going back to early 19th century Tokyo. Back then it was considered a snack for children, but today is enjoyed by young and old alike with a large variety of ingredients. Monjayaki evolved further in the twentieth century, with its batter being spread thinly across the iron plate, then topped with green onions and Worcester sauce. This later developed into the contemporary Japanese pancake known as okonomiyaki.

Regional Variations

Okonomiyaki variations are classified by region, the most famous being Kansai-style and Hiroshima-style.

Kansai style okonomiyaki batter is made with grated yams and cooked into a soft, savory pancake, then topped with Worcester sauce, mayonnaise, or ketchup according to preference.

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is known for its thin crepe-like batter, bulked up with lots of cabbage and sprouts. Sometimes it is topped with soba or udon noodles and a thin fried egg, then formed into a circular patty on the iron plate. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is also known for its sweet sauce.

Ordering at a Restaurant

Select what you’d like to eat from the menu. Make sure to let the restaurant staff know if you want extra ingredients while ordering. You can also choose to custom order all of your favorite ingredients individually.

Typical Ingredients Used in Okonomiyaki and Monjayaki

Pork (Buta-Niku)
Squid (Ika)
Scallops (Hotate)
Shrimp (Ebi)
Egg (Tamago)
Clams (Asari)
Oysters (Kaki)
Cod Roe (Tarako)

Both types of pancakes consist of batter mixed with some type of vegetable, such as cabbage. You can add a variety of ingredients to the mix depending on what you like. Some of the more popular combinations include pork with egg, or cod roe with cheese. Below are some popular ingredients and their names in Japanese. Give your language skills a try and really impress the wait staff!

How to Eat Okonomiyaki

Depending on the restaurant, sometimes you’ll have to make the pancakes yourself, or one of the staff will prepare them for you. If it’s your first time, or you’re not feeling quite brave enough to cook it yourself, it’s perfectly fine to ask the restaurant staff for assistance. They will mix the batter in the bowl, pour it into a circle on the iron plate, grill it, shape it, and flip it over for you when the okonomiyaki is finished cooking. You can try it, too, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous! Remember to use both spatulas to flip it over. That way it will stay in-tact and keep its beautiful shape when you’re finished. To add toppings, first brush the pancake with sauce, then sprinkle seaweed, fish flakes, or other condiments on top of that. Mayonnaise or ketchup can also be added as toppings if you’d like. A flat metal spatula is used to cut the finished pancake into sections like a pizza. You can eat it either with the spatula, or with chopsticks, whatever you prefer.

How to Eat Monjayaki

Monjayaki, much like okonomiyaki, is generally cooked on a hot iron plate atop your table. You can cook it yourself, or ask the restaurant staff to assist you if necessary. If you want to impress the restaurant staff and your friends, use these steps to try making it yourself. It’s very different from the way okonomiyaki is made, so be careful!

Step 1: Spread oil on the iron plate, then place the ingredients on the plate once it’s hot. Do not mix the ingredients like you would an okonomiyaki. Place the cabbage on the grill first, then the other ingredients. Be careful not to pour the batter yet.
Step 2: Use spatulas to mix and stir-fry the ingredients together.
Step 3: Form the ingredients into a donut shape on the iron plate, then pour the batter in the hole in the middle of the donut. Try to keep the donut shape intact throughout this process.
Step 4: Once the batter starts to boil, gradually mix it together with the surrounding ingredients, then spread it across the entire iron plate.

Once it’s reached the half-cooked point, scoop it off of the iron plate with a small, spatula-like utensil called a “hera” to eat it.

Paying when You’re Finished

When you are finished with your meal, ask the waiter or waitress for the check by saying, “Sumimasen, o-kaikei onegaishimasu!” The staff member will then bring your check to the table. You can take the check to pay for your meal at the register when finished, but please keep in mind that credit cards are rarely accepted, especially in smaller restaurants, so it’s a good idea to always carry cash with you when you eat out.

Be Sure to Try Okonomiyaki and Monjayaki in Japan!

There are a lot of places you can go to try out these savory Japanese styles pancakes. Be sure to check out Gurunavi’s restaurant page to see where you can get these delicious grilled treats!

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