Okonomiyaki is a typical festival food in Japan - at every Omatsuri you can be sure to find at least one or two okonomiyaki stalls (except for the Namaste India festival and the Vegetarian Culture Fair maybe..). Osaka is famous for this dish that consist mainly of shredded cabbage and a pancake-like batter, spiced up with beni shôga, pickled red ginger, all fried on a hot plate and topped with a special dark brown sauce and oftentimes mayonnaise. The version from Hiroshima contains fried soba and the ingrediences are not mixed up, but first the batter is fried to something like a pancake and than the other ingrediences are all piled up on it to one tower of okonomiyaki that shrinks during the frying but it still looks like an artistic feat to turn it over..
Unfortunatly the usual okonomiyaki is not vegetarian, but made with fish-based dashi (stock), often with those tiny kind of shrimps and topped with my friends the katsuobushi (fishflakes)..
Actually it would be no problem to leave those little beasts out, but as it often is in Japan you make people very uneasy if you ask to modify a traditional, original, century old recipe even the slightest little bit. It seems to be a sacrilege, impossible because the dish is just perfect as it is - I don't dare to doubt that, but I prefer an imperfect veggie dish to a perfect one with dead animals in it. Usually it still tastes great and for me personally it tastes better when there are no little sad eyes staring at me from my plate!
But it seems like there is no way to make it any different, although the name okonomiyaki implies "fry whatever you want"... Well, yet there is a way: just do it yourself! A few days ago I was invited for a fantastic, homemade, vegetarian okonomiyaki and monja dinner - and a feast it was! Monja (also called monjayaki) is the softer, more liquid and mushy sister of okonomiyaki - a dish originating from Tokyo, to be eaten directly from the hot plate it is fried on, for example in one of the countless monja places in shitamachi. There you also should be able to find veggie versions, but it is also easy to make it at home - you only need a hot plate. There are special ones for okonomiyaki (and monja), but I think it should also work on those hot plates on top of raclette ovens, maybe even in a good not-sticking pan. Although making it in a pan is not an ideal solution, cause the sociable, comfortable and fun aspect of sitting around the hot plate waiting for the next piece of food and watching the batter sizzle. You can easily spent two hours eating like that - nice!
Now to the recipes. I don't know exact measurements, but I think it is a dish that does not require exact measurements. Just try to fry one okonomiyaki and if it is too soggy add some more flour before you fry the next one or add more stock if you think it is too dry - easy as that.
Cut about half of a cabbage in thin slices.
Mix about 3 cups of flour with 1-2 eggs and some veggie stock (less than 1 cup should be enough), add a little salt.
Mix the cabbage and the batter and add as much beni shôga as you like (don't take too much, otherwise you won't taste anything else anymore).
Now you can add whatever you like, for example: thinly sliced shiitake, okra, green asparagus, onions or leek, pieces of mochi (sticky not-sweetened ricecakes), corn, even cheese is not unusual and tastes fantastic with it.. Our okonomiyaki-host also added Agedama (also called Tenkasu), that is something resembling the German "Backerbsen" (are they called soup pearls in English? Until that night I didn't know they exist outside of Germany).
Than fry a big spoon of it on the hot plate with very little oil and turn it over when it is still soft on top but golden brown on the underside and fry it on the other side for a short time.
Afterwards top it with a thick and sweet soy sauce (since okonomiyaki sauce is usually with oyster extract and worcestershire sauce, that resembles it a lot contains anchovies as far as I know), mayonnaise (if you like it - I hate mayonnaise so I don't use it), sprinkle with aonori (dried seaweed). Part it in four pieces with a wooden spatula and serve hot. While eating the next serving is put on the hot plate.
For making monja you make the same batter, just add much more water or veggie stock and grated yam and stir it a bit longer. Then put the cabbage and whatever you want to have with it (I recommend asparagus and cheese) on the hot plate and let it stir-fry for a moment, make a hole in the middle and add the batter. Then everyone spreads out bitsized pieces of it thinly with a wooden spatula, so that those pieces become brown, a bit gumlike and crispy on the edges - these portions are to be eaten directly from the hot plate with chopsticks. Here and here you can see pictures of monja.
Have a nice meal, share it with friends and enjoy a great foody-night, like I did - thanks again Nishi-san and Yuko-san :)
It seems like there are more vegetarians around here than I ever thought! Just a few days ago I found out about the Japan Vegetarian Society(JPVS) (founded in 2001) and that they organise a Tokyo Vegetarian Week every year since 2002. The funny thing is the 2007 Vegetarian Week lasts from sept.1st to sept.30th - well, sounds good! Particularly interesting sounds the Tokyo International Vegetarian Culture Fair 2007 (pooh, what a name). It will be held on the 29th and the 30th at Yoyogi Park, in front of NHK Hall (close to Harajuku stn), between 10am and 8pm on saturday and 10am to 5pm on sunday. There will be a flea market, live music and much more. I am hoping for nice food, books and interesting people. See you there :)
If I had to name one really essential and omnipresent ingredient of the Japanese cuisine, I would say: the soybean! There are about one trillion variations how to prepare and eat it: just cooked, fermented as in natto, miso or tofu, as soymilk, mashed as filling of sweets, ground and roasted as kinako flour, etc.
No wonder there are restaurants specialized in products made of these little superbeans, even in one kind of soybeans, like the Kuromame Café in Kyoto which serves only black soybean dishes. Since these are all vegetarian (except for a little extra plate with dried fish, but this was easy to avoid), I had to check out the kuromame (black bean) set meal of course. And it was amazing! There was the obligatory miso soup, here made of black bean miso, with some vegetables inside. Then there were wonderful, crisp, tempura-like rolls of a thin sheet of seaweed, stuffed with mashed black beans, dipped in a light batter and fried - extraordinary delicious and a taste I never experienced before. They were to be eaten sprinkled with strong sea salt, that came with them.
Soft and fresh were the two kinds of homemade tofu, one made of black, the other one of white beans. This creamy tofu tasted gorgeous with the sweet preserved black beans. Accompanied and accomplished was all this with rice that was cooked together with - surprise, surprise: black beans. During lunchtime this set costed 1050 yen, definitly good value for the money.
On every table were big grindstones (you can see a part of one the first photo, on the right side), that are to be used for making fresh kinako just a few seconds before eating. Interesting, fun, and yummie!
For sure a place very worth a visit and conveniently located in the Ninenzaka & Sannenzaka area not far from the Kiyomizudera.
Kuromame Café 黒豆茶庵北尾 清水店
京都府京都市東山区清水寺門前産寧坂北入ル [please click for map and infos in Japanese]
I love Kyoto. It is a totally touristy place, I know, but it is just sooo awesome. It is Japan like you know it from pictures - it just is picturesque! There are more temples and shrines then you ever wanted to see, there is Gion, with its oldfashioned wooden town houses, shops, (overpriced but nice to look at) restaurants and Maiko shooing by, some of them real ones on their way to customers, others faked (tourists that pay for getting dressed and styled like a Maiko what takes around 2-3 hours, just to go for a little walk and take some photos), but not less beautiful in my humble eyes. There are lush green mountains with bamboo groves and maple trees that change to the most intensive reds in autumn and cherry trees that are like fluffy pink clouds in spring surrounding the city.
And there is the food: the famous Kyoto ryori! Lots of natural flavours, extremely fresh and tasty vegetables, an abundance of wonderful pickles, lots o tofu in all forms and matcha wherever you look at. My culinary heaven for sure!
I have been there just a few days, but I could write a dozen articles about the food in Kyoto.. Let's start with a recommendation of a great vegetarian restaurant.
Mikoan is the name of this bar-like little restaurant that is hidden in a backyard of a narrow alley.
I saw a photo of the food served there on flickr and decided that I have to find it - and it was a very good decision!
Mikoan is strictly vegetarian (not vegan, but I guess you will find vegan dishes there too) and everything that is served there is supposed to be natural and healthy - except maybe for the array of shochu that is waiting for you at the bar...
On their menu you'll find a huge bowl of vegetable curry, of which I was told that it was very delicious. And they serve wonderful typical Japanese sets with all kinds of little dishes. That was my choice of the night! Arranged maybe not 100% strictly according to the Five Principles of buddhist vegetarian cuisine, but it was visible, tasteable, noticeable that the Five Colors: go shiki - red, yellow, green, black and white, Five tastes: go mi - salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy and the Five ways of preparing: go hou - simmering, broiling, steaming, frying and raw/pickled (if i remember correctly) were kept in mind. But to tell you the truth: I don't care much about that - it was a very diverse, healthy and most of all delicious meal!
Not only were there five dishes (plus rice), but also several different ways of preparing: my set consisted of a miso soup with vegetables (= something boiled), deep fried crumpled yuba (tofu "skin")balls (= something fried), pickles, a kind of salad with seaweed and cold tofu (= something raw), simmered greens with aburage (fried tofu) and mushrooms and some other fried veggies. My friend Angie also ordered the set and got some different dishes, so that we could share and try even more things! She had other veggies and some wonderful vegetarian gyoza...mmmmh!
It was such a satisfying dinner in a very homey atmosphere, with books, cats and all kind of knickknack around. The ladies who are running the place were friendly and so was the only other guest, a yoga-loving middle-aged lady sitting beside us and chatting with us in Japanese-English lingo.
Great food, nice place, friendly people in a beautiful city - there is nothing else to ask for! Please go there, whenever you have the chance to do so.
Teramachi-dori, Shijo-saguru, Kyoto [click for map and description of the not-so-easy-to-find-way with photos :)
Mo-Fr: 5pm - 11pm
Sa: 12 - 11pm
So: 12 - 8pm