Monday, February 09, 2009

Comfort food....Japanese-style

If someone had asked me, before I came to Japan, what I thought Japanese food was....I'm pretty sure that I would have said: 1) rice 2) sushi and sashimi (raw fish) 3) ramen (the kind that comes in a cup for really cheap, especially if you buy a case of them). I'm pretty sure about this because I remember doing a unit on Japan with my 6th graders....what I learned came from the encyclopedias in the library and whatever else I could find. Someday, I might tell you about that week as it was one of THE funniest and funnest in my teaching career....especially since I was an ESL teacher on the Mexican border and most of my students couldn't completely comprehend the idea of the whole United States....let alone a small country that listened to some freaky sounding music and ate *"Oh My God!"* raw fish!!

Spend some time here and you will soon find out that those (#s 1, 2 and 3) are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If you come for a visit, prepare yourself for an incredible ride in the "food theme park of the orient".

When I first got here.....I was lonely...I couldn't understand crap...I was hot and sticky (it was August, my friends and just nasty)....I didn't really want to be here, but that damn pride of mine--that got me here in the first place--was bound and determined to make me stay....and like it, dammit!

The assistant manager of the language school I was working in really help me get acclimated to Nagasaki and introduced me to a place one evening (after drinking way too many really good beers) and it was the beginning of an incredibly long and wonderful relationship. I became a "regular", often stopping by on my way home from doing whatever it was that I used to do until the wee hours of the mornings with my friends. Many times, right before I was finished with work, I would call and order "my usual" and it would be ready for me to pick up as I walked past on my way home.

The place is little....and hasn't change a bit in the 17 1/2 years that I have been going there. Oh...the master might have re-done the toilet (from the squatter-type that most places still have to a true Western-sit-down-while-you-do-your-business one!) but other than that....nothing. It has an L-shaped counter (with the grill he uses for cooking) that will seat 7...a table by the window that seats 4 and another table for 2. That's it. No more. If you want a seat, you had better get there early (he opens for the dinner crowd at 5:30) or wait until you are on your way home from partying, but be prepared because his third rush (he is also busy for lunch!!) is between 1:00 and 2:30 in the morning!

Okonomiyaki is the main thing on the menu.

I went to Wikipedia to see what they had to say:

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き,) is a Japanese dish consisting of a pan-fried batter cake and various ingredients. Okonomi means "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki means "grilled" or "cooked" ; thus, the name of this dish means "cook what you like". Toppings and batters tend to vary according to region.

Osaka-style okonomiyaki is a pan-fried batter cake. This is the style of okonomiyaki found throughout most of Japan. The batter is made of flour, grated yam, water or dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage, and usually contains other ingredients such as green onion, meat (generally pork or bacon), octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, kimchi, mochi or cheese. Okonomiyaki is sometimes compared to an omelette or a pancake and may be referred to as "a Japanese pancake".

In most places, or when you make it at home, the common way is to just mix everything together in a bowl.....

....and then put in on a very hot griddle to cook.
While you can find places to go where the masters, or cooks, will make the okonomiyaki for you, many people opt for the do-it-yourself kind. You order the particular toppings and special ingredients you want....a bowl is brought out full of all that you ordered and then the rest is up to you. The okonomiyaki is eaten right off the griddle that it is cooked on.

But the place that we go....Okonimimura...(~mura means "village" it's the "as you like it village") is based on the Hiroshima way of cooking....the ingredients are layered rather than mixed together. The layers are a crepe-like batter, cabbage (lots and lots of cabbage!!), pork, optional items (squid, octopus, cheese, etc.), noodles, topped with a fried egg and a generous dollop of okonomiyaki sauce...we Kuroiwa's tend to also like mayonnaise on ours. The cabbage used in this style is much, much more than other types. It starts out piled very high and is generally pushed down as the cabbage cooks.

Here's the master..... (he hasn't changed a bit either in all this time I've known him!!)
(That's my garlic cooking!! I also like mine with cheese!!)

And here he is creating these delicious dishes.....first he makes a thin layer of the crepe batter on the griddle and then piles on the cabbage...adding dried fish, tempura crunchies and other things the customer has requested.

While that layer is cooking, he cracks an egg for the "bottom" of the other layer. (And for those who know me.....just for the record....yes, THIS IS THE ONLY WAY I WILL EAT A FRIED EGG! EVER!! .)
On top of the fried egg, he puts a package of noodles with some of the sauce he uses.

When that's all done, he flips the cabbage layer on top of the noodle layer and then cooks it for a bit more and then.....some more sauce, some dried seaweed and calls it good!!! We call it delicious!!!
You need to make sure that you come hungry, because these babies are NOT small!! You can order a "Ladies"'s a bit smaller. We ordered one for Koji but he still ate part of mine when he was finished.

A plate of hot, yummy goodness and a beer....pretty damn close to a perfect evening dinner!!

(See the boxes stacked up on the wall behind the K-man? Those were full of cabbage!!)

The whole dinner (4 okonomiyakis, 2 beers~~for me!!~~ and two cokes for the boys) cost us 4200 yen....which is about $40, give or take. For I didn't have to cook or do the dishes and since the K-man was driving, I could enjoy the was worth it.
Everyone was happy...some happier than others!!!
**Lila, Kim, Lauren, Eduardo, Rachel, my mom....and anyone else who has eaten at Okonomimura....this post is dedicated to you because sure as anything....I go here to eat and I am totally drowning in some incredibly wonderful memories of being here with you!! I always leave very satisfied, but still...a little sad.
I love and miss you all terribly.
Oh. The master said to tell you all "hi"!!

*Images which do not belong to me were borrowed from GoogleImages. Thank you.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

If I'm ever in your neck of the woods I will definitely try it.

phd in yogurtry said...

Ooh, very much yum! Who can argue with "what you like" as the main ingredients?

3rdEyeMuse said...

when I win the lottery, I am soooo going to invite myself to visit you & hope, hope, hope you are happy to have me & share some of the highlights you've shared here ... (and since I'll have come into this great windfall of $'s, of course everything will be on me). :)

Ginaagain said...

Oh my that looks yummy! I was thinking of you last night as I tried to create my own Japanese dinner. There are no good Japanese restaurants around here but I'm getting pretty good at tempura vegetables. Now I want to try cooking okonomiyaki.

smalltownmom said...

It looks tasty!

Helena said...

This brings back memories! On our last evening as a tour group in Japan we went to an okonomiyaki restaurant. It's such a great way to socialise! The okonimimura looks fab too!

Yesterday I was craving chicken katsu curry. I'm lucky to have quite a few little Japanese restaurants here so I made my way to Soho where most of them are located. They look so unassuming from the outside but the food is fabulous!

ms-teacher said...

Yum! (Btw, got your giftie! Thanks so much!!)

Janet said...

omg...omg, I LOVED okonomiyaki SO MUCH!!! Ahhh...Japan...I miss you so!

kim said...

Could I feel more natuskashii!!! And the pictures... I felt like I was right there with all of you... You are right - master looks exactly the same. Sigh...

Ms. Lea 李女士 said...

I Love the last picture with the tooth missing! How cool is that!! Thanks for sharing more culture. I would love to learn to cook like that!

Mary Alice said...

That sounds so good. Now I'm hungry.

Paida said...

It may have been dedicated to us, but you know it tortured us a bit too! I can not tell you how often we talk about Okinomiyaki Mura!

Thank you so much for taking those photos! It was wonderful to see the master again. Jez Louis he doesn't look like he has aged a BIT in the close to 11 years since we have been there!

Nancy said...

I still can't get over the masthead .. too cute.

The food ... ugh, I'd SO stuff myself! That looks awesome.

Love the toothless grin =)

Mike Golch said...

now you gone an made me hyngry for some domburi.

Mrs. G. said...

Deb, I'm drooling after reading this post.

Leeann said...

Very cool to read! I know very little about Japanese food!