PASSIONATE FOR PANCAKES – NAGOMI’S Okonomiyaki

by Jann-Marie Ross

I have never met a Japanese person that was not deeply passionate about food, and Nagomi is no exception.  Her favourite place to eat in the Whau is Ramen Station, a noodle shop at the New Lynn train and bus depot.  There is no shortage of Japanese food shops in the West, but many are owned by cooks of different nationalities that can’t resist a little fusion with the cuisine of their own country.  Ramen Station is Japanese owned, with Japanese chefs.

Her favourite winter food in Japan is nabe mono, or hot pot stew.  She also loves okonomiyaki, or Japanese savoury pancakes.  I have seen them pop up at the Henderson night market, or on Japan Day once a year, but they are not a dish that Kiwis are familiar with.  This needs to change, so Nagomi has shared how to make them with us in the hope that you will fall in love with them too.

Hot plate cooking is popular in Japan, both at home and in restaurants.  Okonomiyaki, teppanyaki, and monjayaki are all made this way.  The hotplate allows you to eat food the second it is ready, and enjoy company while watching the food cooking, too.  It is a super sociable way of eating.  Nagomi often eats it with her Mother in Japan, as her Dad arrives home from work at a later hour.

If you don’t have a hotplate you can use an electric fry pan, or just a common fry pan on the stove.  A word of caution with the electric fry pan in the middle of the table, Japanese hot plates don’t have sides.  Be careful not to burn your arm when reaching for a slice.

Okonomiyaki would not be okonomiyaki without the toppings.  Japanese mayo is applied liberally, as is dried seaweed and shaved fish flakes waving in the air as if they are alive.  Oh, and the essential condiment, okonomiyaki sauce. The city of  Kyoto even does a regional version with noodles on the top!

New Zealand was chosen as a destination for Nagomi by her school.   She came in January 2020 knowing nothing except for a familiarity with kiwi fruit and kiwi birds.  She points out the similarities between the two countries, in geographical size, beautiful scenery and an unfortunate tendency towards earthquakes.  Both countries take pride in cleanliness and nature. 

Nagomi comes from the North of Japan.  Like many places in Japan, her town Sendai has a regional food speciality, a sweet dessert rice cake made with edamame beans.  Yes it is green.  A famous shrine, Osaki Hachimangū,  is in her hometown of Hachiman.  It has an enormous stone stairway leading up to it.  Nagomi often played on those stairs when younger, as her Junior High School was very close to the temple.  In winter it is very cold and snowy.  Lots of  students fell over navigating snow, ice, and a steep climb, walking  to and from school each day.

She hasn’t suffered homesickness, but she does find that time seems to pass slowly in New Zealand.  She attributes this to the shorter school days, Japanese schools run from 8.40am to 5pm.  It may also be due to the absence of cram schools, private lessons operating  outside of the school system and hours.  Now seventeen, she will have to take her University Entrance exams next year.  These are extremely difficult, and to achieve her dream of an International job she attended cram school for two hours in the evening at least once a week.  During test time this increased to two or three nights a week.  Nagomi wants to work in business, and hopes to master English, Chinese, Russian and German. 

When asked about difficulties, she says she doesn’t like the letters L and R.  It is very hard for her to hear a difference in pronunciation.  Japan is a very safe country, and initially she thought New Zealand was also very safe.  It made her somewhat vulnerable to being taken advantage of, initially.  I can understand this completely, I have seen people counting out hundreds of dollars on the Japanese trains without a fear of being mugged.

When Covid 19 hit Japan before New Zealand, Nagomi was not given the option of going home, but was told she would/should return if the New Zealand situation went out of control.  When the second wave hit, she was taken by surprise as the shutdown came so quickly.

When asked what she misses, her first answer is food, followed by her miniature schnauzer Ruh.   She is looking forward to weekends spent at a Japanese onsen or hot pool.  This is quite an experience, the family stays at a traditional inn or Ryokan, eats delicious food, and takes frequent dips in very hot pools with beautiful views.  The pools are separated by gender, as bathers are naked.    

Even in private Japanese homes, a bath is a revered way to relax and unwind.  The water can be reheated from underneath with a gas heater.  It is not uncommon to stay in for an hour, the baths are shaped like a square spa pool, to make sitting more comfortable.

When she returns in December 2020, she also looks forward to shopping and enjoying karaoke with her friends.  It is a different experience to New Zealand. They can use a private room and order food.  If you are terrible at singing only your friends have to suffer it.

Her parting advice to any International student, is to attend a school where no one speaks your language. There is no point in coming to New Zealand and talking with your Japanese mates every day.  You have to put your own language aside and try to act like a local as much as you can to fit in. 


Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savory Pancake)

Ingredients:

Pancake

Otafuku Okonomiyaki packet mix for 2 people (Available from Japan Mart)

Cabbage 1/2 (300g)

2eggs

1 x Spring onion

Water 160 ml

Vegetable oil for frying

Sauce (not included in pack)

Tomato sauce 20g

Worcester sauce 20g

Sugar 1/2 tablespoon

Additional toppings

Japanese mayo (not included in pack)

Shaved tuna flakes (not included in pack)

Nori (seaweed) green sachet that comes with pack

Method:

  1. Take all ingredients out from the package.*
  2. Cut cabbage into thin strips. 3cm is the best.
  3. Chop the spring onion finely.
  4. Put the water in a bowl, mix in the pink package of powder (Yam) until bubbling.
  5. Add white package of powder and mix. Please be careful not to overmix. It is ok if some lumps remain.
  6. Beat eggs, add shredded cabbage, chopped spring onion, and the contents of the yellow package (this is tenkasu, or tasty tempura bits) and mix together to make a batter.

7.  Add oil to frying pan.

8.  Add batter and fry for 3 minutes.

9.  When the bottom is light brown like a pancake, flip, put on lid and steam  4 minutes.

10. Check the color and turn over. Fry for 2 minutes without lid.

11. Put on plate when golden brown both sides.

12. Add sauce and then toppings.

13. Enjoy!

Some of the allergens included in this okonomiyaki pack: Wheat, Soybeans, Squid, Yam, Mackerel, Eggs

Please note that Nagomi has translated Japanese to English from the packet. Please take care if you have allergies as some ingredients may not be listed.  We are not sponsored by Otafuku.

*If you use the pack for 4 people, just use half and keep the rest for next time.

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