Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Abeno Okonomiyaki

When I was a teenager I read a lot of manga, my favourite being Ranma ½. [Bear with me - this is relevant to food!] The story is a slapstick comedy about a boy who turned into a girl when splashed with cold water. The character studies martial arts and has enemies and prospective spouses of both sexes - one of them being Ukyo, an okonomiyaki chef who's fighting technique is based on cooking techniques. In the manga, the okonomiyaki looks like some kind of yummy fried pizza cooked using giant teppanyaki grills and tossed with a spatula that looked more like a spade - and subsequently splatted into someone's face!

Ukyo, Ranma ½

The reality didn't disappoint - when I visited Japan in 2007 I was on a mission to find it. I was told that it was a bit of a localised cuisine, mainly available in Osaka and Hokkaido. So, in Osaka we asked our hotel concierge where we could find okonomiyaki, and he scribbled down in Japanese the name of the place and told us directions - it didn't have any english on the sign so we just had to compare his scribbles with the shop signs! We arrived at a very dark smokey restaurant with red paper lanterns, noren door curtains, and a massive grill in a U shape with about 3 chefs in red bandanas in the middle cooking for the huddled customers. We couldn't ask for more authentic than that! biggrin We waited impatiently as the chef pretty much tossed food around the place which somehow ended up in a perfect circle on the grill in front of us, perfectly cooked and slathered with a few different sauces we didn't quite recognise and sprinkled over with a load of bonito fish flakes. It didn't last long!

Sooo, getting back to London I was disappointed that the only okonomiyaki I could find was a really cheesy/cabbage-y version at the Japan Matsuri they hold every year. Until a friend introduced me to Abeno that is! There are two restaurants. The original, Abeno, is hidden on a small street near the British Museum and has a number of individual tables with teppanyaki grills on each. The staff don't speak much English! The newer restaurant, Abeno Too is located in Chinatown and has both a large teppanyaki grill in the middle and smaller individual tables also with grills. The staff at this one speak very good English!

Brightly lit and very modern, they're very different from the smokey dark place where I had my first morsel of okonomiyaki, but thankfully the food is almost as good. The camera-shy waiters/chefs calmly mix the ingredients and pour it sizzling onto the grill as you sit, watching, waiting, drooling, taking pictures, as if you'd never seen something cook in front of you before. Afterwards, they artfully drizzle on the sauce in a spiral pattern and dash on a bunch of bonito flakes - if you ask nicely they'll give you a little more. wink It would be a shame to eat something so pretty if it didn't taste so good! I LOVE the Tokyo mix - pork and seafood, yum. Oh they also do a good yakisoba!

Cooking! Thanks to Noodle for the pics.

Abeno Okonomiyaki

Happy eating,


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