The Japanese Comfort Food You Need to Know About
We’ve got a new kind of comfort food to keep you warm during the colder months here in Chicago: Okonomiyaki.
Okonomi-what??? It’s OH-KO-NO-MEE-YA-KEE (try saying that three times fast) and it’s freakin’ delicious. Okonomiyaki is a savory Japanese pancake with flavors similar to an egg-and-cabbage omelet with great crispiness from the cabbage – almost like a Japanese frittata. This comfort food originated in Osaka, Japan and comes in many different styles.
The Ramen-san team is excited to share this trend with Chicago and is now offering three different types of okonomiyaki including: Berkshire ham and American cheese; Crispy pork belly and 18-hour smoked brisket and braised octopus for $6 each.
We chatted with Ramen-san’s General Manager Amarit Dulyapiabul, who gave us some more details on what this Japanese dish is all about:
Exactly what is okonomiyaki?
Okonomiyaki consists of a batter, shredded cabbage, and a variety of toppings, which can range from shrimp to pork to any protein you can imagine. Often time’s dashi is added to the batter, along with eggs, rice flour, all-purpose flour, salt and pepper. We cook it on the plancha (kind of like a flat-top grill) where the Napa cabbage gets cooked down until slightly wilted. Then pickled ginger is added in and finally the egg batter. Once cooked, we add Japanese barbecue sauce (similar to hoisin), Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise, a fried egg, the specific protein and finish with chopped scallions, bonito flakes and shredded, toasted nori on top. Traditionally there is some element of pork and/or shrimp and sometimes the shrimp is chopped up and folded into the batter. Or you can griddle thinly-sliced pork to achieve a nice crispiness then add it into the layers.
Where did you come up with the idea to serve okonomiyaki at Ramen-san?
When we were doing research to open Ramen-san, the team traveled through Tokyo. We went to an okonomiyaki shop in Minato that an old Japanese man and his wife owned. In the middle of the tiny shop was a big flat-top griddle with about eight stools around it. It was one of the most memorable meals we had – the dedication to the dish that this couple had was incredible; one they’ve probably been making all their lives. The Ham and Cheese Okonomiyaki was a total stand-out and our Chef/ Partner Doug Psaltis fell in love with this dish, too,” – says Ramen-san, General Manager, Amarit Dulyapaibul.
Had you made the dish before?
Coincidentally, I cooked this during my interview tasting earlier this year (when applying for the chef position) and we decided we would like to eventually make it a fixture on the Ramen-san menu. The okonomiyaki we serve at Ramen-san is Osaka-style, meaning all the ingredients are compiled into one big pancake, whereas the Tokyo-style has thin layers and the one from Hiroshimo includes noodles.
What are some other combinations of “toppings” or seasonal ingredients that work in okonomiyaki?
Bonito is very traditional on top of okonomiyaki – it’s smoked bonito fish that is shaved very thin. It’s interesting because it appears to be “alive” – it slowly writhes around on top of the food. Americans tend to freak out about the moving flakes, but really it’s just due to the steam coming off the food, which changes the air current around the light flakes, causing them to move and appear alive. (In short, the heat literally makes the flakes react.)
We’ve peaked your okonomiyaki interest, no? The dish is available at the River North location from 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM on Saturday and 12:00 PM – 3:00 PM on Sunday and at the Fulton Market and Deluxe in Streeterville restaurants from 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM on Saturday and Sunday.