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Exploring the Italian Food Scene

Passport & Plate - Farmer's Okonomiyaki

Japan | Saturday, 8 March 2014 | 5 photos

1.5 c Flour
1c Dashi (instant packets or substitute any fish broth)
1t salt
1t baking powder
2t sugar
1lb cabbage, chopped into quarter inch slices
3 green onions, chopped
3 eggs
¼c vegetable oil
1/2lb pork belly, thinly sliced

Optional condiments:
Nori or any seaweed

How to prepare this recipe:
1. Make batter by mixing flour, dashi, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Mix well.
2. Add cabbage and scallions to the batter. Mix so the vegetables are covered in batter.
3. Add eggs and mix lightly.
4. Heat skillet with vegetable oil on medium low.
5. Add cabbage batter to the pan to make a 6inch pancake. Top the batter in the pan with sliced pork belly. Do not push down on the pancake.
6. Cook the pancake for for 2-3 minutes. flip and cook for 4-5 more minutes until golden brown.
7. Remove from pan. Add nori, sauces and any other condiments you like.
8. Serve hot and eat with a friend!

The story behind this recipe:
Americans have casserole, Italians have frittata, North Africans have shakshouka—meals made of a mosaic of leftovers that can feed an entire table. Japan’s version is okonomiyaki, which I discovered can unite diverse people just as it does the assorted ingredients bound in its batter.

I first tried the savory pancake in Hiroshima after a day at the annual anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city. As I left a park full of multicolored paper cranes, monks chanting peace prayers, and people from all backgrounds gathering to recognize our interconnected lives, the weight of the day’s activities started to sink in. Alone and with a heavy heart, I stumbled across a dingy restaurant underneath the train tracks. The smell of grilled meat mixed with grease and fish that is so unique to Japan wafted into the streets. Knowing how a good meal can lift my spirits, I headed in and took a seat at the counter.

As I watched busy chefs sweat over a griddle, a Japanese man seated next to me asked if I had ever had okonomiyaki. When I shook my head no, he replied that it was not a meal to eat alone and invited me to join him. He had already ordered, and soon a meal the size of a small pizza was in front of us. As our chopsticks whittled down the okonomiyaki piece by piece, we realized we had much in common. He had spent time in Houston, my hometown. He had a son about my age. We both liked Bruce Willis movies. One order turned into two, and after a couple hours of eating and conversation, he taught me a saying I still repeat often: Ichi-go ichi-e—literally one time, one meeting—which means to treasure every encounter as it will never happen again.

Indeed, at the end of the meal we went our separate ways. A few weeks later, I recounted this experience to the farmer whose vegetable farm I was cultivating in a small town near Hiroshima. He was delighted to hear I knew the saying “Ichi-go ichi-e” and offered to teach me his family’s recipe for a perfect okonomiyaki.

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