You are looking at my number-one food discovery of 2006. Maybe even 2005. I just sat here for 90 seconds trying to describe what influences it combines, but it's thoroughly bizarre in composition and execution and totally fantastic on the ol' tongue. You'll usually see it referred to as "Japanese pizza", but it's nothing like that at all, except in how it fits in to people's eating habits: it's a street food, or at least extremely casual dining. It's really just a big-ass savory pancake. With mayonnaise and seaweed. Do NOT let those words deter you.
You can see how to make the one pictured above for now...and hopefully I'll add my scintillating tale of how I came to meet this thing eventually.
But until then...I'll send you directly to Amsterdam's only okonomiyaki restaurant, Japanese Pancake World, where the so so nice chefs will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about it, including the secret of the double-spatula flip, and the mushroom press. Really! The coolest thing was coming home from JPW and trying to make my own the next day, and it was 8/10ths as good as theirs. So they're not so tough to make. Nonetheless, go there, now....they're great people. It's in the Jordaan. I'm not kidding! Go!
UPDATE: Well, in co-enthusing with VikingChild about okonomiyaki (recipe here), the question of their provenance came up, and I thought I had the answer, but it turns out that it's nestled right in the Japanese Pancake World website. I'll quote for you here:
Sometime in Taisho-era (1912 - 1926), a wave of Westernisation finally reached the kitchen of the Japanese general public. Worcester sauce came into Japan around this time, and was embraced by the Japanese. Thick pancakes from Meiji-era were touched-up with worcester sauce to give them a Western flair. Garnished with a generous portion of scallion, people fondly referred to this new style of pancake as Issen Yoshoku (one-pence Western food) or Negi-yaki.
In the late 40's, Japan was still recovering from the aftermath of World War II. Food was scarce and people turned to Negi-yaki, a snack, to fill their empty stomachs. Particularly in Hiroshima, destroyed by the atomic bomb, life was harsh. Food distributed via rations was never enough to save the people from hunger. Kitchen appliances had been long confiscated by the government for manufacturing weapons. Hiroshima citizens picked up metallic sheets from the ruins and baked these wafer-thin pancakes to survive. In an effort to ease their hunger, people stuffed their pancakes with as much chopped cabbage as their make-shift-back-yard-farm permitted. And thus was born the first "Hiroshima-yaki."
And then, people in different regions started making them however they wanted to. "Okonomi" means "as you like", so then you get okonomi-yaki, or "cook as you like". OK, when do we eat?
ANOTHER UPDATE: One thing that the JPW had that I didn't was real okonomiyaki sauce, specifically made for it. I'd read that you can use ton-katsu sauce, I myself had used oyster sauce with a little worcestershire to thin....but apparently these Fujii characters make the real thing. I'm sure they're not alone, but I'm almost sure this is the brand the JPW chef used. So I'm on the lookout.
FINAL FRIGGING UPDATE: Found it. That didn't take long at all...walking to the gym I stopped in the hideously expensive Tampopo, and they had Bulldog brand okonomiyaki sauce. For 8 euro. Jesus, people, I've had a retail shop in Amsterdam, I know it's hard to make it work selling low-margin stuff, especially imports (my low-margin import item was CDs...do you know how many Nurse With Wound and AMM CDs you have to sell every day to pay your rent? you don't want to know. long live the MP3), but their prices are a good 50% higher than those of the mighty and excellent in every way Toko Dun Yong from my old 'hood.
Yes, I'm sure that Tampopo's rent is a good 50% higher than Toko Dun Yong's as well, but that's their own fault for buying into the Haarlemmerstraat foodie/babyville hype. I'm not trying to be mean, because they seem like nice people, but prices in this city are high enough without another flashy new store selling artificially expensive things you can already get somewhere else for cheaper. I get annoyed every time I walk by Tampopo. Is that wrong? Probably, but they're emblematic of a larger problem. Anyway, I didn't buy it, I'll make my own. Recipe forthcoming. (UPDATE: Tampopo went out of business in 2010, I never did really stop having very conflicting but mostly negative feelings about it, sorry!!!).
JEEZUS: I am so done with this post. I won't be posting a recipe for okonomiyaki sauce, because every recipe for it that I've found looks terribly boring: essentially ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, mirin, and soy sauce. Probably better off with my oyster and Worcestershire mix or ton-katsu sauce. Case closed. Please.