“You have to eat at least one Japanese meal before you leave Japan,” insist my hosts – good friends, Krishna and Lakshmi. We’ve been in Japan for almost three weeks and have basically been eating home food – pulihora, naans and curries and dals and sambars and the whole paraphernalia of Indian cooking… not so strange… except we are six thousand kilometers from India! Talk about Indians and how attached we are to our food!!
We are a bunch of classmates who are holidaying together with families at the home of two of us (two classmates married to each other – i.e!) in Japan. There are twenty four of us altogether and therefore meals are highly orchestrated with teams of two or three taking over the cooking of each meal – hailing from all parts of India and living all over the globe. The meals are varied and interesting and loads of fun to cook as teams!
There are about a dozen vegetarians in the group – eating out is not so easy because Japanese cuisine (well, this was over ten years ago) does not offer much for veggies, not to mention the fact that our group varied in age from seventy to one and a half years of age!
So it’s basically been home food. Then one day, we decide to try out a Japanese meal and our host comes up with the idea of an okonomiyaki meal. For all the Japanese I knew – extending to two words – konnichiwa for hello and sayonara for goodbye (the latter I picked up from an old Hindi film song shot in Japan!), it could just as well have been octopus eggs I was eating (if octopi lay eggs, that is)!
And so off we go to this teppanyaki restaurant. We find a table. We sit down. I sigh and lean my elbows on the table – only to jump up again like a scalded cat – exactly what I was then! Never having been to one of these before, I hadn’t realised that what I thought was a steel table top was actually a huge hotplate!
Pushing my chair away, I warily keep a distance from the table. The guy sitting next to me has already placed his order and the waiter brings over his stuff. It is long. It has little round things. Wondering what new kind of vegetable this is that has swum into my ken, I discover it is literally a swimmer – an octopus, to be precise! Or rather, one tentacle of said octopus! And it is fresh – very fresh – still moving – I have an epiphanous moment – the tentacle is waving to me for help! I brush epiphany aside and await my dish with some inner quaking. My friends assure me that it is indeed vegetarian. But it’s going to be cooked right here, where probably many an octopus has been cooked earlier, I want to say… but better sense prevails… when in Japan etc…
And our waiter, a pretty and extraordinarily polite young girl (this politeness is rather an epidemic amongst the Japanese, i must say!) comes over and starts to assemble our okonomiyaki at the table. There’s lots of cabbage, there’s mayonnaise, there’s egg, there’s soya sauce and loads of other things – I cannot believe that such seemingly disparate flavours are going into one dish! And finally we end up with what looks like a huge, fat cabbage-y pizza or oothappam! I taste a little. Interesting – is the thought. A little more – also interesting. But I cannot eat so much! My daughter K thankfully is by my side and finishes off hers and mine!
Came back home and decided this was a dish worth making again – but in miniature!
So here goes my version of okos…
VEGETARIAN MINI – OKONOMIYAKI
For 4 mini okos, you will need:
- Maida/plain flour – 1/3 cup
- Water of veggie stock – 2 ounces – 60 ml
- Baking powder – 1/2 tsp
Mix these into a batter and set aside.
FOR VEGGIE FILLING
- Cabbage – shredded – do NOT chop into tiny pieces – the oko will break apart easily if you do – 1.5 cups
- Capsicum – julienned – 1/4 cup
- Green chili – 1 minced (I am Indian after all!) or 1/2 tsp of wasabi paste for bite.
- 1 egg
- Grated cheese – cheddar is fine. Use a smoky cheese if you want added flavour – 2-3 tbsp.
- Oil – 2 tsp
Mix the flour and everything else, except the oil together. Do not overmix.
In a heated pan, pour a few drops of oil and dividing batter into four, make 4 small “pizzas” in the pan. Pour a few drops of oil around each.
After 3-4 minutes, it should have set on one side. Flip over and continue to cook for a further 3 minutes till completely set.
- Soya sauce
- Sweet chili sauce
- Green stuff – spring onions, coriander
Drizzle and sprinkle over lavishly while still in the pan.
Flip out and serve.
Watch out for that tentacle reaching out to you from the next teppan!
(pic courtesy internet)