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Okonomiyaki: Japanese Soul Food at Hello Kitchen UK

| Restaurants | 12/06/2012

Okonomiyaki

by Hugh McCafferty (Twitter: @hughmccafferty / Blog: afewhundredwords.com)

Often overlooked and, for the most part, misrepresented, okonomiyaki is in many ways the Cinderella of Japanese cuisine. Classically compared to pancakes or (even more misleadingly) pizza, the literal translation is “whatever you like, fried” – which, admittedly, doesn’t really clear things up a lot.

Happily, Rachel Webb – owner of okonomiyaki food stall, Hello Kitchen UK – is able to offer a far more satisfactory description. “It’s a thick, flavoured batter made up with shredded cabbage, fried and stuffed with something – anything – and smothered in various sauces, pickles, sesame seeds and spring onions.”

OkonomiyakiThose stuffed ingredients most commonly include seafood, pork and vegetables. It’s a popular dish in Japan, where opinion is divided as to which of its two main styles – Hiroshima or Osaka – is the most delicious. In the UK, though, okonomiyaki doesn’t get anywhere near the same amount of attention as other Japanese foods, like sushi or soba, despite its flexibility and relative ease to make.

After living in Japan for over two years, Rachel returned home with the intention of addressing this imbalance. “London’s relationship with Japanese food only goes so far. Everyone is familiar with typically ‘healthy’ dishes but street food in Japan is what really makes up 75% of people’s diet!”

Okonomiyaki

Her first step was to get in touch with established street food vendors for advice. “The street food scene in London is a really exciting place to be at the moment – everyone I’ve come across that’s involved has been extremely helpful.” Less than a month later, her stall was up and running at Hackney Homemade FOOD.

True to the spirit of including “anything you like”, Rachel’s version of okonomiyaki has an interesting twist that riffs on its reputation as Japanese soul food. “My real guilty pleasure is American food. I think the big, bold American flavours of things like BBQ pulled pork and garlic and cheese work in a really devilish way.” With her last batch selling out before closing time, it seems customers agree.

The next step is to expand her menu and, although Rachel doesn’t offer any specific details, it sounds like she has a few exciting developments in mind. “Okonomiyaki is just the tip of the iceberg; I have so many delicious things in the pipeline. I haven’t even started on desserts yet!”

You’ll find Hello Kitchen at Hackney Homemade FOOD on 16 June and Harringay Market  from 24 June. Follow Rachel on Twitter @HelloKitchenUK.

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