|Okonomiyaki vs. Monjayaki!||(Entered Mar. 11, 2007)||Sponsors:|
If you've ever had an urge to add vegetables or meat to your pancakes then perhaps you were Japanese in a past life. Personally I'd never considered what a cabbage and onion pancake might taste like, but all it took was one bite and I knew that I should be opening up my own shop back in Canada. I've heard that you can now find okonomiyaki in Vancouver, (where it goes by the politically incorrect name of 'Japcake'), so maybe I'm too late. Okonomiyaki translates to 'grill what you like' and depending on who you talk to, either originated in Hiroshima or Osaka. Both styles are distinct, but in my book, Osaka okonomiyaki is the clear winner. In fact the Hiroshima version is so much less popular, you might have to go to Hiroshima to eat it, which in fact I have done.
Okonomiyaki can be found all over Tokyo, but Tsukishima has become known as THE place to go to eat both okonomiyaki and monjayaki. (I'll get to monjayaki in a bit.) Tsukishima is one of those reclaimed islands that Tokyoites built in order to get a few more inches of space. Unlike the famous 'Dream Island' however, it isn't made of garbage. Still, the fact remains that the next big earthquake that comes along will most likely sweep Tsukishima back into the sea, but in the meantime, let's enjoy okonomiyaki!
A flip and a few more minutes later the okonomiyaki was sizzled to perfection. Now you add the secret ingredients: fish flakes, seaweed powder, mayonaise and brown sauce! Yum! Asking for maple syrup is bound to get you some strange looks.
Kumi knows good okonomiyaki when she tastes it.
You never know who you're going to see at an okonomiyaki restaurant. You might even run into a guy wearing bunny ears. Some people were born to be fashion leaders.
Monjayaki is okonomiyaki's less popular cousin. Most people, including myself, prefer okonomiyaki. However, while okonomiyaki started in Osaka (and some say Hiroshima), monjayaki began right here in Tokyo. Tsukishima is actually more famous for monjayaki, the main street with all the restaurants is even called Monja street. However the restaurant owners aren't stupid, and most shops offer both in order to keep business moving along.
And tends to be steamy too. What's happening behind the clouds?
Ater things have settled down, you can see that monjayaki is bigger, flatter, and wetter than okonomiyaki, and unfortunately looks something like the aftereffects of drinking too much on a full stomach. Don't let its appearance turn you off though. Our particular monjayaki was a 'Gomoku' monja, which means that it came with about 5 kinds of fish plus some pork as well. Oh and cabbage, lots of cabbage.
Monjayaki is scraped and eaten directly off the grill with a special shovel-like spoon, just remember that it's gonna be pretty hot. Monjayaki has the consistency and flavour of gruel, or porridge, so be sure to add some sauce and salt as well to liven things up.
All of Tsukishima's restaurants are small, crowded and tend to look a bit run down, but don't let this put you off if you're looking for the real experience. They also tend to be on the smoky side, so after you're done you might want to head to the dry cleaners to drop off your clothes. Costwise though, things are quite affordable. You'll only be out a couple thousand yen for a good meal. I can't vouch for the quality of the other restaurants on Monja street, but I can vouch for Bambi. Once you're inside, order a Gomoku Monjayaki and tell 'em Mike sent ya!
Food for Thought...