Just in case anyone reading this wonders whether I actually do cook or just like talking about it, I do! I’ve been working with Fumio Tanga of Sho Foo Doh for around a year now, doing occasional pop-ups and other events in London.
This Friday (September 21st), we’re going back to the Pacific Social Club in Hackney for the third of our monthly visits there. These have been hugely popular and reservations are strongly advised.
We serve okonomiyaki in both Hiroshima and Osaka styles. Fumio is from Hiroshima and I, well, I lived in Osaka.
This Friday, we’ll also be serving a range of Okinawan side dishes!
While Liam and Nick from the PSC will be serving a range of Japanese cocktails.
Full details here
This occasional page has never actually reviewed an okonomiyaki business before, so here goes…
London has never been spoilt for places to eat okonomiyaki. For ten years or longer, the only place specialising in the dish has been Abeno, based in Museum Street, Bloomsbury, and which then opened a second branch on Great Newport Street just off Charing Cross Road. A few other Japanese restaurants have served the dish over this time, but only as a menu option amidst the usual izakaya fare.
Some of these have been suspiciously close to frozen ones you can buy in a Japanese supermarket. Others perhaps not.
I’ve never really warmed to Abeno. I find the okonomiyaki rather small and certainly overpriced if you want them at a similar size to those you’d eat in the actual area of Abeno in Osaka. I last ate in the Museum Street branch two years ago, just after spending the summer working and studying okonomiyaki at catering school in Osaka. With my critical faculties still adapting back to London ways, I found the experience rather sad. I missed the rough charms of local restaurants with their characters and atmosphere, being able to have a fag and a beer while sat down, eating at the counter rather than a table, watching baseball or quiz shows and the menu being interesting and affordable AND THE OKONOMIYAKI BEING LARGER THAN FIVE INCHES. It can be about size. And of course GREAT SAUCE.
I started writing a blog a few years ago called Eating Stamford Hill and the purpose was to write about local restaurants and cafes. It failed. I don’t think I ever reviewed anywhere local. I did review places in France and Japan. I eventually gave up on it. There’s enough writing about food out there already…
But it’s certainly still true that not so many people are reviewing small local restaurants in London over their flashier central London equivalents. I visited one of these earlier in the week and have felt sufficiently moved to pen my response:
La Fonda de Maria, 160 High Road, London N15 4NU. 020 8809 4507
This restaurant nestles by the side of the bridge over Tottenham High Road at South Tottenham Station for the so-called Goblin Line between Gospel Oak and Barking. Photographic evidence below suggests that this building on the right at the bottom of the stairs was originally part of the station itself, possibly the ticket hall, but I’ve no idea what it has been more recently than that. Before its current incarnation, it was La Carillera for a while, which was a Brazilian restaurant.
I’d walk past from time to time and think “I should try that one day” but never went in. Not so long ago it became La Fonda de Maria, which sounds a bit more homely, and I’d see it fairly busy at the weekends. It’s open late then and I think it sometimes has live music as well. Oh, get on with it, I’d think, it’s not going to kill you to eat there.
La Fonda is now a Colombian restaurant. It serves a wide variety of meat and fish dishes. It doesn’t look particularly vegetarian friendly, although there’s probably something nestling away on the menu. The most expensive dish I remember is a mixed grill (parillada mixta) for £15 and the starters were around £3-4. I had the prawn ceviche at £3.95 and then some Colombian speciality called bandeja paisa, a plate of pork belly, spiced blood sausage, a piece of steak rather like a bifana, some fried plantain, fried egg, rice, salad and a large bowl of beans. A country platter, my dictionary says. That was £10.95, but it looks like you could eat the same for lunch during the week for £6. It was more than enough.
My companion, for there is always on of these slightly hazy companions in a restaurant review, had the tilapia for about the same price and she pronounced it very tasty.
That’s not much of a review really so far. Or at least, you might want a more in depth discussion of the food. I’d describe the cooking as tasty, fairly robust, honest and sufficiently lacking in fuss to make it enjoyable and relaxing to eat.
What really made it a pleasant experience that I would repeat is the ambience of the place. Behind its exterior and seating area at the front, there is a covered outside area for eating and beyond that a kind of abandoned pixie grotto/smoking area with non-functioning water fountain, concrete mushrooms, candy-striped walkway and another eating area that looks part disused mosque and part disco. It didn’t feel like Seven Sisters. It felt more like we were on holiday somewhere and it also felt like something of a secret. Shhh…
This holiday effect was further enforced by the lack of English proficiency amongst the staff. That’s not a criticism. They had just sold out of the various steak options by the time of our arrival and explaining this and other menu options took some time with our lack of Spanish and their lack of English. They didn’t have any wine either, but they popped out to the shop for a bottle of Chilean white. They were exceptionally welcoming and pleasant.
The only curious note was that my companion’s current watching of the entirety of Breaking Bad series meant we both got something of a Gustavo Fring feeling from the round-spectacled proprietor. Which wasn’t his fault. He seemed an intriguing type and I rather wanted to engage him in conversation but no Spanish, alas.
We sat there by the ramshackle garden, Colombian music breezed happily out of the speakers, the wine flowed, trains travelled to Barking and back. Soon enough we were back on the High Road and no longer in this space between two worlds. Do come back, the proprietor said, and I replied that I would be and I entirely meant it.
Okadaman is a recently established food truck in New York selling okonomiyaki. I warm to founding chef Okada Yasuhiko since:
1. He has a beard.
2. He plays in an Allman Brothers tribute band.
3. His okonomiyaki looks good.
So far it’s a fairly simple menu of okonomiyaki in either “Osaka” (pork) or “Seafood” (contains squid and pork). Being in London, I find it curious there’s no vegetarian option and that the seafood option also contains meat.
They also serve takoyaki and kara-age (deep fried chicken).
I came across bakudanyaki while reading about food trucks. There’s one in Canada called Tenku that serves these. As far as I can work out, they were recently popularised, if not invented, in Akihabara, Tokyo, and I can see them fitting in well there.
Think outsize takoyaki but with a greater variety of fillings and toppings.
Personally, I like my takoyaki old school and light on the condiments. Either shioaji (salty) or with ponzu. That way you can taste the takoyaki. Mind you, I think these bomb-shaped snacks would probably sell well in the UK as they’ve got a great WTF visual appeal to them.
A portion of sujikonraisu from Hirano in Hiroshima and just 670 yen. This is Fumio’s favourite okonomiyaki restaurant and one I hope to visit when I go to Japan later in October.
Hirano’s website is here. I quite enjoy watching the teppan on the “Live Cam” option in a not much happening Andy Warhol film kind of way. Then all of a sudden ten pancakes appear. Of course, the restaurant needs to be open…
I don’t know what author Ikenami Shotaro is cooking on that teppan. There’s certainly rather a lot of cabbage and some sauce. As he was born in Taito Ward, Tokyo (which makes him very Cockney. So to speak!), it’s some kind of homestyle monja I”m guessing.
Gyosan is Kansai speak for “a lot/loads/many”. The equivalent of takusan in Kanto dialect.
Various yatai. Not all in Japan.
These cows are from the Haute-Savoie, an Alpine region in southern France bordering Switzerland. The alpine lifestyle and rich pasture produces some of the finest milk (and hence cheese) in the country. One particular cheese of the region is Reblochon, which is use in the dish tartiflette.
Now, after some research on the matter, I found out that tartiflette is in some ways a modern dish (it was inspired by an older recipe called péla) as it was marketed in the 1980s by Reblochon makers in the hope of increasing sales. It worked.
Tartiflette is a fairly rich dish of potatoes, cream, Reblochon, lardons, quite possibly onions. There are a few tweaks here and there, but those are basically the ingredients. I was cooking at the pop-up and spotted some discounted Reblochon at the supermarket. Why not I thought…?
Now, I’m overlooking the basics of okonomiyaki making here, purely because sidetracking into making batter, getting the right sort of cabbage and so on are the sort of things I’d get to easily sidetracked by. I think the basic point to make here is that okonomiyaki is a fairly resilient dish. The internet is littered with recipes that make me go “Ach! NO!”, but they still produce fairly tasty results. Don’t make the batter too runny and try to select your cabbage with flavour in mind. I find the conical sweetheart cabbages here in the UK give the best results as they are fairly sweet in taste. You see, I’m getting distracted… For French speakers, this one works.
There are three main ways of adding your additional ingredients to okonomiyaki. You can mix them into the cabbage and batter, you sandwich them between layers or, as I do here, you make the pancake and then add your ingredients to the top before turning it over.
This bastard marriage of tartiflette and okonomiyaki was achieved as follows.
I parboiled some potatoes, let them cool and then thinly sliced them. Similarly I sliced some Reblochon. I caramelised some sliced onions, adding some mirin and soy sauce in the pretence that colonising the dish with Japanese ingredients somehow justified this deviant liberal activity. It just made it more delicious. On the evening, I left out the lardons as this was the vegetarian option.
So, pour out the okonomiyaki mixture onto/into the teppan or frying pan. Just to the side of it, I’d start cooking the lardons. On top of the pancake layer the cheese and then the potato. Flip that pancake over onto the lardons. Five minutes on this side is enough to melt the cheese and crisp up the potatoes and the lardons. Once turned over again, I then spread warmed caramelised onions on the tartiflette top.
I left out the cream. That seemed going to far and liable to make the thing too liquid. I could quite possibly have layered the onions in the rest and I might try that in future, but my plan here was have the onions on top almost as a replacement for okonomi sauce and mayonnaise. I tried the dish with the condiments, but it rather stopped the tartiflette taste coming through.
I’d recommend a lie down afterwards.
There’s been a fair amount in the UK food press over the summer about food vans and such. If I had the budget, this truck would be a dream to drive around in and serve okonomiyaki at festivals and such. As it is, my current budget barely stretches to a kei van. Let’s be honest here, it barely stretches to a bicycle with a trailer and cycling up a hill with a teppan behind me isn’t going to happen.
More about Glowfish here.
I haven’t posted anything here for some time. One of the things that I’ve been doing is cooking with Fumio Tanga of Sho Foo Doh at a pop-up restaurant in Clapton. Yes, that’s me. And, yes, just to rub it in, that’s the second time I’ve beaten him in our Osaka vs Hiroshima competition. The voting has been close both times and there have certainly been a few voting irregularities along the way.
The final competition at the current location is this coming Thursday 29th September. It’s held in the courtyard behind Book Box at 53 Chatsworth Rd and we’re serving okonomiyaki in both Osaka and Hiroshima styles from 6-11pm (last orders 10pm). Meat and seafood options are priced at £8 and vegetarian at £7. Corkage is £1.
There is a Facebook page here.
Thanks to my friend J for alerting me to this particular okonomiyaki recipe shown above from a blog called mariobatalivoice. It’s sounds pretty tasty and as good an example of okonomiyaki liberalism (gone mad?) as one could wish for. If anything, I’d say it was closer to Korean jeon than okonomiyaki as such.
One of the things I find interesting about this recipe is the memory of the original. Instead of metal spatulas (kote/teko/hera), they’re using wooden tools. As for adding sauce and bonito flakes and then flipping (as opposed to serving)? Bonito maybe, but I’ve never seen anyone add sauce and then turn over. It could work if you didn’t leave it for too long, but it would be easy to end up with burnt sauce. The ingredients too have become more orientalised. Rice flour batter! There might be a bit of rice flour in there, but exclusively? Soy sauce and not okonomi sauce?
Okonomiyaki, although not generally found in the canon of 洋食/western foods, is an excellent example of cross-fertilisation between cuisines. The ingredients, cooking techniques and inspiration can be traced back to Korea, UK, France, Okinawa, China, America and so on. It’s almost a history lesson. No, it actually is a history lesson, but not one I’ll bore anyone with here for now.
I went along to Chatsworth Road Market yesterday and had a chat with Fumio Tanga, the man in the clip below. It’s not often I get to have a conversation with someone about yams, sauce or whatever and it was a pleasure to meet him.
Given earlier comments about Bulldog Sauce, I now realise that I’ve overlooked two things here:
1. Ordering various ingredients for cooking at festivals over the summer, I wasn’t aware how the Tohoku earthquake has upset the steady international distribution of Japanese foods. Of the twelve or so items I wanted to order, only two are in stock. So, unless you’re importing sauce directly, Bulldog might just be the only option available.
2. Otafuku sauce, as Fumio pointed out, contains fish and animal products so it’s a no-no for vegetarians. Aha! I hadn’t thought of that.
With my stocks of local Osaka sauce dwindling, I can only hope that they turn up in time! As a container ship slowly makes its way across the sea…
Fumio is currently cooking in a sort of Kansai style. Of course, since he’s from Hiroshima, the cabbage is sengiri (julienne strips) rather than mijingiri (diced), but I’m happy to let that pass. Haha. He’s also using a mustard mayonnaise which is a nice touch. He might have divulged a couple of other things, but those should remain secret for now.
His okonomiyaki are priced at a very reasonable £4 and the market takes place every Sunday between 11am and 4pm. He has plans to expand from the vegetarian style currently on offer. Maybe even oysters! Which would be most delicious…
His current griddle is a small electric one and the space doesn’t really allow him to cook in the Hiroshima style which he said he’d like to be doing. Personally, I think Hiroshima and Kansai okonomiyaki are two different dishes that happen to share the same name. As opposed to the all-in style of Kansai, Hiroshima starts from a thin crepe and build things up in layer from there.
The video above features a Hiroshima style okonomiyaki with another local product of note, がんす/gansu. A breaded deep-fried slice of surimi or fresh fish paste.
However tasty, I don’t really advise operating an iPad over a teppan. Or sticking a Eurotrance version of Land and Hope of Glory on your video as BGM. The woman in the video is the (self-appointed?) idol/mascot for Hiroshima gansu.