Seems now that every cuisine now is revealing that they, too, have their equivalent of tapas…or mezes…or to be English about it…small dishes.
Japan, too, naturally. Back in the 80s when I was living in Tokyo and for the first time came to actually enjoy beer and sake, eating in izakayas was standard course. I remember as well ‘piss alley’, a warren of concrete paths which lay near Shinjuku station literally under the overhead Yamanote line train tracks. Vendors in their tiny, nearly shacklike shops selling noodles, beer, sake, and little bites. Skewered meats, fried octopus or shrimp…each place with no more than a dozen seats if that many…and many a late working Japanese sarariman filled with alcohol taking a wiz against the nearest available concrete column or dark corner (sometimes even well-lit) before they staggered off to catch their last commuter train home.
Remembering this too clearly, particularly an okonomiyaki shop belonging to a good acquaintance Umeji a couple of miles from our home, I would enjoy all the beer I could drink–for free, but I gladly paid for all the food. An Australian had introduced me to the place and long after my Ozzie friend returned to his home country, I continued to visit on a regular basis, eating and drinking to a measure of excess at least half the time. (Once upon a return late one night I crashed my bike in my drunkenness and had to push/drag my bike for a mile to get home, only to be so drunk that when my wife woke up in the morning, she found that I had not only pulled the covers over me, but the mattress as well–we slept on Japanese tatami mats and would roll up our bedding most nights) Ahh… Good times.
On this particular evening I was preparing izakaya food starting with the basic Japanese savory pancake–okonomiyaki. Of course, some call this Japanese pizza which, frankly, is ridiculous. If you want ridiculous, the Japanese have prepared pizza with their own freakish inclusions like tuna fish and such–hardly to be believed (I practically lived on all-you-can-eat Japanese pizza back in my early days living in Japan in the 80s).
Okonomiyaki starts as a basic pancake mix with few surprises–flour, water or dashi broth, eggs, and from there, as with any flexible recipe, you can add whatever you like. Cabbage finely shredded, scallions, pork or chicken or fish. Its a pancake, so be creative.
Toppings usually include any or all of the following, moving more toward all the drunker you might be, such as mayonnaise, teriyaki sauce, nori flakes, and bonito flakes.
To accompany this basic, I also prepared grilled eggplant topped with a simple miso and mirin marinade as well as some panko-studded asparagus fried in oil with store-bought ponzu sauce (a citrus mix) and sesame seeds. Not to mention some hot sake.
Overall a successful meal, though wifey thought that the okonomiyaki was slightly undercooked.