In the window of 8 Aungier Street a little after 5pm on a Monday evening, a chef doles out a doughy batter onto a griddle.

Quickly, he adds layers to the pancake. Cabbage, and bacon, and then udon noodles, before putting it all under a steel dome.

At the same time, he fries a pair of eggs in a circular mould.

Once the thick base is nearly done, he scatters bacon and scallions over the top and a sprinkle of crispy onion.

He dresses it in zigzags of a Worchestershire-like okonomiyaki sauce and creamy umami-flavoured mayonnaise. And, like a weight to pin it all down, the two eggs slide over the top.

The dish is a Japanese savoury pancake, known as okonomiyaki. It’s a speciality in Okky, the newly opened street-food restaurant, between a jewellers and a crystals shop.

This pancake was built in the style commonly found in Hiroshima, with the ingredients layered.

But the pancakes can be made all kinds of ways, depending on where in Japan they are ordered, says Okky’s head chef, Leslie Haru Kohatsu. “And here we also do it in the Osaka style where the dough, cabbage and scallions are mixed.”

Whatever works

Kohatsu was born in São Paulo. Her grandparents were from the Japanese island of Okinawa, she says. “Before Dublin, I lived in Japan for three years.”

Okinawan cuisine differs from the food served in the mainland prefectures where she lived, such as Ibaraki, Tokyo and Kanagawa, she says. “But my family liked Japanese culture, and we mixed the culture of Okinawa and Japan.”

The food of Okinawa can be a tad spicier than its mainland counterparts. Her take on the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki has the chilli flakes, which add a kick to the smokiness of the batter and the sweetness of the sauces.

Preparing okonomiyaki in a Hiroshima-style Credit: Michael Lanigan

But with okonomiyaki, there are no strict guidelines, says Okky co-owner John Ennis, who also owns the Lucky Tortoise dim sum restaurant in Temple Bar.

“We spent four months putting together the menu,” he said, “and I was trying to replicate one I had in Osaka. She told me, ‘All okonomiyaki is different. It’s totally fine to put your own spin on it.’”

He points to the word from which it derives its name, “okonomi”, which translates roughly to “what you like”.

Ennis lived in South Korea for two years from 2006 to 2008, during which time he spent two months travelling around Japan, with a base in Fukuoka, one of the most westerly prefectures. “Okonomiyaki was my go-to dish there.”

Dishes such as ramen, sushi, sashimi and tonkatsu were easier to find when he returned to Dublin, he says. Okonomiyaki wasn’t.

Okky’s Osaka-style pancake – true to its name – can be mixed and matched.

Toppings to choose from include bacon, cheese, mushroom, prawn and, or egg, Ennis says.

“Me personally, I would add bonito flakes, which we have here, with noodle, bacon and cheese.”

On the side

Variations on okonomiyaki are not the sole item on the menu. A lighter contrast to its heaviness is the tamagoyaki, a long egg roll sliced into four pieces, and garnished with sesame seeds and chives.

The fluffy omelette can be served as tamago sushi, placed on rice and wrapped in a strip of nori – seaweed. Or it can be rolled up and paired with a side of grated daikon radish.

But in Okky, the rolls are flavoured by a piece of nori that is laid out underneath one of its folds, and it is accompanied by a small bowl of okonomiyaki sauce, with a hill of mayonnaise in its centre.

Tamagoyaki. Credit: Michael Lanigan

The less common pairing of omelette with these sauces gives the egg a dash of savoury sweetness. And reminds of the tastes that bring an okonomiyaki to life.

Okonomiyaki is a dish that encourages personal touches, and such touches are what colour the Okky menu. Kohatsu points to the pork gyoza, the recipe having been plucked from her family’s own cookbook.

Crispy around their edges, and juicy inside, the dumplings are filled with pork, chives, cabbage, ginger and garlic, she says. “I use a family recipe in the sauce, which we could cook together using ingredients like shoyu sauce and dashi.”

Michael Lanigan is a freelance journalist who covers arts and culture for Dublin Inquirer. His work also appears in Vice, Totally Dublin, TheJournal.ie and the Business Post. You can reach him at michael@dublininquirer.com.

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