If you’re familiar with okonomiyaki, chances are you know it as a clean-out-the-fridge franken-pancake stuffed with cabbage and a multitude of other ingredients, such as onion, scallions, pork belly or bacon, seafood, fish cakes, udon, mochi (rice cakes), and/or basically anything else you can think of. (As you might guess, it’s usually something you scarf down during a night of drinking.) Okonomiyaki are well loved all over Japan, but Hiroshima and Osaka are especially famous for their regional versions. There, these pancakes can grow to several inches in thickness and normally come garnished with copious squiggles of Kewpie mayo and Bull-Dog sauce, as well as katsuobushi (bonito flakes) that wave and wilt in the steam, as though they have a life of their own. We lived in Tokyo, where the okonomiyaki tend to be a more spartan affair. This version is made only with cabbage and thin slices of pork belly, but feel free to gussy it up with whatever you like (or make it vegetarian by omitting the pork belly and katsuobushi). It’s mercifully simple and can be prepared with minimal fuss, even after partaking of a couple adult beverages.
A good number of recipes in this book call for thinly sliced meat (pork belly or beef). If you’re not accustomed to shopping in Asian markets or cooking Japanese food, you might be scratching your head about what exactly we mean by “thinly sliced.” When it comes to pork belly, I’m talking about bacon-esque slices. (In fact, uncured bacon makes a perfectly reasonable substitute.) For dishes like sukiyaki and Gyudon (Beef and Onion Rice Bowl), you want extremely thin pieces of fatty beef. “Paper-thin” would be an overstatement, but nothing you’re going to find in the meat case of your standard American supermarket is quite right either. You want rib-eye or chuck shaved a little thinner than you’d like your pastrami and a little thicker than you want your turkey. Let’s call it ¹/8 inch.
A good Japanese market will sell packages of presliced meat labeled with their intended use: shabu shabu, sukiyaki, gyudon, and so on. (These packaged meats also usually come in different grades, if you feel like splurging for the good stuff.) If you don’t have access to a Japanese market, you can try asking the butcher at your meat counter to shave a boneless roast thin on the meat slicer for you. However, not every meat counter has a meat slicer. Don’t despair. You can buy a piece of the meat you need and pop it into the freezer for an hour so it’s easier to slice, then cut your own thin slices. The result might not be as perfect as what you’d find at a Japanese market, but it’ll still be tasty.