Japanese Street Food: The Wonderful Okonomiyaki or Grilled Veggie Pancakes with Sauce

traditional-japan-1004660_1920Okonomiyaki means, “grilled as you like it.” Some people call it the Japanese pizza. It is my favorite Japanese street food. There are many regional variations of this dish, but this is the simplest and the best.

I first tasted mine at an out-of-the-way Buddhist temple in Tokyo. In the second year of my marriage, I moved to Tokyo for my husband’s graduate school. I had a Japanese house in a suburb of Tokyo that we rented from a Japanese family who rented the house to students from the school. The house had a little garden that my husband and I planted.

On the 28th day of every month, my husband and I went to a Japanese street event at the Buddhist temple a short subway ride from our house. Every month the temple had a plant sale. We wandered up and down the rows of beautiful plants and bought violas and camellias to plant in the yard. We were often the only Westerners at the plant sale. My favorites were the magnificent peony plants with the huge blooms that look like gigantic roses. They made a magnificent display in shades of cream, white, pink and fuchsia. The peony is a favorite flower in Japan, and many of the Japanese posed for pictures beside the most beautiful blossoms. Selfies with peonies! I wish I had taken one!

I had a chance to practice my Japanese when I bought my okonomiyaki. There was a stand where a vendor stood behind a grill with a bandana on his forehead. He poured the batter, added the veggies and went down the row, flipping the pancakes and then pulling them off the grill. He wrapped them in paper with red checks, spread them with sauce, wrapped them up and handed them out to the customers. The pancake was hot and it smelled delicious. I ate it in my hand, careful not to burn my lip or let the sauce drip down my shirt. It was scrumptious. This little pancake with sauce is so delicious that it is habit-forming.

As May is Asia Pacific American Heritage month, I thought to create a version of this beloved Japanese street food for the dysphagia kitchen. The veggie pancake is a healthy snack. With a bowl of pureed miso soup, not too salty, with tofu, it makes a meal. For the dysphagia kitchen, I have deconstructed the pancake so that it can be pureed. The reason for the deconstruction is so that the veggies can be grilled or stir-fried until soft and tender. The veggies are pureed separately. The mini food processor or high-speed, commercial blender should be sufficient to puree until the veggies are smooth. Then you make the pancake, puree the pancake and add the pureed veggies to the pancake puree. This way all of the elements are safe for the swallow. Bind the puree with Instant Thickener. “Oishii!” as one says in Japanese. This means, “Delicious!”

Note: For a convenience ingredient to make this dish fast and easy, use the Otajoy Umami Culture mix for the pancake. You need eggs and oil. There is a sauce packet in the box, but you can buy the Otafuku brand of okonomi sauce if you need extra sauce. Both are available from Amazon. The pancake mix and the sauce come in the box. For the grilled veggies, buy a package of coleslaw salad mix in the produce section of your supermarket. Here’s the Quickie for Caregivers version. It makes three pancakes and freezes well.


For the pancake

  • Using the okonomi pancake mix, make up a batch
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Vegetable oil for grilling

For the veggies

  • 1 8 oz. package of cole slaw mix, cabbage and carrots

For the vegetable marinade

  • 1 /4 teaspoon Gourmet Garden ginger paste or Ginger People ginger juice
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 ½ tsp lower sodium soy sauce
  • pinch salt
  • pinch white pepper


Whisk together the ingredients for the veggie marinade in a medium stainless bowl.

Toss the veggies into the stainless bowl with the marinade and allow it to sit for five minutes while you grill the pancakes.

Set the grill to medium, smooth a tablespoon of vegetable oil over the grill and cook the pancakes 3 to 4 minutes per side, until golden at the edges.

Put the pancakes on a plate in a single layer and allow them to cool. Do not overcook the pancakes, and try not to let them get overly browned, as the texture is not good for the puree.

Allow the grill to cool, and wipe it down with a damp paper towel.

Set the grill on high. Spread a tablespoon of vegetable oil on the grill.

Add the vegetables and cook until limp, about three to four minutes, stirring gently to make sure the veggies are well-cooked on all sides. Put in a bowl and allow them to cool.

For the Puree

Place the cooled veggies in the bowl of a mini food processor. Pulse ten times to break up. Puree.

Add a teaspoon of broth, if needed.

Remove veggies from the mini food processor. Wipe it out with a damp towel.

Break up the pancakes in the bowl of the mini food processor.

Add two tablespoons of warm water or warm vegetable broth. Pulse six times to break up the pancake and then puree for ten seconds.

Add the grilled veggie puree to get a smooth consistency with veggies incorporated into pancake. (If you do not wish to dip the spoon of pancake into the thickened sauce, you may add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of the sauce to the puree, and puree for ten seconds to incorporate it. Otherwise, use the sauce as a condiment on the spoon for each bite.)

Add one scoop or one pump of Instant Thickener to bind the ingredients of the puree.

Divide the pancakes into two glass storage bowls, such as Pyrex or Anchor Hocking, that have covers. The reason for the glass dishes is that the Instant Thickener will stick to plastic. Allow it to set for several minutes. Cover with the plastic covers.

One portion will be served. Place one in the freezer, after you label it, and date it.

For Service

Warm the okonomiyaki in the microwave at half power for twenty seconds. A packet of sauce comes with this mix. Pour two tablespoons of the dipping sauce into a small condiment dish. The sauce is thick, but if it needs to be thickened to pudding texture, add a small amount of Instant Thickener. It should be the same thickness as the pureed veggie pancake. You fill a teaspoon with the puree and you dip the tip of the teaspoon in the sauce. It tastes just like Japanese street food. Make sure to get clearance from your healthcare provider for the sauce.

Swirl Away!

The pancake mix is available for $9.80 from Amazon.


Featured photo credit: maadhatter via Pixabay, cc