Searching for Okonomiyaki: Japanese Pancakes
the invisible restaurant critic
Dear Mr. Gold:
Outside of Gaja in Lomita, I've yet to find decent okonomiyaki in Los Angeles. Have you stumbled across any respectable versions? Proximity to downtown would be a huge plus.
--Daniel Dy, via Facebook
Dear Mr. Dy:
You would think that great okonomiyaki would be everywhere. People love the pancakes. The ingredients are cheap -- flour, water, cabbage, a few grams of meat or seafood, a little grated mountain yam, maybe an egg. And it is infinitely customizable. It can be cooked in the kitchen or, as at Gaja, on a tabletop griddle. It can be enjoyed equally by vegans, who might top it with seaweed and salted plum, and by burly carnivores, who may treat it as the Japanese equivalent of a meat-lover's pizza. You hear about Osaka style, in which the garnishes are mixed into the batter; Hiroshima style, which includes noodles; and modern style, topped with a fried egg or supplemented with cheese.
Customization is the point of okonomiyaki -- the word itself means griddled "as you prefer,'' and any decent service will include a pretty vast array of sauces and condiments. But as you imply, although there is a lot of okonomiyaki on local izakaya menus, most of it, with the exception of Gaja down in Lomita, is pretty bad: greasy, underflavored and burnt.
Which is why I was surprised a couple of weeks ago to run into the new Glowfish Truck, a mobile vendor that serves all kinds of Japanese street food but seems to specialize in okonomiyaki -- fresh, hot, and gooey; crisp-surfaced; flakes of shaved bonito trembling in the breeze like amber waves of grain ... It's the real thing. The Twitter handle is @glowfishtruck.
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