Okonomiyaki: Japanese Pizza

Japanese Pizza?

A couple of readers raised the questions about “Japanese pizza”. I thought it might be worth looking into. First off, there are really two things going on here. One is the penchant the Japanese have to take something from another culture, like pizza, and turn it on its head. Such as adding scrambled eggs on pizza. This was Akendle’s observation, it’s spot-on.

When I was in Japan I noticed many odd mash-ups like this. The funny thing to me was how oblivious the Japanese are to the strangeness of the combinations. I prefer to go native, as Sbechte78 did. I’ll eat what they’ve been doing right for centuries.

The second “Japanese Pizza” question is actually a dish from Osaka called Okonomiyaki.This dish bears nothing in common with pizza at all but the round, flat shape. As reader Sbechtel78 says, Okonomiyaki is more like an omelet, though the batter is probably rice or wheat flour as a base. We were treated to a fabulous dinner in Vancouver at an Okonomiyaki-ya on our first anniversary trip. Maybe it stems from the teeny-tiny kitchens in most Japanese apartments, but many of the meals are eaten out and they often provide a fun, social experience. In our Vancouver Okonomiyaki-ya, there was a large flat griddle in an open kitchen. The cooking is done for you after you select your combination of ingredients. In some places, the diner does his or her own cooking on table top griddles.

So now you know about Japanese pizza, think of a savory, fat crepe, or a pancake. Round it is, Pizza, it’s not.

Turning now to Halifax

Another reader, Rosemary, mentioned “donair” in a unique twist to the pizza discussion. In my recent Toronto tour I saw a place that had “Donair” in the sign. I went in, excited to learn more about this Northern pizza parlor mystery. What I found were two pizza makers who’d inherited the sign. They explained that it’s really shwarma or gyro type of meat sandwich, donair being the Turkish name equivalent. I believe the donair sauce is like the tsatsiki (yogurt, onion, garlic) type of sauce for the shwarma?

Umami – the common thread

What all these dishes, except maybe the scrambled egg pizza, have in common is their savory nature. There’s a word that’s hotly debated in the food world now, Japanese in origin: umami. It’s referred to as the so-called fifth taste.

The “known” taste sensations are: sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. Of course, the Japanese have known about the savory taste sensation, umami, for some time. That perhaps is a topic for another day.

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