Japanese Okonomiyaki in Germany


Eleven years ago, I moved to Germany to find a little adventure, learn a new language, and generally escape my burnt-out college days. I lived in a beautiful little college town with old German architecture, and it brought me just the life I needed at the time. My best friend in Germany was another exchange student, originally from Japan. She and I kept each other company and traveled together, but my very best memories of my dear Naoko-san are of us cooking together in the room she lived in on an old cobblestone village street. We ate okonomiyaki, a japanese cabbage pancake of sorts, and we laughed and talked about friends and family and God and Germany and hopes and dreams together. 

Today my CSA basket had a head of cabbage in it, and I immediately knew I wanted to make Naoko's okonomiyaki with it. My house is empty today, with the boys off at Grandma's for a day of fun and indulgence. On these quiet days, I like to work on my to-do list first thing in the morning so I can spend the rest of the day reading, journaling, praying, puttering and eating anything I want to anytime I want to.

Today that meant eating a nostalgic dinner at 4:30 while watching the food network. And everything else was silent. Aaahhh.

I know that eleven years has probably skewed my thinking about how a proper japanese girl makes okonomiyaki, but here's what I did today. If you search your favorite recipe site for okonomiyaki, there are tons of wonderful recipes which use a variety of vegetables along with bacon and other yummy things. I didn't have any bacon, but that's okay, because what I was really after tonight was the memory of Naoko-san's cozy room above Frau Buesse's home, of her fork pressing down the okonomiyaki as it cooked, of us laughing and drinking orange juice and eating Ja! brand cookies from Minimal. I'm sure there are other wonderful ways to make it, but this is how we made it back then and how I made it tonight.


Naoko-san's Okonomiyaki

1/2 head of shredded green cabbage
3 eggs, beaten
1 c. water
1 1/2-2 c. flour
soy sauce
vegetable oil for frying
salt and pepper
mayonnaise (yes, really. I hate mayo, but I have to have it with my okonomiyaki. try it.)


Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium high heat. Combine the eggs, water and enough flour to make it like pancake batter in a bowl. Add a tablespoon or so of soy sauce. Mix well. Add the cabbage and coat well. The batter should coat the cabbage completely.


Spoon the mixture into the hot oil like one large pancake (I suppose you could do several small ones.) Make sure to smash it down with a spatula so that it's not too thick. (flat enough that the inside batter cooks before the outside batter burns!) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Flip. Finish cooking then enjoy with a dollop of mayonnaise and some more soy sauce.


Naoko and I changing trains when our train home from Paris broke, and atop a tower on Ruegen Island in northern Germany. (Yes, I'm naturally blonde. The auburn that is admired by so many (ha!) near and far is, sadly, only from a bottle.)

What food brings up a memory for you?

9 thoughts on “Japanese Okonomiyaki in Germany

  1. What food doesn’t bring up a memory for me? Food is part of my life as the 3rd Generation ItaloAmerican. Food in woven in each celebration, holiday, tradition. Even the shapes of my food has meaning for the special holidays. My family has a restaurant in Cleveland, OH and they try to translate this experience of food, family, friendship and memory. I maintain their blog and try to post more than just updates about the restaurant, but give a little insight to what the food means to us. http://tastytomato.blogspot.com/
    But food is vital to my life as I know it. As luck would have it, I married a chef for the Ritz Carlton. Yes food is very important and has memory all over it for me.

  2. I AM still in touch with Naoko, although she lives in Eastern Canada while I live in the western U.S. I always figure that if either of us is in the other’s neck of the woods, we’ll always be welcome. It’s one of those friendships that will always be comfortable, despite lack of time together. I love those.

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