Friday, November 11, 2011

Finding Okonomoyaki

Have you ever been on a quest to recreate a great memory? Some might say, that's living in the past.  In this case, I don't care!  If nothing else, this journey has taught me much about friendship.

Over 10 years ago, my husband and I whimsically took a vacation to Japan.  I say whimsical because our decision to go was based on finding an amazing airfare.  We had no earthly idea how difficult the trip would be due to the language barrier.  We might as well have traveled to Mars.  And this trip occurred before the days where Internet communication with Japan is where it is today.

Andy in the Akihabra District
Once we decided to go, I remembered that a good work friend from our San Diego days had relocated there.  Fortunately, he met up with us early in our trip.  We knew immediately how to find him in the sea of Asian faces...look for his signature Chargers ball cap and Hawaiian shirt.  That was our Andy!  Without Andy's guidance we wouldn't have been nearly as adventurous.  He showed us how to navigate the subway and neighborhoods; all the maps were in Kanji with little English translation.  He helped us make reservations on the bullet train.  We found most Japanese are not conversant in English.  And he exposed us all kinds of culinary experiences from Unagi-only and Katsu-only restaurants to the sweet joys of red bean paste treats from a street vendor in Tokyo.  He built up our confidence.

We left Andy to venture to Kyoto on our own.  Getting a satisfying meal wasn't too difficult since we were well practiced at pointing.  Pretty much any sit down restaurant has a window display to lure the passerby on all their specialities.  One restaurant in Kyoto, though, lured their customers in by cooking street side.  They served one thing.  Okonomoyaki.

To my American eye, it looked like an open-faced omelet, a pizza or tostada.  In reality it was much more complex.  My husband and I pointed and each got one.  We took our Okonomoyakis to the back of the picnic table laced restaurant, armed ourselves with chopsticks impressing our fellow Japanese Okonomoyaki patrons and gobbled it up.  Oh so delicate and yet so filling!  Japanese soul food being sweet and savory at the same time.  I must remember to have more of these in my lifetime.  Surely with the Asian influence in the United States I'd be able to do so.

I came to discover, not really.  When we first returned from vacation, we were still living in Dallas.  Initially, I'd silently scour our favorite sushi and yakitori restaurants looking for any hint of this yummy dish.  Nothing. 

I shared my Okonomoyaki experience with a work colleague describing that the word oknomi, means "what you like" or "what your want."  Yaki means "grilled" or "cooked."  Further elaborating that it had cabbage, bits of fried batter, eggs and red pickled ginger, mixed with a wheat flour mixture and baked on a grill.  The "what you like" part could be additional vegetable, seafood, pork or tofu.  The Okonomiyaki sauce, nori (dried seaweed), and bonito flakes could be added to your liking.


With my work friend's natural talent of befriending proprietors of establishments, he asked one of our popular sushi haunts if they'd served it on request.  But, the proprietor said he only made it for his employees.

Upon moving back to California, I started the hunt again.  I find Daichan, a restaurant in our sushi row on Ventura Blvd who specializes in Japanese soul food.  I feel I'm getting close.  My girlfriend from work is ready and willing.  The cozy little joint makes everything but.  However, they knew the dish well.  Their food is great and I will return, but we leave disappointed. 

Another foodie friend of mine starts researching and indicates there is food truck in downtown Los Angeles that makes them on Thursdays.  I work in the valley and a trip downtown at the lunch hour, well, we might have to rename it the "lunch half-day." Not convenient but I really appreciate the effort.

Then there is this last weekend.  I'm visiting my BFF in San Diego and do a yelp search.  Bingo.  A restaurant in San Diego.  Is she game?  Heck...YES!  And so is her daughter.  My treasure hunt comes to an end in Kearny Mesa at Tajima with two lovely adventurous ladies by my side.  It was just as mouthwatering as I had remembered. 

Teah & Lizbeth (BFF)
Tajima's Okonomoyaki

Yes, I can recreate experiences and create good new memories.  In this case it was with the help of Andy, Jesh, Laura, Eric, Lizbeth and Teah.  Thank you my friends for making my quest your quest too! 
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  1. What a great story! This is why you have a food blog. I am envisioning how this dish must taste. How funny to find Okonomoyaki in Kearny Mesa. Is Andy still in Japan?
    - Barbara

  2. Great story! I am having a similar experience looking for a dish that I ironically used to get in Kearny Mesa and now as a resident of Los Angeles have failed to find. It sounds similar to Okonomoyaki...called "Oyako Don"'s like a chicken/onion/veggie egg dish served over rice with a sauce that is fantastic. You have renewed my hope in finding it...maybe I just need to make the trip down to SD. Oh boy, the craving is back. :-)

  3. Who knew that Kearny Mesa could be the epicenter of hard-to-find foodie delights? Jill, I'm up for adventuring with you too, anytime!


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