A few years ago, I made a trip to Japan and managed to eat almost every morsel put before me.
Pristine tuna at Tsujiki fish market in Tokyo. Bowls of ramen in Kyoto. And in the mountain spa town of Gero, multi-course meals rolled into my room on a cart by an ancient lady in a kimono. Heaven!
Then one night in Osaka, a friend decided we should try okonomiyaki, as the cheap, savory, cabbage-filled Japanese pancakes are known. The fritters seemed collegiate; the place like a Japanese Denny’s. I did not fall in love. I wanted tempura.
Turns out, I was wrong about okonomiyaki.
Thanks to clever Atlanta chefs who recently have embraced the dish, I have become smitten with a number of variations on the theme, from latkes to smoked duck. Okonomiyaki, it seems, is the new ramen. Learn to say the word. You’re going to see it often. Here are a handful of my favorite treatments:
1. Okonomiyaki latkes at the General Muir. For this restaurant’s Monday night ramen pop-up, chef de cuisine Robert Velazquez dresses up the traditional shredded pancake — Jewish hash browns, if you will — with Japanese flair: upping the egg and adding cabbage, carrot and onion to the batter. Dressed with Kewpie mayo, house-made okonomiyaki sauce, scallions and ultra-thin Bonito flakes that dance when heated, they are the perfect pre-ramen nosh — with beer.
1540 Avenue Place, Atlanta. 678-927-9131, thegeneralmuir.com.
2. Okonomiyaki at Miso Izakaya. Executive Chef Guy Wong serves an elegant pancake with grilled squid and a fried egg, which oozes out to marry with the creamy mayo and what he calls “Japanese Worcestershire sauce.” So rich, and so good.
619 Edgewood Ave. S.E., Atlanta. 470-225-6252, facebook.com/misoizakaya.
3. Okonomiyaki at Shoya Izakaya. This traditional pancake takes about 20 minutes to make and arrives with great drama. The server’s body language is hardly lost in translation: “Careful! It’s hot.” The pancake, puffed up like a souffle and stuffed with chopped pork, is so big it’s hard to finish. If that’s the case, take the leftovers home, where they taste even better the next day at room temperature.
6035 Peachtree Road, Doraville. 770-457-5555, shoyaatlanta.com.
4. Smoked Pekin Duck at 5Church Atlanta. They don’t call it okonomiyaki at this Colony Square kitchen, but the cabbage-and-duck-confit pancake slipped under the crispy-skinned bird is an obvious ref. With spicy plum sauce and a fried duck egg, it’s a memorable dish.
1197 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-400-3669, 5churchatlanta.com.