Oh me, oh my, Okonomiyaki - Eating in Japan

O-ko-no-mi-ya-ki: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of six steps down the palate... O. Ko. No. Mee. Ya. Kee.

I may not be Nabakov, but okonomiyaki is definitely my Lolita, my gastronomical catnip, my culinary raison d'etre.  I'd  cross the country for a seat at an okonomiyaki-ya.  Just the name alone makes me smile.  Those syncopated six syllables drum the perfect rhythm for a dish I'd consider the best comfort food I've ever eaten.  And in one week, I ate it 9 times.  Dinner and Lunch. Lunch. Dinner. Lunch and Dinner. Lunch and Dinner and Dinner.  Nope, I was never bored because every single time, that savoury pancake (to conceptualize it for the Western mind) was a completely new creation.

There is nothing pretty about okonomikyaki. And it's not meant to be.  It is an "everything-but-the-kitchen sink" dish of flour batter , cabbage, pork, egg, bean sprouts and noodles, plus whatever else you choose-- depending on where you are from when in Japan, or what you like.  It's like the Wild West of recipes with a murky backstory, quick draws and no rules.

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Getting my okonomiyaki on - Kansai-style: Okonomiyaki is DIY at its very finest.  Personally, I think it should be a first date meal beause it is essentially a personality assessment.  The dish is hands out, which means cell phones down.  Within five minutes you'll figure out who is collaborative, encouraging, adventuresome and a food-dynamo or perfectionist, selfish and all around food afraid.

Where:  My first and favorite is Poppoya in Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture.  Vibe is charming, rustic, no frills and beer or umeshu (plum wine).  Seating is bar side and table.

MORE:  My Food Traveller piece on okonomiyaki for The Guardian, July 2016

Starring roll: high art paninis in a Roman cafe

This article originally appeared in The Guardian, February 2016.

Fill me in … Roscioli’s panino menu has set the Roman cafe apart from the crowd

Fill me in … Roscioli’s panino menu has set the Roman cafe apart from the crowd

Brothers Pierluigi and Alessandro have sliced their way to glory with their sandwiches at their latest eatery, the Roscioli cafe


Just a short walk from Campo de’ Fiori in central Rome, the Roscioli cafe, the latest in the Roscioli empire, ups the ante with a new take on the traditional Roman cafe, and its reinvention of the panino – the humble sandwich.

Down the street from its sister shops – Roscioli Salumeria, a delicatessen/restaurant, and the Antico Forno bakery – the cafe has high ceilings and is decorated in muted colours, more art gallery than old-school cafe. The counter is laid with Roman pastries and sandwiches – maritozzi (cream-filled sweet buns), Mont Blanc meringues, traditional triangular tramezzini and ovalini, small oval sandwiches filled with rocket and tuna, or artichokes and salmon.



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The Roscioli cafe is the latest addition to a mini chain

Roscioli serves cappuccino, caffè corretto and all other coffee incarnations. Though pricier than in the average Roman bar – espresso €1.50, cappuccino €2.25 – the coffee is expertly made by Roscioli’s veteran team. There’s a small, cave-like back room with tables, where the owners host V60 coffee tastings (a manual coffee-making method using a cone-shaped glass filter and 100% arabica grinds), wine tastings and aperitivi.

But it’s the sandwich menu that sets Roscioli apart. Brothers Pierluigi and Alessandro say they set out to create the very best. The Club is a triple-layer monument of Roscioli’s wholewheat bread, grilled guanciale (cured pork cheek, a bit like fat bacon), Sicilian tomato and a free-range fried egg. The Francesina is filled with succulent slow-roasted breast of veal and mustard mayonnaise, and the Fritcassè is a playful homage to Rome’s fried cod. It’s art, stuffed into a bread roll.

Piazza Cairoli 16,