When my friend first mentioned the word "okonomiyaki" to me, I have to admit to giving her a blank stare. "What in the world is that?" I asked. So then she started talking about Japanese pancakes and cooking it at the restaurant and that shed some light, but it still was a bit confusing to me.
I think what threw me off was just the notion of Japanese pancakes in general. Like a lot of people, pancakes for me brought up a vision of a stack of sweet bready goodness topped with pats of butter and doused with maple syrup. Somehow I didn't think that Japanese pancakes or okonomiyaki as they are better known as would be the same thing and I was right.
So after doing a bit of online research, I found out that Okonomi means "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki means "grilled" or "cooked" (e.g.. yakitori and yakisoba); thus, the name of this dish means "cook what you like, the way you like". Okonomiyaki is a dish usually associated with the Kansai and Hiroshima areas. The toppings and batters of this savory, not sweet, pancake vary from region to region. While the chefs will cook the okonomiyaki for you if you wish, most customers choose to cook their own at table side griddles found at most okonomiyaki restaurants.
After learning a little more, I went with a group to Gaja, a restaurant in Lomita, and experienced okonomiyaki for myself. Now I went the lazy way and just opted for my pork and kimchee pancake to be cooked in the kitchen and believe me, it was tasty. However, I sat between two grills where I actually got to see the differences between the Kansai-style and Hiroshima-style of cooking okonomiyaki.
To the left was the Kansai-style. First, the griddle was oiled and heated and then the shrimp was cooked. Than the batter which consisted of veggies, a raw egg and other items was mixed together and than shaped into pancakes and cooked on the griddle. While one side was cooking, the shrimp was added to the uncooked version. Than the pancakes were flipped over and topped with a sauce. Soon, they were ready for eating.
To the right of me was the Hiroshima-style. Instead of four mini pancakes, this was one large one. After the griddle was oiled and heated, the batter was added to form one large pancake. Soon the veggies, meat and noodles were layered on top and more batter added to the top of those layers. After the first side cooked a bit, the whole pancake was flipped over so that the other side would now cook. While the other side was cooking, okonomiyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter) was added as well as bonito flakes. After a bit, this pancake was also ready for eating.
It was really enjoyable watching the cooking, but it was also just as enjoyable savoring every bite of the pork and kimchee okonomiyaki that was cooked for me. Other than okonomiyaki, we also had a variety of appetizers and dessert.
What was also nice is that the owner gave our group a bowl of Japanese seafood bouillabaisse to try. Wow, that soup was awesome. Spicy, rich and lots of flavor. Definitely a must have for anyone who decides to check Gaja out.
Overall, it was a great lunch. The service was wonderful. The food was excellent. I would definitely make my way back to Gaja again and maybe, I'll even cook next time. :)
To see pics, go to:
2383 Lomita Blvd Ste 102
Lomita, CA 90717