We’re all creatures of habit so it’s not uncommon to be drawn to a particular cuisine each time we dine out in London. But when I came across the Japanese savoury pancake known as Okonomiyaki, at OKAN in Brixton Market, it was a taste sensation I couldn’t liken to anything I’d had before.
As a food lover myself, I’m surprised. I’m very familiar with the Katsus, Ramen, Teppanyaki, Bentos or Yakitori of the Japanese foodie world. But until recently, I’d never had one of these cabbage-based delights.
OKAN is in the covered part of Brixton village and is quite tiny so you might have to queue or arrive early to get a table.
The interiors themselves are understated yet charming. Think Japanese lanterns, wooden benches and Japanese dolls. When we arrived, a table of diners outside were playing a traditional Japanese game with wooden blocks of wood. We got ourselves a great table inside where we could see Moto and her fellow chefs cooking the okanomiyaki fresh on the hot plate. The steam and smoke and their joyful chit chat only added to the friendly and laid back vibe.
For those who are interested, here’s the factual bit on the origin of okonomiyaki and how they’re made:
- Okonomiyaki derives from Osaka – an industrial Japanese city famous for its unique and vibrant culture
- The pancakes themselves are cabbage and batter based and are served with a special brown sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, green seaweed flakes and bonito (fish) shavings
- They come with a variety of toppings including pork, beef, king prawns and squid
We ordered Onasu to start with – a mix of fried aubergine cooked with soy, honey and ginger served with a miso dressing. The photo probably doesn’t do it justice but it was very flavoursome and quite delicious.
Then it was time for the okonomiyaki themselves. By recommendation from a friend, I opted for the pork and noodle okonomiyaki which you could say is one of the beasts of OKAN’s menu. Most people who eat this street food will order some kind of meat or fish topping, but as you can imagine, having noodles in the batter base as well makes it slightly more dense. I had a big appetite that night so I was well-prepared for my marathon feast.
We had to laugh (and I may have let out a little squeal) when the the bonito shavings on top appeared to be moving.
‘They’re alive!’ I said which caused much amusement to the staff. Let me assure you, they weren’t alive. They were in fact moving from the heat of the food.
Seeing them swaying from side to side was quite strange though.
Watch them move in this vid:
Taste-wise, as I said before, this was a taste sensation I don’t think I’ve had before. The batter combined with the quite slimy cabbage, combined with the meat and stodgy noodles was everything you need from comfort food. However the actual vegetal tastes with the creamy mayonnaise, soya-like brown sauce and ever-so-subtle fish flavours really took some getting used to.
I honestly couldn’t decide whether I like this food for a long time. I ate pretty much all of it (yes really) but was still asking myself the next day whether I really would go back for more.
I think as an adult you get so used to familiar cuisines (even as a food writer who eats in all sorts of restaurants) so when a new combination like this comes along it can be a shock for the senses.
On reflection, I’d definitely go back to OKAN. I can’t fault the pork (it was succulent), the tangy sauce, or the unrivalled street kitchen vibe. And washed down with a bottle of Japanese beer, I felt like I’d had some of the most authentic Asian street food in months.
Moto and her team are brilliant and you might spot them down Brick Lane on Sundays serving hungry passers-by.
As well as okonomiyaki, they also serve up kimchi (a mix of spicy Korean vegetables), yaki soba and yaki udon noodle dishes. I’d like to try the Omu-soba or Oma-Udon next time which is noodles wrapped in an omelette. I might even try out their new sake menu too.
If you’re looking for authentic, fresh Japanese street food, give OKAN a try. It’s certainly a gem in Brixton village and the swaying fish is guaranteed to give you a smile!
Until next time x
Open Wednesdays – Sundays. For opening times go to: