By Lola Milholland
I've had a dream for a long time now of taking over Slappy Cakes, the cook-your-own-pancake joint on Southeast Belmont, for a nighttime okonomiyaki party. Okonomiyaki is one of my favorite foods. Like someone's harebrained invention combining a Polish cabbage roll with a Korean scallion pancake, it's extremely satisfying, even junky, yet completely full to brim with cabbage. Over time I have moved away from the okonomiyaki I learned to make in Kyoto — a big thick sucker with everything combined in the batter — toward the Hiroshima style, where they cook everything in distinct layers and pile it up. It also helps that Hiroshima okonomiyaki include noodles! I also have branched into all kinds of hearty greens, not only cabbage. Think collards and kales. My latest even included pea shoots!
My Umi version of okonomiyaki is a perfect example of our overall approach to Japanese food: reverent but creative and committed to whatever we can get locally and in season. It's also a good reminder that our noodles aren't only for soup!
My dream came true on April 22, when we threw an Earth Day cooking party benefit for Growing Gardens. It was a true community event. Growing Gardens volunteers pitched in like crazy. Our farmer friends provided the ingredients, and they were stunning: Plump leeks and tender broccholini leaves from Vibrant Valley Farm; extremely aromatic green garlic, frilly kales, tender collards, and more from Rockwood Urban Farm; our favorite popcorn that exists, Amish Butter, from Ayers Creek Farm; baby hinona turnips from The Side Yard Farm; pastured pork from Paine Family Farms; and more. SakeOne donated sake for lovely flights, and we had delicious Jackalope Wine Cellars Viognier and Commons Brewery Saison.
Our crew gave demos on how to make our Portland-style Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, and then people struck out on their own. We had prepped for hours to make sure every station overflowed in raw ingredients to transform into an endless variety of amazing pancakes. Kids came in droves to cook with their parents for our 5:30 seating, and then as night fell and the lights came on, the adult cooking party began. The meal even ended with legitimate Japanese shaved ice made by our friend Sakiko Setaka. Across two seatings, we hosted 160 people.
Growing Gardens was a perfect partner because they emphasize the power of cooking as an extension of their work in school and prison gardens. The kitchen is a place of connection, exploration of new things, and deeply felt self-sufficiency. We are proud that we were able to raise $1,000 to support their great work. They also launched their new Perennial donor campaign that day, and we highly encourage you to learn more about it.
I wanted to share some photos of the night because I think they capture the fun we had and hopefully inspire you to try your own hand at making okonomiyaki. Here's a recipe!