The simple pancake, according to archaeologists (and random Web pages), has a lengthy history. The ubiquitous quick bread can supposedly be traced far back in the human fossil record, owing to the dish’s simplicity and high nutrient content. But pancakes’ worldwide popularity — whether as blintzes, crepes, crumpets, gallettes, pannenkoeken, or pooda — goes along with a minimum of variety: Most flapjacks usually come flat and round, and regional variations in toppings, thickness, texture, or flour don’t much alter their overall vibe.
A few Japanese approaches, however, show that common culinary roots don’t automatically result in run-of-the-mill entrées. Takoyaki — chunks of octopus in fried pancake batter balls — come to mind most readily, but the okonomiyaki, like those served at Otafuku, are uncommonly inventive.
The East Village store’s meatless offering includes cabbage, corn, and scallion, which get sautéed on a flat surface, so that the veggies form a patty-like circle. Once soft, the cook adds sugarless batter onto the greens, so that they become suspended in golden-brown dough.
Though the Dutch approach to pancakes often has chunks of vegetables, meat, or fruit too, it’s still mainly pancake in terms of volume. Okonomiyaki, which reportedly hails from Osaka, differs greatly, because plant or animal matter are the main players.
Early versions of the dish, which gained modern popularity with World War II rice shortages, are said to have been around since the 17th century, when the Buddhist elite often noshed on thin crepes, similar to the okonomiyaki now served in Hiroshima.
In Otafuku’s tantalizing Osakan take, though, hints of ginger add pep and a bit of edge to the generally mild plate, and carrots bring earthy complexity. Topped with mayo, powdered green seaweed, and a drizzle of a smoky, sweet ponzu-like sauce, the $8 pick makes for a hearty, yet novel, meal.
236 East 9th Street
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