Let’s talk about monjayaki.
What is it? It is often compared to okonomiyaki, I thought this too the first time that I had it in Tokyo 6 years ago, but it quickly became clear as it was cooked that it was a different beast.
Monjayaki, I was told, translates as snack cooking, and okonomiyaki, favourite style of cooking. Japanese readers, please feel free to correct if I am wrong. I tried to make myself understood but the language barrier can be brutal.
They are separated by geography too. Monjayaki comes from the Kantō region (greater Tokyo and around it) and okonomiyaki from Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka etc.). That is not to to say that okonomiyaki from Kyoto or Osaka are the same, they have their own styles, which can be very different (Hiroshima is most famous for okonomiyaki incidentally, but I didn’t get there on this trip).
The centre of monjayaki activity in Tokyo is Tsukishima. There is one particular street, Nishinaka Dori, with 75 monjayaki restaurants on it and the alleys off of it. There is even a Monjayaki Information Office on this street established by local restaurateurs.
Monjayaki started out as a snack that kids primarily would have. It is a lot wetter than okonomayaki and cooks very flat, and only on one side on a teppan grill, whereas okonomiyaki is drier, firmer and thicker. The ingredients also differ.
After a very clumsy conversation at the Monjayaki Infortmation Office (clumsy on my part, they were very helpful), I wandered down Nishinaka Dori looking for one of the 75 that would grab me. It was impossible to choose. As I walked a lady from the office gestured that I should go into one that turned out to be hers, and her daughter spoke English. Result.
Inside were several teppan tables and a bunch of Japanese school girls in for a snack after school. There were many choices, but I chose the traditional mentaiko mochi monjayaki, with primary ingredients of mentaiko (cod roe), mochi (bouncy rice cakes) with flour (a very light powdery flour), dashi (a stock made with bonito & kombu), worcester sauce, cabbage, noodles and agedama (bits of tempura batter).
All of the ingredients are presented to you in a bowl, and the mentaiko, mochi, cabbage, noodles etc are poured onto the oiled hot teppan. They are fried for a couple of minutes, and then formed into a circle with a large hole in the middle. The wet portion is poured in here, and stirred about to cook it, before the other ingredients are drawn in. Everything is very well mixed in at this point and small bits of mentaiko mingle with the mochi etc.
The monjayaki is allowed to cook for a bit, only on one side which crisps and caramelises beautifully. At this point, you really should get some cheese (you order it with your monjayaki). I added mine about half way through as I wanted to try it with and without. A generous amount of a simple melting cheese is scattered on top, and allowed to melt into it. It is finished with rich dark brown monjayaki sauce and some seaweed, toasted and fine.
Now, what can be wrong with that? Nothing. It is a comforting and rich slice of Tokyo life.
You eat it with a little spatula, leaving it on the teppan (which is turned off but still warm).
(I have a card from the restaurant somewhere but am struggling to locate it, I will do my best to find the name for you).