11 Jan 2018
There's a new okonomiyaki joint in town, and fortunately manager Yoshihiko Sugiura was on hand yesterday to explain what exactly that means.
Okonomi means “how you like it”, while yaki means “grill”, he said. There have been other okonomiyaki in Phnom Penh but, as far as Sugiura knows, the newly opened Akane is the only one currently standing.
Referred to by some as “Japanese pizza”, or probably more aptly “savoury Japanese pancake”, the basic concept is taking a flour-and-egg-based batter, adding cabbage, green onions, ginger and a choice of meat, and griddling it on a flat-top grill. It’s then topped with a sweet and salty veggie-based sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed and bonito flakes.
“Okonomiyaki is born in Osaka [as] . . . a soul food . . . in western Japan” he said.
Sugiura and his wife Akane, after whom the restaurant is named, are from Tokyo, where the dish migrated over its several centuries in existence. Ever since an okonomiyaki restaurant near Tuol Sleng closed its doors, there has been a clear market niche to fill.
“It’s a very popular food . . . In Japan they eat it two times per week, so the [Japanese people in Phnom Penh] needed their okonomiyaki restaurant,” Akane said.
The couple moved to Cambodia in July last year after working in advertising in Thailand for several years. Originally intending to open their own advertising firm in the Kingdom, they soon realised they needed to better know the local market, so instead they took up an offer from the prospective restaurant owner to run Akane, which opened its doors in November.
The boxy little joint located on Street 101 in Russian Market has a typical Japanese set-up, with a red-painted exterior and a sliding wooden door. Inside is a long bar lining the grill where the magic happens. With the soul food comes a bevy of booze options, including beer, whiskey, sake and plum wine.
Iced tea accompanies the meal, as does a spatula for chopping up the hefty concoction. Customers choose between a traditional okonomiyaki ($6 to $8), or a “modern” style ($7.5-$10), which sits on a bed of grilled noodles. In terms of meat, there is pork, squid or shrimp with egg.
For Akane, her preference is the Negi-yaki, with spring onions and pork, and for Yoshihiko it’s a modern pork and egg yaki. There is also the option to mix all the meat options, and add toppings like extra egg, cheese, kimchi and more.