Iconic Japanese street treats make their way to Chicago

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Every culture has its favorite snacks. And in Japan, our food reporter says two iconic treats come to mind: takoyaki and okonomiyaki. (WLS)

Every culture has its favorite snacks. And in Japan, our food reporter says two iconic treats come to mind: takoyaki and okonomiyaki.

As part of our Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month coverage, he's devoting each of his Friday Feasts this month to a different country. This Friday Feast is all about Japan, specifically the city of Osaka: one of Chicago's sister cities, now with two of its most popular snacks being recreated here.

The key to Japanese food is dashi. It's the building block to pretty much every dish there, and it's made by adding dried seaweed - or kombu - plus smoked-and-dried tuna - called katsuobushi - to water. They're heated, then strained. The resulting liquid shows up in soups, dressings and in the batters of two of Osaka's most famous snacks, which I had a chance to sample in Osaka recently, then re-discover right here in Chicago.

The stalls along Dotonbori Street in Osaka all pretty much feature the same thing: takoyaki - made by adding a single piece of octopus to a dashi-based batter, and cooking it until crisp, in half moon-shaped griddles, until they look like golf balls. Topped with streams of sauce resembling a sweetened Worcestershire, rich mayo and a shake of dried seaweed. There's also bonito- those ubiquitous shards of smoked-and-dried tuna. The other classic here is okonomiyaki; essentially cabbage pancakes topped with whatever you like, griddled on both sides, then garnished the same way: sweet sauce, kewpie mayo, dried seaweed as well as katsuobushi. Both snacks are loaded with umami, a flavor akin to a pleasant savoriness, not unlike MSG.

In Chicago, both snacks are now available in several Japanese restaurants. At Kizuki in Wicker Park, they specialize in ramen, but they also import their takoyaki, frying them to order, then topping them the Japanese way.

"It's sweet - it's like a Japanese version of A1 sauce - but you also have the mayo there to balance out that sweetness. And last you have the bonito flakes that adds more of the seafood flavor to the octopus ball," said GM Kevin Yu.

And at Tsukiji Fish Market in West Town, a Thai chef inspired by a trip to Japan recreates okonomiyaki by adding dashi to his batter, frying in a skillet with a mound of seafood, then cooking both sides until crisp. His garnish is similar - sauce and mayo - but rather than embedding, he crowns it with cabbage, as well as a mound of bonito flakes.

"The freshness and crispiness of the cabbage; it goes well with the seafood and the sauce," said Sittipat Satangmongkol, the Chef at Tsukiji Fish Market. "Once the steam of the okonomiyaki get into the bonito, gonna make it softer. It's really good on that."

Where to find Takoyaki (octopus balls) in Chicago:

Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya
1482 N. Milwaukee Ave
(773) 270-4150
http://www.kizuki.com/locations/

Izakaya Mita
1960 N. Damen Ave.
(773) 799-8677

Gosu
2515 N. California Ave.
(773) 276-7330

Tsukiji Fish Market
1156 W. Grand Ave.
(312) 243-1112

Four Belly Asian Street Food
3227 N. Clark St.
(773) 661-6182

Sushi Dokku
823 W. Randolph St.
(312) 455-8238

Cocoro
668 N. Wells St.
(312) 943-2220

Izakaya Yume
9626 N. Milwaukee Ave. Niles
(224) 567-8365

Umacamon Japanese Kitchen
1673 W. Algonquin Rd. Rolling Meadows
(224) 318-2489

Izakaya Sankyu
1176 Elmhurst Rd. Mt. Prospect
(847) 228-5539

Where to find okonomiyaki (cabbage-based pancakes) in Chicago:

Tsukiji Fish Market
1156 W. Grand Ave
(312) 243-1112
http://www.tsukijifishmarketchicago.com/

Izakaya Mita
1960 N. Damen Ave.
(773) 799-8677

Ramen-San
59 W. Hubbard St.
(312) 377-9950
(Saturdays only)

Umacamon Japanese Kitchen
1673 W. Algonquin Rd. Rolling Meadows
(224) 318-2489
(described as "Japanese pizza" on menu)

Extra Course: How takoyaki is made, straight from Osaka.
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The stalls along Dotonbori Street in Osaka all pretty much feature the same thing: takoyaki.

Second Extra Course: How the okonomiyaki is assembled, directly from the counter in Osaka.
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How takoyaki is made, straight from Osaka

Related Topics:
foodhungry houndAsian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Monthsnack foodChicago
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