Cook-It-Yourself Monjayaki: How to Experience This Tokyo Dish

Monjayaki is a Tokyo-based Japanese dish that, despite being delicious and diverse, doesn’t seem to be as well-known as other foods such as sushi, ramen, tempura, and sashimi.

Maybe it’s because it doesn’t look as good as the others. To be fair, while it’s cooking, it looks like mush at best. Don’t let it deter you, though; the flavour makes up for it. There are plenty of monjayaki places in and around Tokyo. It’s the capital’s answer to the better-known okonomiyaki, a cabbage-based dish that came about in west Japan when there was a shortage of rice.

 

What can be intimidating about monjayaki is that you’re expected to cook it yourself. Sometimes, during quieter times in a restaurant, a waiter will do it for you, but this isn’t always guaranteed.

There are various monjayaki restaurants dotted around Tokyo and beyond, but a great place to try different kinds is Tsukishima’s Monja Street.

Step 1

The first thing you need to do is decide what kind of monja you’d like to eat. The dish consists of cabbage, various vegetables, and flour, but the possibilities for fillings are virtually endless. Here are some fillings you might find.

  • Pork
  • Mochi (small, chewy lumps of pounded rice)
  • Kimchi (spicy Korean cabbage)
  • Cheese
  • Garlic
  • Prawns
  • Spring onion
  • Corned beef
  • Curry (very weird, never tried it)
  • Ginger
  • Mentaiko (salted pollock roe; one of my favourites)

The types of available fillings depend on the restaurant, but pork, kimchi, and prawns wherever you go.

Step 2

The waiting staff will bring a bowl of raw ingredients to your teppan, or table with a hotplate. They should also switch the hotplate on for you. After spreading some oil onto the hotplate, mix all of the ingredients together in the bowl.

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Step 3

When it’s all mixed together, pour the ingredients onto the hotplate, leaving the liquid in the bowl. Make a sort of crater or circle in the middle like in the photo below.

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Step 4

Pour the liquid in the middle.

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Step 5

Let it bubble!

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Step 6

When it’s ready (a couple of minutes of bubbling until the ingredients are cooked), use a moji-bera, or small metal spatula provided, to scrape bits of the delicious mix onto your plate. From your plate, you can eat it with chopsticks.

This rich and flavoursome dish doesn’t look all that great, but it’s soooo good. One serving is about enough for one person, so if you’re sharing, be sure to order more than one. Most monja places also serve okonomiyaki, so an ideal meal for two is one serving of monja and one serving of okonomiyaki.

That’s how you cook your own monjayaki! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.

Delicious Monja-Yaki in the Heart of Asakusa

My boyfriend grew up in Asakusa, East Tokyo. Since it’s almost an hour away by train from our house in Meguro Ward, we don’t go there very often. When he was in high school, he’d climb over the fence and dash off to the local monja-yaki place, where he’s good friends with the owner. She’d let him sleep, smoke, and even drink beer there when he was fed up with school. She’s been like a cool aunt to him for years.

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We went to that restaurant together about two years ago when we first started going out. This time, I walked in and she grabbed my hand, saying “I remember you. Welcome back!” We also met one of Ken’s old friends and her two children, and ate delicious food (and got very drunk).

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So what is monja-yaki?

Monja-Yaki

Japan enthusiasts might have heard of okonomiyaki – the savoury pancake from Osaka that is a tasty and popular street food. Monja-yaki is Tokyo’s version: ingredients mixed together before they’re fried on a large grill. Okonomiyaki was also served here as well as other foodie bits. We started with sausages and cabbage, nom nom.

Monja works by mixing up all the ingredients in a bowl.

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I don’t know all of what was in there, but monja typically contains cabbage, meat, spring onions, beansprouts, and other things. Water, flour, and soy sauce are added so that you can pour it onto the plate.

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Put the ingredients in a circle then pour the watery part in the middle. It’ll all start to bubble and boil.

After that, you use a little scoopy thing to grab some, press it to the plate to cook it almost to burning, and shovel it into your mouth. It isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but it’s absolutely packed with flavour. My mouth’s watering just remembering it.

We ate some other things, including the heavenly buta kimchi (pork and Korean spicy cabbage), some weird fish cakes, and scallops. I’d never had scallops before and put the whole, chewy thing in my mouth, which took about eight years to swallow. Won’t be trying that again.

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Food always seems to be better when made by an old dear who’s been doing it for years. The monja-yaki was mind-blowingly good and it was a lot of fun eating and drinking with good people in my favourite city.

The restaurant is super local; I didn’t see any tourists, and we had to walk through residential areas for ages before we reached it. The owner is awesome – would you believe that she is 82 years old?

If you visit Tokyo, do try monjayaki. It’s one of the city’s best dishes! You can often get both monja and okonomiyaki at the same restaurant, so try them both and see which you like the most. They’re both delicious and are both cooked in the same way, but are quite different.