[one_half][T]here is perhaps no context in which package copy could be as fascinating to me as it is when I’m browsing the aisles of an Asian grocery. Examples are sufficiently numerous to fill books, but one that has always stayed with me is the seductive teaser that graces the packaging of my all-time favorite candy, Kasugai Muscat Gummy:
Its translucent color so alluring and taste and aroma so gentle and mellow offer admiring feelings of a graceful lady. Enjoy soft and juicy Kasugai Muscat Gummy.
This epigram unironically makes me wish that I could speak Japanese, so I could pinpoint the exact moment the car missed its exit and wound up at, quite frankly, a much more interesting place than it had originally intended to be.
Less commonly, we are treated with what I might call an inverse translation. That is, a translation that undergoes a round trip back to its original language. Of course, translations are not perfectly invertible, so the resulting text is subject to not one, but two transformations. Such was the case with Madonna’s 1996 interview with Budapest newspaper, Blikk. The interview was conducted in English, translated into Hungarian, and then, at the behest of USA Today, translated back to English. Sadly, the USA Today excerpts are unavailable, so we are left with Garry Trudeau’s hilarious re-imagining of said interview. A sample, for those who missed it at first go-around:
Blikk: Madonna, let’s cut toward the hunt: Are you a bold hussy-woman that feasts on men who are tops?
Madonna: Yes, yes, this is certainly something that brings to the surface my longings. In America it is not considered to be mentally ill when a woman advances on her prey in a discotheque setting with hardy cocktails present. And there is a more normal attitude toward leather play-toys that also makes my day.
You get the idea. The serendipity of words gained in translation. I somehow could not shake the thought of Madonna’s brilliant Blikk interview during a recent meal at Halu, a ramen/yakitori shop in the heart of the Richmond. The friends who had recommended this restaurant to us warned that we were not, under any circumstances, to neglect the pizza. They were, of course, referring to okonomiyaki, a traditional Japanese dish that’s more akin to a savory pancake, or a Korean jeon. At some point, this got translated as “pizza,” presumably because it is often sliced into pie-shaped wedges. Entertaining the unlikely idea that this was Japan’s take on a classic Neopolitan pie, I was compelled to devise an inverse translation: What about an Italian okonomiyaki? If perfectly invertible, one might arrive at a pizza margherita. But where would be the fun in that? Instead, my aim was to construct a dish with the same look and feel of an okonomiyaki, but with Italian-inspired ingredients and flavors.
MY BASTARD STEPCHILD
The concept. There were two main things I wanted to change about the “crust,” or the base. First, I seasoned the batter with anchovies instead of dashi. This gives the crust a flavor reminiscent of a cuddura patteda. Second, a classic okonomiyaki batter contains shredded cabbage. I opted to use radicchio—more specifically, a radicchio salad. A lesser offense is my use of shredded potato instead of nagaimo. This is a fairly common substitution, one that makes this recipe easier to shop for, and let’s face it … mine isn’t exactly a traditional recipe, anyway.
The topping is the fantastic shredded radicchio salad from the Zuni Café Cookbook. Typically, okonomiyaki is garnished with a zig-zagged squirt of kewpie mayonniase. I accomplished a similar visual effect by using Béchamel sauce.
A note on anchovies. I am officially in love with salt-packed anchovies. The flavor is incomparable to the oil-packed variety found in flat tins (which, incidentally, I also like). They are a bit more difficult to find, so you may want to buy them online. Also, they require more handling: Before using, soak a small batch of the anchovies in cold water for 15 – 20 minutes, then remove fins and backbone. Transfer remaining salt-packed fish to an airtight container. They will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely.
A note to the lazy. Honestly? I didn’t bother soaking these. I cut off the fins and chopped them up, bones and all. I used this instead of adding more salt. If I were eating these whole, e.g., over a salad, I would do it the long way. But in this case, I honestly don’t think it makes a difference.
The preparation. First, make the Béchamel sauce. This can be done a day in advance. You want to allow it sufficient time to cool, as it may be too runny otherwise. Note that Batali’s recipe makes 3 cups of sauce. We are using it for a garnish, so may want to scale it down or find another use for the rest of the sauce.
Next, make the shredded radicchio salad, as it is needed for both the crust and the topping. If desired, reserve breadcrumbs and sieved egg until after making the crust. The salad wilts considerably after an hour or two. This isn’t a tragedy, since part of it is being cooked. But it’s best to make this shortly before making the crust. If you also want to serve this as a straight-up salad, reserve some to dress immediately prior to serving.
Babychili’s Italian Okonomiyaki (or Italian-Japanese-Italian pizza)
adapted from Okonomiyaki World
grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 C all purpose flour
2/3 C ice cold water
1/4 C grated russet potato
About 3 tsp salt-packed anchovy fillets, finely chopped
Zuni Café shredded radicchio salad
Cover the surface of a cast-iron skillet or griddle with a liberal pour of oil and place over medium heat. Combine flour, water, eggs, potato, and anchovy in a medium-size mixing bowl and stir until just smooth. Add about 1 1/2 C of the salad and mix until evenly coated. Test the batter by frying a small (coin-sized) sample. Adjust seasoning with anchovy (and/or salt, fish sauce), if desired. Ladle batter into the skillet and flatten to a pancake to about 1.5 cm in uniform thickness. You have a minute or so to add more batter if needed, or tuck in the edges with a spoon to make a nice-looking circle. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown. At that point, flip the pancake and cook for another 2 – 4 minutes until done.
Blot with paper towels, if desired. Dress with the shredded radicchio salad as a topping, being sure to include the toasted bread crumbs and sieved, hardboiled egg. Pan-crisped pancetta might also be nice here. Drizzle with Béchamel sauce and serve immediately.
Further notes. For crisp pancakes, use ice-cold water and eggs for the batter. The side that gets cooked first will be smoother and more even-looking. I tend to place this side face-up when serving. Finally, these are best when served, as much as possible, hot from the pan. If the pancakes must be reheated, this is best done in a skillet as opposed to a microwave.
Update: This post is now available in translated form. [/one_half]