by Ben on October 17, 2010 · 77 comments

in Fusion, Index, Italian, Japanese, Pescatarian

There 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.


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
2 eggs
1/4 C grated russet potato
About 3 tsp salt-packed anchovy fillets, finely chopped

Zuni Café shredded radicchio salad
Béchamel sauce

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



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77 comments… read them below or add one

sippitysup October 17, 2010 at 1:49 pm

This is crazy fusion that works! GREG


Ben October 17, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Thanks. I try to bring a little Crazy with me when I can. 🙂


Amy K. October 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm

brilliant! (just had some of those gummy candies today.)

i love anchovies! so curious about how this creation tastes.


Ben October 17, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Esme likes them, too. She saw them at Nathan and Angi’s house, so she calls them “AngiNathan gummies.” It’s worth making this for the salad alone, if you haven’t made that yet. Judy Rodgers is not wrong.


saltyseattle October 17, 2010 at 1:56 pm

reading this post was like drinking a cold, refreshing glass of buttermilk- enjoyable, good for me, and just a little bit crazy. u a good writer and u funny. i like your brain.


Ben October 17, 2010 at 5:54 pm

In fact, I have a cup of buttermilk left over from making batter for that deep-fried kimchi. Perhaps I’ll drink it tonight.


Baking Barrister October 17, 2010 at 1:58 pm

You made pizza intellectual. Do you know how hard that is? I salute you. I, however, will bow if you give in to my demands.


Ben October 17, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Flattery is generally more effective than extortion. We’ll see.


stacy October 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm

delightful post brhau – the anchovies are brilliant!


Ben October 17, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Dang I’m doing something right to bring the good doctor out of the woodwork! Thanks for reading, Stace.


Foodie in Berlin October 17, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Is it me or is your writing improving exponentially? Really enjoying reading your posts and go you on the Food Buzz challenge! I would love to see a writing led blog win!


Ben October 17, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Wow, that’s really nice to hear, Suzan. This competition does force me to write more often than I’m comfortable with, but that means I’m learning twice as fast. I’m really glad that translates into results, if even one person thinks so.


Jean October 17, 2010 at 3:37 pm

You’re one cool dude you know that? That’s all.

Well, not quite. You just used an ingredient that’s close to my heart and one that I was going to use for that certain gift exchange. I wondered if it would be well received but you may just turn more people on to anchovies with this post. I like it. 🙂


Ben October 17, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Thanks, Jean. You pretty cool, too. 🙂 I was also considering this for the exchange. It’s almost exactly $20. If we worried about cringe ingredients too much, what would we be left with? Chocolate chip cookies? I say go for it.


Lisa { AuthenticSuburbanGourmet } October 17, 2010 at 5:55 pm

What a interesting read and the photos are amazing. Enjoyed every minute. Good luck with challenge #5 – I am certain you will progress forward! 🙂


Ben October 17, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Thanks, Lisa. You are a local and I need to start following you! Hope to meet you at the Fest. 🙂


kate @ scarpetta dolcetto October 17, 2010 at 6:03 pm

nothing lost in translation here…wildy creative and sounds tasty, too! love your writing. best o’ luck to you!


Ben October 17, 2010 at 6:07 pm

You guys are going to keep me from eating dinner if you keep commenting. 😉 Thank you, Kate.


sweetbittertart October 17, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Okay so that Madonna translation was all kinds of awesome. This looks absolutely delicious and is so creative! The photo of the anchovies is beautiful. Have you ever had white anchovies? They are yummy. I can’t wait to try the radicchio salad. I love the Zuni Cafe cookbook but haven’t tackled that recipe yet. Congratulations on another wonderful post! (as for me, I’m off in search of the nearest discotheque setting…)


Ben October 17, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Yes, I’ve had the white—I think they were vinegared ones. Love ’em all.
And yes, you must try the salad. It may be greater than the sum of my pizza, but given Judy’s rockstar status, I can live with that. 🙂
Go advance on your prey, tiger! Hardy cocktails await!


sweetbittertart October 17, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Hooray for the hardy cocktail!!


Lauren Zabaneh October 17, 2010 at 6:30 pm

I was curious about what you would come up with…this is very interesting.

First you had me laughing with the whole gummi bear thing. I love that so much I think it would look good in a mixed media painting or collage or just written out and framed. its freakin’ hilarious!

The “pizza”, however it’s translated, looks like something i’ve never encountered before but would be very game to try. You and my hubs both love the anchovies (he likes the one in the oil too) but the best ones he’s had have been the white anchovies. I don’t know how they were packed, but he really liked them. I am not quite on board with anchovies…yet. But this I would try. My fav photo is the one of the tin. Awesome job, Ben!


The Cilantropist October 17, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Love this! And reading your post made me laugh. 🙂 Your pizza remix baby-chili style is just perfect for this challenge, definitely a winner.


Lisa October 17, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Interesting twist on pizza. Love anchovies as well. Good luck this round!


Sharlene (Wheels and Lollipops) October 18, 2010 at 2:14 am

What a great play on pizza and for turning a simple almost banal dish and making it a multicultural one. It’s amazing the things that get lost in translation. Living in France, it makes me smile when I see words/phrases/interviews/descriptions/ that have been translated from french – english or vice versa . I think with a dish like this you could carry a conversation for a few hours.

Great job !


Ben October 18, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Thanks, Sharlene. That’s nice of you to say. I really love okonomiyaki, and was just hoping to do it justice!


Winnie October 18, 2010 at 4:51 am

Such a smart and funny post…and your “bastard stepchild” is super creative and looks delicious. Rock on.


Ruby October 18, 2010 at 6:24 am

Many points for me to love here. First, okonomikyai is one of the cravings I brought home with me from a term studying in Japan. Another souvenir – Engrish! That book is in my bathroom collection! 🙂 Finally, I loved your update at the end. I wonder how many readers bothered to click and see the ‘translated’ page? If not they are missing out – HIL-arious! I will vote for you in about 5 minutes when voting opens… 😉


elisabeth@foodandthriftfinds October 18, 2010 at 9:14 am

This is the most interesting pizza I’ve ever seen, and just imagining how yummy it tastes. Beautiful presentation. The Italian Japanese infusion reminds me of my son-in-law’s local restaurant, in West Palm Beach, which has Italian-Japanese infusion, as well.
Great job, Congratulations for advancing through #4 Challenge. Wow! what an accomplishment! For sure will vote for you in Round #5!


Ben October 18, 2010 at 10:26 pm

Please send me the link to your son’s restaurant. I’d love to read the menu. I’ve always seen a love affair between Italy and Japan with respect to design, but never food. Very interested!


elisabeth@foodandthriftfinds October 19, 2010 at 11:10 am

Hi Ben- Here’s the link. West Palm Beach Florida, where restaurant is located. Sroll along the gallery, and the menus.


Stephanie Tramontozzi October 18, 2010 at 10:36 am

You know I am SO voting for this. Awesome. My lineage of italian cooks would be proud!


Jenn@slim-shoppin October 18, 2010 at 10:44 am

I learned a lot from your post!! Great job, I voted for you, best of luck!


Marc @ NoRecipes October 18, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Love this! You have my vote!

And about the Engrish packaging atrocities, it’s usually not a translation, I’m not really sure if they just don’t care, or if there’s some appeal in putting crazy english on their packages, but it’s everywhere you look in Japan. My recent favorite is a tubular wafer filled with chocolate cream called “Colon”. How’s that for appetizing?


Ben October 18, 2010 at 1:48 pm

LOL. Reminds me of that appetite suppressant back in the 70s called “AYDS.”


riceandwheat October 18, 2010 at 10:58 pm

I just saw that (Colon) at the Chinese market here in SF! I could barely believe my eyes… maybe I should buy that for the foodie gift exchange?


Ben October 18, 2010 at 11:04 pm



Asha@FSK October 18, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Gorgeous! Love the flavor combinations! Voted!


Duchess October 18, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Really fascinating – and I mean that in the most flattering, awe inspiring way too 😉 Great job, best of luck.


Ben October 18, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Thank you, Elisabeth. We really appreciate your reading, and your comments. 🙂


Daisy October 18, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Your writing is intelligent, resonant, appealing, accessible. I love the way you weave the words and flavors together. I keep going back to read over and over again, and each lingering provides something new. It’s amazing.


Ben October 18, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Thanks, sis! Can you please write blurbs for my future book?


Liz October 18, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Love love love the justification. Love.


Ben October 18, 2010 at 10:14 pm

We love love love positive reinforcement. Love.


Daily Spud October 18, 2010 at 5:55 pm

That a-to-b-to-a pizza is both food for the belly and food for the brain. As for me, I had a different set of translations in mind for my never-to-be pizzas (and, for the record, I think a potato and Guinness pizza could have worked). Meanwhile, the fact that you have included potatoes in your cultural criss-cross of a dish just plain makes me feel better.


Ben October 18, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Of course, I knew you’d appreciate the potato. 🙂 Would love to see your Guinness pizza, my dear.


zmm October 18, 2010 at 6:52 pm

This is nice…. I voted for you. It looks very ‘crunchy’..


Ben October 18, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Thanks. It’s actually like more of a pancake. Kinda like pajun, if you’ve ever had that. I do try to get it crisp on the outside. If it sits, it tends to get a little soggy.


zmm October 18, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Don’t know what is Pajun.. what cuisine is that?


Ben October 18, 2010 at 10:58 pm
The Cuisinerd October 18, 2010 at 7:26 pm

If I place my order now… how soon can you deliver!?


Ben October 18, 2010 at 10:07 pm

I soon as I receive an order of slow cooked short ribs from you, Nerd.


riceandwheat October 18, 2010 at 11:06 pm

Oh Ben, you had me at “muscat gummy”. I demand that we have a “pizza” party soon where the pide and this hapa pizza/okonomiyaki shall meet. Needless to say, I love the concept behind this dish and how you got the idea in the first place. You’re the only one I know who can go from Japanese gummies -> Madonna -> awesome recipe.


Ben October 19, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Muscat is the best flavor, and clearly the only one worthy of the inscription. You name the time for the pide/okonomiyaki blind date.


Amelia from Z Tasty Life October 19, 2010 at 7:34 am

interesting fusion! Loved learning about some of the Japanese preparations.


Cathy Dellinger October 19, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Once again the combination of creativity and intellect is inspiring and incredibly interesting. not just for me, but for so many of your readers. Your content was so interesting. Not sure I would undertake this, but the information on the components are invaluable. Thanks, Ben!


Ben October 19, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Thank you for reading, and really kind comments.


Lana Watkins October 19, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I love when I learn something new, especially in a post so well written. I have never eaten okonomiyaki, but now I’ll have to try:)
Good luck!


@lickmyspoon October 19, 2010 at 7:50 pm

One thing about your posts that I can’t say about a lot of others: you write a lot, and I read every single word. I never want your posts to end.

Your pizza looks both ridiculous and delicious, definitely voting.

Lick My Spoon


Ben October 19, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Thank you, Stephanie. Full-on blush mode. And not because I’m drinking a beer.


eataduckimust October 19, 2010 at 9:11 pm

this is genius! i love okonomiyaki and never think of it has pizza. but to inverse the translation? i like the way you think! =)


Ben October 19, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Yes, I never understood exactly why they chose to call it “pizza.” Then again, I also don’t understand why one would call a cookie “Cream Colon.” Would it make more sense if I learned Japanese?


Food Lover October 20, 2010 at 12:45 am

Yummy sounds really delicious, I love anchovy, but I’ve never tried it on pizza, this post will make me do, thanks & wish you good luck 🙂


Dawn (KitchenTravels) October 20, 2010 at 10:44 am

Brilliant. And my blog-crush has been cemented by the fact that you are a fellow anchovy eater.

Translation humor can happen with the spoken word as well as the written, in my experience. I worked in a traditional Japanese restaurant during college. One morning, the chefs were questioning me about my hand-held breakfast: a bagel with lox. As I described what was on it, they grimaced, expressed confusion, and opined that it sounded “disgusting!” My response was equally confused: “Really, it’s delicious. Salmon and cream cheese is a very common pairing in the U.S.” They laughed: “Oh! CREAM CHEESE! We thought you said salmon and KIM CHEE.”


Ben October 20, 2010 at 11:39 am

Other readers looking for a potential blog crush may insert their word of choice into the phrase “you are a fellow _____ eater.” Unless it’s silkworm pupae. Those I do not eat.


Melanie October 20, 2010 at 1:57 pm

This post was divinely inspired. Good luck!


Mariko October 20, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Okonomiyaki is one of my fav foods, so this is pretty perfect.


Meg @ Soup Is Not A Finger Food October 21, 2010 at 7:27 am

Oh, wow… that looks ambitious, and delicious! I’ve never had the restaurant version, but your version looks fab. Plus? I’m always happy to connect with someone else who isn’t afraid of anchovies.


Ben October 21, 2010 at 10:41 am

I see you’ve found my friend Jean. Good call!


fooddreamer October 21, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Oh lordy, how I love translations back and forth in various languages. I am wiping my eyes from the bold-faced hussy comment! That alone was worth a vote, but I suppose your pizza deserves it as well. This whole post, both food and prose, was brilliant!


Ben October 21, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Thanks, Carolyn! So glad I happened to see your status update on the Fbz feed. 🙂


Stephanie M @ TogetherInFood October 22, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Love okonomiyaki. Love English translations on Japanese products even more. Living in Japan for a year after college, I would giggle out loud every time I found a brilliant translation. Great post as usual, and creative pizza remix idea.


Lana Watkins October 24, 2010 at 1:07 am

Congrats on making it to the next round! Translations from English are hilarious! When I go back to Serbia reading menus at various restaurants is always an expected and charge-free entertainment.
Only my good manners prevent me from writing the description of a particularly raunchy and disgusting monkey-toy my weirdo daughter picked up In Chinatown in SF.


Stella October 26, 2010 at 7:17 am

Wow. This really makes my day- after living through a lot of corn-mayo-potato pizza in Japan (Italian food made Japanese-y?) I’m happy to see you return the favor with okonomiyaki pizza. For the win! As someone who speaks Japanese, I can tell you that often, the fork in the road to crazy town, is not so obvious. I think it’s sometimes just a matter of some guy in the copy department saying “oh yeah, man, I aced English in high school. I’ve got this” and then coming up with whatever the heck he wants. If you ever need anything translated, send a cell phone pic my way! 🙂


veggietestkitchen December 8, 2010 at 9:09 am

I’m off to the farmer’s market today with every intention to come back and make this with some fresh greens and inspired toppings. Ever since I saw this picture it’s been haunting me and my kitchen is nagging me to make it!!


Ben December 8, 2010 at 10:09 am

I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures. Let me know how you like the effed-up okonomiyaki! 🙂


Patrick April 26, 2011 at 3:15 am

What a wonderful idea for a recipe!

As for okonomiyaki having been translated into English as Japanese pizza, I’m not sure that it’s do to with slicing. Rather, I think it’s that customers in a okonomiyaki restaurant have the option to choose their own toppings/additions and it’s the element of choice that lead to pizza seeming a suitable translation.

I worked at an okonomiyaki restaurant in Osaka and one of the menu options was the so-called Italian. In this case, the pancake had some mozarella and thinly sliced tomato layered into it and then tomato sauce was spread over the top rather than the usual brown. Yours seems much more appetising!


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