Messy eaters rejoice! Traditional Japanese pancakes served up with a modern twist…
OK, hands up who likes okonomiyaki. If you live in Japan you should have your hand up right now. (But maybe not if you are alone in your room reading this article on the internet and to raise your hand would seem rather embarrassing. If that’s the case, I’ll forgive you this one time.)
For those of you who don’t know, okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi meaning “what you want” and yaki meaning “grilled” or “cooked”. Basically then, okonomiyaki can be translated as “stick whatever you want into a bowl, mix it together until it looks like a big mess then throw it on a grill.”
Most okonomiyaki places you go to in Japan are counter based. The cooking is done by the chef on a huge long hotplate in front of you and then served to you when it’s done. At Sakura Tei in Tokyo, however, you get to cook it yourself.
Inconspicuously tucked away down a narrow alley in the heart of Harajuku, Sakura Tei is as much of an experience as it is a restaurant. Hardened Tokyoites have been coming here for years, lured by its cool ambience and cheap-as-chips drinking options. The food is simple: lots of variations of okonomiyaki, monjayaki and a few side dishes. (Monjayaki is similar to okonomiyaki, but well, wetter. It kinda looks a bit like sick truth be told. Don’t let appearances put you off though. The kimchi one is amazing. I could have eaten about ten bowls of it.)
You have three options: go for the all-you-can-eat (tabehoudai) course, pick from their original mixes, or make your own from the 22 different toppings, including weirdo ones such as potato chips and corned beef. Dining at Sakura Tei is a hands-on experience. You order the ingredients you fancy, mix them together in a bowl and dump them onto the grill. (This is tougher than it sounds: the ingredients fill the whole bowl and I probably spilled as much on the table as I did on the grill.) After a while, flip it over (if you have skill, I don’t) then cover it in a load of toppings including special sauce, mayonnaise, fish flakes and dried seaweed powder.
I first went to Sakura Tei with my friend Melinda. As you can see from the video below, she missed her calling as a celebrity chef.
I even think she could rival Cooking With Dog. Well, maybe not…
Sakura Tei is located at 3-20-1 Jingu-mae in Harajuku. First time you go, you best look at a map. It’s easy to find once you know where it is, but a bit tricky if you’ve never been before. If you don’t speak Japanese, don’t worry: there’s an English menu and instructions of how to cook your big bowl of mess.
All-you-can-eat Weekday Lunch: ¥1,060 / 1 drink – 90 minutes (11:00 – 15:00)
All-you-can-eat Standard: 120 minutes – ¥ 2,000
All-you-can-drink two hours – 120 minutes – ¥ 1,500