[special]* So ugly, we gave it its own special article. But what exactly is it? We tell you all about it (and how exactly it gets that ugly) in this article featuring professional monja cooks from Tokyo.
Monjayaki, we dare say, is really quite possibly the ugliest dish on earth. Someone kind might struggle for a bit, then suggest something involving a liquid omelette or some sort, but the honest answer is that it really just looks like someone threw up on a hot plate and now you're eating it.
Looks aside, though, it is actually a dish of significant importance in Japan's grand culinary history. It is the progenitor of okonomiyaki (the omelette-type dish popular throughout the Kansai region) and derives from the same evolutionary line as takoyaki, the octopus balls which are standard fare at Japanese festivals and which pop up occasionally overseas too.
Its main ingredients are cabbage and thin batter (a mix of wheat flour and water) plus "toppings" which nowadays can range from kimchi to mochi. Although originally a children's snack in working-class areas, it has regained popularity in modern times as a firmly middle-class "foodie food". It is especially popular in and around Tokyo, with the Tsukishima district in Tokyo having an entire street lined on both sides with just monjayaki restaurants.
Properly done, monjayaki should be crispy on the bottom with just a little gooey part at the surface. The taste is... hard to describe, but is a little like teppanyaki meat (that would come from both sharing the same method of preparation, on an iron hot plate) and a little like, well, batter, mixed with the taste of the accompanying toppings. Pictured is a cheese-mentaiko-mochi monjayaki which had gooey hot cheese and warm, chewy mochi bits and zingy, sour mentaiko to spice it up, and it was very, very delicious - yes, even though it does look quite fugly.
By the way, despite its looks, a lot of skill actually goes into the making of a good monjayaki. As with okonomiyaki, some places might do it for you; some, however, won't. But fear not! With our super-easy guide you are moments away from cooking the perfect monjayaki yourself. You can also see how it gets from being a decent-looking bowl of ingredients to, well, awful.
Hint: it's actually pretty easy...
Step 1: Toppings and cabbage in a bowl
Step 2: Empty bowl
Step 3: Toss
Step 4: Make crater
Step 5: Pour batter in crater
Step 6: Mix well
Step 7: Flatten
Step 8: Garnish and serve
(Just make sure you don't try to make it into some sort of okonomiyaki-style pancake - it's meant to be flat, with just the very top part of the monjayaki remaining gooey.)
And that's how you get the world's ugliest dish! We hope that helps. It's really pretty simple - easier than okonomiyaki, which makes it the perfect choice for impressing your Japanese girlfriend / boyfriend / colleague / boss. Why not? Go on, be adventurous...
(Thanks to the staff at Monja Mugi for allowing us to photo them in preparation.)
Do you like monjayaki? Tried cooking it? How did it go? Comment below or Twitter / twitter.com/foodjapan