Despite being one of Tokyo’s specialities, monjayaki is probably the least known Japanese food outside of Japan. It is often described as a runnier version of Osaka’s famous savoury pancake, okonomiyaki. Monjayaki’s questionable appearance may be the reason it gets looked over, but don’t let that fool you—it’s a delicious and fun dish to make.
Monjayaki is said have evolved from mojiyaki, a popular snack among children in the late 19th century. Mojiyaki literally means grilled letters. Kids would practice writing the Japanese alphabet using batter on hot iron plates set up at the front of snack stores. A few decades on, WWII happened and food suddenly became scarce. In the downtown area of Tokyo, people came up with an inexpensive and easy meal. Inspired by mojiyaki, they cooked batter on hot plates and added chopped vegetables to make it more nutritious. The original monjayaki were made simply of dashi (fish-based stock), flour and cheap ingredients like cabbage. Over time, monjayaki went from being a street food to being served in restaurants.
Today, the majority of monjayaki restaurants in Tokyo are found in two areas on the east side of the city. Asakusa, Tokyo’s downtown area, is one place full of specialty restaurants. It’s great to combine a visit to Senso-ji Temple with lunch at a nearby monja restaurant. The other area is on one of the artificial islands in Tokyo Bay. Tsukishima has so many monja restaurants that the main street is even called Monja Street!
Monja Street, Tsukishima
Monja Shinanoya has good reviews online
In a monja restaurant, every table has its own teppan (hot plate) embedded in the middle. Diners choose from a menu and cook the dish themselves—or get the waiter to help. Some common toppings include mochi, cod roe, prawns, squid, tuna, pork strips, cheese and corn.
In general, everything is served in one bowl. First, you use the two large spatulas to scoop out the ingredients onto the hot plate. The fun part is using the spatulas to furiously chop everything up to make it easier to eat. You have be quick! Then you make a well in the middle and pour in the remaining batter. Mix it all up and spread it out over the whole plate. Let it cook for a few minutes and thicken up. Then it’s time to dig in! You should use the small spatula to pick up the monjayaki and eat it straight away. The crispy edges are especially delicious.
All the ingredients in one bowl
Have you ever tried monjayaki? What do you think of the idea of cooking your own meal at restaurants?
Other posts in the “Delicious Japanese Dishes” series: