While in Japan we usually follow the same eating pattern: restaurant for lunch and izakaya for dinner. Izakaya could be described as the equivalent of a pub, but no one goes there only to drink and the food is as good as in “real” restaurants (or even better, but at a lower price!). Izakayas serve small food portions and this makes them perfect places to end the day in a cool atmosphere, whether very hungry or just a bit. Most izakayas make customers pay for “otoshi/otoushi”, which could be described as an obligatory welcome snack (if you are lucky, you might also receive another non-ordered snack in the middle of your meal and even at the end, but these will be on the house, so make sure to compliment them, even if you don’t like them!). Otoshi tells a lot about the place : if it is bad and it’s our first visit to the place, I order very cautiously and immediately search internet for another izakaya to continue the evening, just in case….
Strangely, among all the different otoshi, some of them very unusual, this cabbage salad, served in one of our favourite izakayas, was was the most extraordinary. Having gone there twice this year, I memorised well all the ingredients and prepared it as soon as we came back. It’s by far the best raw cabbage dish I have ever eaten in my life! If you like typical Japanese flavours, I guarantee you will dream of this salad every time you see the humble cabbage in your grocery shop (at least that’s what happens to me every time I go shopping!).
TIPS: This dish is not vegetarian, but can easily become such if you skip the dried bonito flakes. (I don’t advise skipping the remaining ingredients which are essential in my opinion).
Those who never cook Japanese, might be put off by some ingredients, but they are easy to get in any Japanese grocery shop (or can be ordered by internet, at least in Europe, US or Canada).
Ponzu is a slightly sweet, slightly tangy and savoury light sauce. The tanginess comes from the Japanese citrus : yuzu.
Nori is the seaweed sheet used to make maki sushi.
Dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi) look a bit like wood flakes, but are made from very hard pieces of dried fish. They are used in the preparation of the most popular version of dashi (stock) and to put on top of dishes, such as okonomiyaki (they are delicious simply sprinkled on rice).
If you have never tasted Japanese mayonnaise, try it at least once. I consider it the best mayonnaise in the world.
I haven’t managed to shred the cabbage as finely as it’s done in Japan, but the thin slices are sufficient and are easily obtained with a mandolin.
Because of the ponzu’s tanginess, I find this salad particularly good with fried meat or fish (as long as you don’t exaggerate with the mayonnaise!). You can also serve it as a starter.
You can shred the cabbage in advance, but add the remaining ingredients only just before serving.
Preparation: about 10 minutes
Ingredients (serves two as a side-dish):
1/3 small white cabbage
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise (the Japanese mayonnaise is just perfect here)
1/2 nori sheet, shredded (the seaweed used to make maki sushi; sometimes you can find it already shredded)
4 tablespoons ponzu sauce
a small handful of dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
Shred the cabbage with a mandolin or a special shredder.
Place the cabbage into individual bowls.
Sprinkle with ponzu, add the mayonnaise, nori and bonito flakes and serve immediately.