“Okonomiyaki is quite common where I come from – Osaka. It’s nothing fancy, it’s not posh,” Yutaka “Matsu” Matsuda tells SBS Food. “But still, when I was little, it was very special when my mom cooked it.”
Because he had no weekends off, he started inviting his friends to the store on Sundays to cook them pancakes. “One of my friends asked me why I was not doing Japanese pancakes," he says. "I’m from Osaka [where okonomiyaki originated], but doing this never crossed my mind.” The meals between friends quickly turned into a series of okonomiyaki pop-ups around Fitzroy and Collingwood, getting bigger each time.
“I could see that no one was doing okonomiyaki seriously in Melbourne, the authentic way,” he says. “At the same time, I was discovering food culture in Melbourne. People here like food that’s local, they like to know where it comes from, and they like food without MSG and additives.” That’s what inspired him to launch Papirica in Collingwood a year ago, with the help of a Kickstarter campaign.
Okonomiyaki, the Melbourne way
Okonomiyaki can be translated as “fried stuff you like”. It’s somewhere between a savoury pancake and an omelette, and it’s prepared differently across Japan.
“I could see that no one was doing okonomiyaki seriously in Melbourne, the authentic way."
Matsuda adapted his recipe to local ingredients, replacing yam with potato and okra in the batter. He’s also using shiitake and kombu instead of dashi to make the batter vegetarian.
He prepares pretty much everything from scratch, including the mayonnaise and the umami-rich sauce that tops the okonomiyaki. “In Japan, okonomiyaki is good, but no one makes homemade sauce, they usually buy packaged sauce from the supermarket. I didn’t want to use that. I started making my own mayo and sauce during the pop-ups and it attracted even more people,” he says.
While some okonomyiaki can be quite heavy and oily, the ones at Papirica are filling, but full of vegetables. There are five versions: the more traditional pork belly, seafood and spring onion (negiyaki), as well as the vegetarian and vegan options. They can be tailored with toppings like cheese, bonito flakes, mochi rice cakes, kimchi and egg. “I want people to try and find their favourite combination, but personally, I really like kimchi and cheese, it’s so good!” says Matsuda.
He didn’t think twice about including vegan and vegetarian versions on the menu: “We wanted to give people options, but still keep a very authentic style.” The vegan version, which is also gluten-free, is topped with soy mayo. For the batter, chickpea flour replaces wheat flour, and more okra is substituted for the egg.
While the menu at Papirica has a few more dishes like rice bowls, sandwiches and miso soup, the okonomiyaki is undeniably its star.
Tue – Thu 10 am – 3:30 pm; Fri 10 am – 3:30 pm and 6 – 9 pm; Sat 10 am – 4 pm and 6 – 9 pm; Sun 10 am – 4 pm
22 Smith Street, Collingwood, Vic