- Okonomiyaki is referred to as Japanese pizza because you top it with what you like.
Shibumi Tatsuta was born in Japan, his mother an American model and his father a Japanese DJ known for bringing popping—a funk style of street dance—to Osaka. Shibumi, which roughly translates to "old school cool and beautiful," was named after the book, "Shibumi," a thriller written by Rodney William Whitaker. When he was four he and his mom moved to the U.S., moving to Bend as a teenager and attending Summit High School. After he turned 18 he made his way back to Japan.
Tatsuta spent his time in Osaka working his way through the food industry, washing dishes and tending bar. His dad's best friend owned a disco that served food, where Tatsuta would watch the teppan, or grill top. When he turned 19 he tried it. Tatsuta said, unlike the internships in the U.S., "You watch and learn in Japan. They don't tell you what to do. If you don't get it, it's your fault." Tatsuta learned to cook Italian, prepared food at a concert hall and even spent time as a dancer and choreographer for Emotion Rise, a company staging flash mob wedding proposals. Watch a video of that on YouTube; it's wild.
When Tatsuta lost his dad in 2010 he started to take food seriously, searching for that one food he wanted to make over and over. He found okonomiyaki, one of the original street foods of Japan that started in the 1930s. It's a grilled, savory frittata-like pancake made with batter, cabbage and egg topped with a sweet, thick Worcestershire-like sauce and Kewpie, a smooth, creamy mayonnaise made with rice vinegar. It's predominantly associated with the largest region in Kansai, Osaka.
- Yakisoba is thick, fried buckwheat noodles stir-fried with carrots, cabbage and onions.
Okonomiyaki means, "Cook what you like," because you can choose your own toppings: pork belly, octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables or cheese. It's referred to as Japanese pizza, but it tastes nothing like the Italian version.
After 10 years in Japan, Tatsuta missed his family and moved back to Bend. Last month he opened Shibumi's Okonomiyaki Yakisoba, a food truck serving three dishes: okonomiyaki, yakisoba and modanyaki.
I've never tried anything the cart serves, so I took a friend, Leela Morimoto, who grew up in Osaka, to help me determine the authenticity of the cuisine. She was stoked. Morimoto told me, "I can't have 95 percent of the food I ate in Japan in Bend. So being able to taste something from home makes me less homesick." We ordered the yakisoba and the modanyaki and added pork belly and a fried egg to both.
Yakisoba is stir-fried wheat noodles with cabbage, carrots, onions and finished with yakisoba sauce, similar to oyster sauce. Morimoto, a self-proclaimed noodle snob, said the yakisoba noodles were springy and perfect. She was also impressed with the cook on the carrots, which still had a bite to them. She grabbed a carrot with her chopsticks so I could try. I moved toward her with my chopsticks and she set the carrot on my plate. "You don't pass food on chopsticks," Morimoto said, "You only do that at funerals when you pass the bone fragments of the deceased." Good to know.
I tried my modanyaki—okonomiyaki topped with yakisoba noodles crisped on the grill. It was covered with seaweed flakes, bonito flakes and a small pile of pink pickled ginger—hearty and delicious. I think my favorite part was the crispiness of the noodles and the sweet heat of the pickled ginger. I wasn't able to finish my modanyaki. I was eating it with Monkless Belgian beer and I filled up fast.
- Like his father bringing a bit of American culture to Japan, Shibumi Tatsuta brought some of his Japanese culture to Bend by introducing us to okonomiyaki.
Tatsuta came out to talk to us. He's a young, casual guy, more comfortable when he was able to speak Japanese with my friend. Tatsuta and Morimoto discovered they lived in Osaka two train stops away from each other. Their Japanese dialect, Kansai-ben, is very distinctive, similar to running into someone with a Boston accent. If you were to compare it to someone from Tokyo, you would notice the tone is brighter and more animated.
Tatsuta's cart, called Shibumi's, recently moved from its Arizona Avenue location. On Saturdays, find the cart at Monkless Belgian Ales—but check in with their Facebook page to see where they land during the week.
Shibumi's Okonomiyaki Yakisoba
At Monkless Belgian Ales on Saturdays; check other locations on Facebook
20750 NE High Desert Ln #107, Bend