Two words, like ‘low-fat sausage’ and ‘mid-strength Guinness’, that are enough to send most Irishmen running away in mortal fear – to the arms of their mammy or the local chip shop.
For years I counted myself among them.
I am part of a generation that was raised on cabbage one way – boiled. In salted water, if you were lucky.
It was green and floppy and it was served with bacon. It filled you up and then you went back outside for another three hours of football.
There were something we had once a year, crepe-style, on Shrove Tuesday. They tasted better than cabbage and bacon but they were such a rarity on our plate back then that we forgot they even existed for most of the year.
Until that one February mealtime when we ate ourselves in a batter stupor.
But cabbage and pancake on one plate? At the same time?
Suggesting that in mid-1980s Ireland would have landed you some odd looks – and an instruction to finish the rest of those turnips (but that’s a post for another day).
Fast forward to 2010 and I’m standing on Great Russell Street in London. After three hours wandering around the British Museum I’m hungry.
And so followed my first experience with cabbage pancakes. Or, as the Japanese call the dish, okonomiyaki.
It turned out to be be more hands-on that I expected. My table was a hot plate (or teppan), I was handed two spatula and presented with the mixed raw ingredients: cabbage, bacon, pork, in a flour and water batter.
After a few minutes of pretending to know what I was doing I had something approaching okonomiyaki.
Using the tonkatsu sauce to cover a multitude of culinary sins I sized up, and quickly inhaled my first cabbage pancake.
Four years on I’ve eaten some incredible Japanese food, from the sushi served at my wife’s favourite spot in LA to sashimi overlooking the Pacific at Big Sur to, best of all, my mother-in-law’s New Year’s Day feast.
Until last week, I never returned to okonomiyaki though.
That changed when Clare, having come across an easy recipe for tonkatsu sauce, decided to put a spare head of cabbage to use.
She shredded and mixed it with beetroot, courgette and prosciutto, producing a savoury pancake she topped with Japanese mayo and her homemade tonkatsu sauce.
The result was the incredible comfort food – tangy, moreish, salty, substantial. And not unhealthy either.
It was the answer to my hunger pangs, the Sunday blues, the question ‘what’s your death row meal?’ and, possibly, my dreams.
In fact it left only one question.
What would the six year old cabbage-eating me have made of it?