Takoyaki… little balls of joy! A common sight at any matsuri (Japanese festival), takoyaki are one of the best street foods in Japan. Crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, these octopus balls are made simply of batter, boiled octopus, green onions and tempura bits. A very delicious snack.
Like okonomiyaki, takoyaki originated in Osaka. One of the biggest cities in Japan, Osaka is known to be a little rough around the edges, and its people are a bit more rowdy and straightforward then those from other parts of the country. Takoyaki—being something you commonly eat standing, usually with a glass of beer or whiskey, and often late at night—definitely reflects the area it’s from. Surprisingly, takoyaki has only been around in its current form since the 1930s. It was created by a street vendor as a variation to akashiyaki, a round egg-based dumpling from Hyogo.
The flour-based takoyaki quickly became a popular dish, and these days you’ll not only see it at festivals, but countless permanent locations all over the country. The most famous place to get your takoyaki fix is the chain store, Gindaco. There are around 100 branches in Tokyo alone.
I have to admit when I first came to Japan, just the idea of octopus balls put me off. I was never much of a seafood fan, and octopus wasn’t something I had ever eaten before. All I could think about were their tentacles. One day a friend bought some takoyaki from a local shop. I tried one, and as soon as I bit into it, I realised what the fuss was all about. The freshly made balls were so hot, but the sauces and toppings mixed with the cooked batter were just too delicious for words! The piece of octopus inside was surprisingly soft and small enough that it wasn’t difficult to chew. I loved it so much I went and got my own. And I’ve been hooked ever since!
銀だこ Gindaco (chain)
たこ坊 Takobo (Miyanosaka)
ラヂオ焼き Rajioyaki (Sangenjaya)
For a standard takoyaki order, the chef will brush a thin layer of takoyaki sauce over the top. Then he’ll add mayonnaise, powdered seaweed called aonori and lastly bonito flakes called katsuobushi. I love when the bonito flakes dance around like they’re alive!
Most shops also offer their own original take on takoyaki. Some of the more common non-standard toppings are salt, cheese, pickled ginger, ponzu citrus sauce, soy sauce, green onions, lemon, coriander, teriyaki sauce and even truffle sauce.
くれおーる Creo-ru (Shibuya)
Change It Up
For those who don’t like octopus, there are basically no limits to what you can replace it with. It’s up to your imagination…
My favourite? Chocolate! One of the best memories I have of making takoyaki myself is a takoyaki party a colleague held in the teacher’s lounge at school. Instead of using octopus, we popped little square blocks of chocolate in the middle of the batter. The result was amazing. Oozy chocolate takoyaki!
For a more daring variation, a popular game to play with friends is ‘takoyaki roulette’. You make the takoyaki as usual, except one of the balls gets filled with wasabi, mustard, natto, miso paste or whatever grosses you out the most. When the takoyaki are ready, it’s impossible to tell which is the odd one out. You and your friends take turns choosing and eating one—it’s hilarious watching everyone squirm, and even funnier when inevitably that one person panics then runs to the kitchen sink!
Would you be game to play takoyaki roulette?! What is the strangest food you’ve ever had?
Make sure you check out my previous post on Delicious Japanese Dishes: Tempura.