While some people may find the concept of eating grilled octopus a bit strange, well, takoyaki is here to change your mind. This quintessential summer dish is mostly found in festivities all over Japan. Originated from the Osaka Prefecture, takoyaki is this round, perfectly fried dish that is made with pancake batter, green onions, ginger, and of course, pieces of octopus. It’s a favorite during festivals, having them made right in front of you in food stalls. But because of its rising popularity, you can also find it in high-end restaurants, convenience stores, and because of its easy preparation that calls for familiar ingredients, you can even whip them up at home, too! Though a warning to those who will try this for the first time, takoyaki is best served while it’s piping hot but if you’re patient enough to let it cool a bit, then this glorious fried food is yours to munch on. If you got burn, though, a serving of shaved ice with a sweet syrup or an ice-cold beer can do the trick.
So what makes takoyaki special among other fried dishes in Japan? Though it looks simple, most of those who love takoyaki found comfort in eating them. You can have it as an afternoon snack or pair it with your beer. It’s a delicious cultural experience with its outside crispiness and gooey, soft inside that will surely hook you up the first time you take a bite out of it. Reinvented from the original recipe called akashiyaki, street vendor Tomekichi Endo did some tweaking and gave birth to the sensational takoyaki dish in 1935. Endo’s creation swept off the nation and a lot of people raved about the said dish. Now, you can have a taste of takoyaki anywhere, from food stalls in the streets, specialty takoyaki shops, convenience stores, and restaurants. Typically, takoyaki is served with a special sweet sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, and dried seaweed on top. However, many have tried adding their own twist to their takoyaki dish. In Akashi, takoyaki has a richer egg taste that cuts through every time you chew it and is actually recommended to be dipped in soup stock before eating it. Some add shredded cabbage instead of the usual green onions in the recipe.
How to Make Takoyaki
There are plenty of places all over Japan where you can eat takoyaki but if you fancy making one, you can always do it at home. It only calls for a few ingredients. However, you’re going to need a special pan to fry these octopus balls. It’s a heavy, cast iron pan with half-spherical molds. This is what makes the takoyaki special. Now, for the batter. You can always make one from scratch but if you don’t have time, you can always opt for a pre-mix. The batter is typically made with flour, dashi, eggs, baking powder, salt, and soy sauce. You may find the batter runny but once cooked, it’s going to be fluffy.
Once everything is ready, it’s time to cook. When your pan is ready and hot, apply a generous amount of oil to avoid sticking and to give it off the familiar crispy texture once it’s done. After that, pour the batter into the pan and then your other ingredients. Start by adding pieces of octopus then green onions, ginger, and if you have it, tenkatsu (leftover tempura pieces). Add more batter to keep the ingredients together. Once it starts to lose the glossiness, you can now flip the takoyaki and cook it until you achieve the perfect golden brown hue.
How to Eat Takoyaki
To enhance the flavor, you can always add toppings. Now, this is the fun part because you get to experiment what goes well with your takoyaki.
The sauce, which is actually Worcestershire Sauce, is actually the standard one used in takoyaki. Since Worcestershire Sauce has a salty taste, it goes perfectly well with ice cold beer. This duo is mostly found in izakayas. Another popular topping is the mayonnaise. It may sound strange to pair these octopus balls with mayonnaise but it actually works! Made with rice vinegar and egg yolks, Japanese mayonnaise has a richer taste than what most western ones produce and because it uses egg yolks instead of the whole egg, it has a more pronounced yellow hue close to semi-gold hue. Of course, let’s not forget katsuobushi (bonito flakes). This salty, paper-thin fermented bonito tuna is probably the most interesting part because of the way they look like they’re dancing on top of takoyaki.
Eaten by sticking in with a toothpick or wooden skewer, takoyaki can also be eaten while using fork or chopsticks. Whichever works for you. Of course, one must be careful when eating takoyaki because it may look already cool on the outside but the gooey inside is usually still piping hot from all the cooking. Wait for a little and we’re sure you’re going to have a fine time eating these delectable octopus balls.
Best Places to Eat Takoyaki in Tokyo
Because of how convenient it is, it’s no wonder that takoyaki is one of those dishes you find comfort just by eating it. Easy to make, you can always make one at home but if you fancy dining out to get your hands on these delicious octopus balls, you can always find it being sold in food stalls and restaurants.
- Gindako (several chains all over Japan) is probably the most popular takoyaki restaurant in the country. Started out in 1997, the business grew big and now they have several other chains in Asia. A must try is their ebi tartar and cheese mentaiko.
- If you like it traditional, then you should try Ginza Fukuyoshi (3-12-19 Ginza Chuo-ku Tokyo). Their takoyaki is fluffy may be the fluffiest one you’ll ever have with a crispy exterior. Their batter, which is always made from scratch, has dashi which makes it richer.
- Takohachi (7-2-12 Ginza Chuo-ku, Tokyo) actually originated in Osaka and brought the business in Tokyo in 1979. Their style of eating takoyaki follows an old tradition that instead of being served with sauces, takoyaki is dipped in dashi to enhance the flavor. They strictly don’t let the guests eat the takoyaki with the sauce.
- If you don’t like waiting for a long time, then Tempu (1-5 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo) is the one for you. Though it only started last 2014, it already garnered attention and because popular in just a year. They offer takoyaki, beer, and oden to their guests and if you want your takoyaki ready, you can always call ahead of time and order them in advance. Pretty nice, right?
- Do you fancy your takoyaki with truffle? How about lemon or garlic? Well, you can try some of those in Takoazabu (3-40-3 Jingumae Shibuya-ku, Tokyo). It’s an izakaya-style takoyaki restaurant which is home to 11 types of takoyaki! Whether you feel like indulging with a takoyaki topped with truffle or want to keep it simple with some lemon and pepper, they just got the perfect takoyaki dish for you. Pair it with beer or sake and you’re good to go.
So the next time you’re in Tokyo, whether you’re in a festival or walking around the streets and looking for something special and unique to eat, try munching some of these delicious octopus balls and we’re pretty sure you’re going to love it.
She’s cooking and baking for her family and friends. She finds grocery shopping therapeutic, always takes the longest time in the Asian section and debates with herself whether she needs that extra pack of instant ramen. A lover of sweets, she dreams of owning a patisserie and publishing her book but most of the time, she’s just really thinking of what to eat for breakfast the next day.