One of Japan’s most delicious market foods are takoyaki, fried balls of batter with octopus bits inside; all covered by a sweet sauce, mayonnaise and bonito flakes. They’re cooked on a special pan with hundreds of round, scalloped holes. Served in platters of a dozen or so, and with a toothpick or skewer to eat them with, takoyaki are a great snack to wander around a Japanese yatai (open air market) with.
As a treasured street food, takoyaki can be found absolutely everywhere. They might be found set up outside shrines, like Fushimi Inari, or in the centre of high-rise entertainment districts, like Dotonbori in Osaka. There is usually a giant octopus nearby to let you know you’re in for a treat!
How Takoyaki Are Made
The batter is made of wheat flour, eggs, baking powder, daishi, salt and soy sauce. The batter is poured into a mold on a special takoyaki pan, which has dozens of circular wells lined up. As the batter cooks, tempura scraps and green onion are sprinkled over, and a few chunks of octopus are placed into the batter. More batter is added over the top until the entire hotplate is smothered in runny batter.
As the batter cooks, the chefs turn the takoyaki over with a pair of chopsticks to reveal a golden underside. The batter is still mostly raw, however, as the next half is left to cook. The balls are repeatedly turned, with stray batter folded into the main shape. The excess batter is folded into the ball again and again, and a ball shape begin to form in the ball-shaped mold.
When the takoyaki are perfectly spherical, and a delicious golden brown colour covers the outside, they are scooped into a little serving tray. The octopus balls are covered with kezuribushi (bonito flakes) which dance and turn with the heat, Japanese mayonnaise, sweet takoyaki sauce (similar to barbeque sauce), and powdered nori.
Ready to eat! The takoyaki are soft and fluffy, with chewy bits of octopus to give it an amazing seafood flavour.
Origins of Takoyaki
The inventor of takoyaki is an Osakan street vendor named Tomekichi Endo, who started selling takoyaki in 1935. It is based on a similar dish, akashiyaki, an octopus dumpling with an loose egg-rich batter. The akashiyaki is dipped into a dipping sauce. From his shop Aizuyu in Osaka, Endo’s early takoyaki contained beef and konjac. He soon experimented by combining elements of akashiyaki with choboyaki, a lumpy square pancake of flour, water and ginger batter. Endo added octopus, and before long he had an octopus ball that people loved.
Takoyaki is one of Osaka’s trademark dishes, along with yakisoba and okonomiyaki. They grew in popularity around the Kansai region, and eventually all over Japan. They can be found at virtually any yatai (street market), and even in some restaurants. Now a Japanese cuisine classic, it’s always remained one of Osaka’s biggest bragging points.
Inspired by Takoyaki
Takoyaki has been a national icon since its conception. And Japanese people have delighted in celebrating this wonderful street snack in all kids of different ways!
The Takoyaki Museum
Indeed, takoyaki is so beloved that you can even visit the takoyaki museum in Osaka! Just outside Universal City Station is the museum, decorated in bright lights like a circus. Visitors can taste takoyaki in the food court , learn about its history, play games and shop for takoyaki-themed souvenirs.
6562 Takoyaki Asteroid
There is an asteroid named after takoyaki, the 6562 Takoyaki. It orbits the sun somewhere between Mara and Jupiter, and was discovered by astronomer Masayuki Yanai. The unusual name was chosen from 5 candidate names read to a group of children at a space-themed event, with the loudest applause deciding the winner.
Takoyaki Animated Superheroes – Takoyaki Mantoman
Takoyaki even have their own superheroes! An animated TV series called Takoyaki Mantoman ran from 1990 to 1999, which featured a team of caped Takoyaki superheroes that fought crime. The 5 figures had coloured suits, huge round takoyaki heads, and a small octopus tentacle sprouting from the tops of their heads.
With a museum and even as asteroid named after takoyaki, there’s certainly a lot of love for these humble octopus balls from Osaka. When visiting Japan, it’s a great idea to pick up a serving of takoyaki to enjoy while you explore – and seeing as they’re one of Japan’s favourite snacks, they aren’t hard to find!