April 3, 2012

Takoyaki: Delicious Osaka Street Food Takes Japan by Storm

Takoyaki: Delicious Osaka Street Food Takes Japan by Storm

What is Takoyaki?

Takoyaki, literally ‘grilled octopus’ in Japanese, is a savory snack hailing from Osaka, the heart of the Kansai region. It’s a konamono (dumpling made with flour) shaped like a ball and filled with succulent minced octopus. This B-class gourmet dish is a soul food of Japan, made by pouring batter into a special takoyaki pan with pieces of octopus, then topped with sauce and lots of savory condiments.

Though the concept of eating grilled octopus inside of a ball of batter may leave some people skeptical, it’s a must-try dish for anyone visiting or staying in Japan. This savory dish will have you chowing down until you wonder where it all went. Read on to find out more about how takoyaki came to be, and more importantly, how you can get your hands on it.

Where Did Takoyaki Come From?

Takoyaki was first created in 1935 by a street vendor named Tomekichi Endo. He was inspired by a dish from Hyogo Prefecture in Akashi City called Akashiyaki. Endo’s version of this street food quickly gained popularity in Osaka and spread to the rest of the Kansai region.

Takoyaki spread like wildfire to the Kanto area and other parts of Japan as well. It can now be found in small specialty shops, supermarkets and convenience stores everywhere in Japan. Takoyaki restaurants are still one of the biggest go-to places for Japanese and foreign tourists alike.

Restaurants specialized in takoyaki can be found everywhere in Osaka, and they all try to stand out either through the size and unique flavors of the ingredients they use. The typical way to eat takoyaki is with sauce, mayonnaise, and dried seaweed on top, but different regions in Japan have their own twist. Akashiyaki from Akashi in Hyogo, for example, has a richer egg taste and is dipped into soup stock before eating it, completely changing the texture. Also, unlike the original Osakan recipe, takoyaki from Kobe, Kyoto, Tokyo and Nagoya includes cabbage.

There are plenty of places to try takoyaki all over Osaka and Japan, and takoyaki pans for making takoyaki at home are sold just about anywhere. Since takoyaki is a deliciously easy dish to make, it’s a very popular snack to make at home for families, or for a “takoyaki party” with friends.

How to Make Takoyaki

Anyone can make takoyaki as long as they have the proper pan. Takoyaki pans are special in that they contain rows and rows of half spherical grooves for making a ball shape. If you’re feeling fancy, you can make your own batter, or keep it simple and use a mix (no one will judge you or know the difference). The batter is dashi based and contains flour, eggs, soy sauce, baking powder and salt. It should be runny when you’re finished with it.

Start by applying a generous amount of oil to the pan to give the finished product a crisp and satisfying texture. Pour the batter into the grooves in the pan, and add a piece of minced octopus to each. Sprinkle in some tenkatsu, or leftover tempura pieces, to give it a little crunch, followed by beni shoga (red ginger), and scallions. You can add as much or as little as you like, to taste. Next, add more batter to properly mix the ingredients together and keep the balls from losing their shape.

After a while the edges of the takoyaki batter will start to lose its shininess, like the edges of a pancake when it’s ready to be flipped. Tip: You can also flip it halfway before adding the second round of batter. Use a heavy hand when adding more batter. Continue to flip the takoyaki until it’s golden brown.

Popular Toppings

Takoyaki Sauce
The fun in eating takoyaki lies in choosing the toppings. The standard is takoyaki sauce, or Worcestershire sauce. Since it has a slightly salty taste, it goes great with beer and is a popular side dish at izakayas (Japanese gastro pubs), where there’s lots of drinking.

Japanese Mayonnaise
The next most common topping is the mayo. Japanese mayo has a slightly richer taste than American mayo, as it can be made with either apple or rice vinegar, unlike its American counterpart which is made with distilled vinegar. It contains umami, the Japanese kind of MSG that gives everything extra flavor, and is also made with egg yolk rather than a whole egg, to give it a rich, semi-golden color.

This green topping gives your food a healthy flush of color. Aonori, or seaweed flakes, are packed with vitamins like A, C, and E. It’s also a good source of nutrients like calcium and iron, to mention a couple, but mostly it just tastes great.

Bonito flakes
Bonito flakes, or katsuobushi in Japanese, finish off your takoyaki like nothing else. Made by shaving paper-thin slices of dry fermented bonito tuna, they’re salty, savory, and dance enticingly on top of your food along with the heat. Bonito flakes are not only delicious, but very Instagramable as well.

How to Eat Takoyaki

While takoyaki is most popularly eaten by sticking it with a toothpick or wooden skewer, it is also acceptable and easier to eat it with chopsticks or even a fork. One serving of takoyaki is usually six to ten pieces and comes in a long narrow paper tray. Be careful when eating these tender morsels - the outside may look cool, but the inside packs a pocket of heat that can easily burn your mouth.

Takoyaki is the Flavorful Soul Food You Absolutely Must Try

If you’re traveling to Osaka any time soon, be sure to try out some of the city’s many famous takoyaki stands and specialty restaurants. Even if you can’t make it to the Osaka area, you can find takoyaki virtually anywhere in Japan, from Hokkaido to Kyushu, and it’s a great experience to try making it yourself, too. No matter where you are in Japan, be sure to check out Gurunavi’s restaurant page for a full list of great places serving takoyaki by following the link here.

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