Squid is quite a common foodstuff in Europe as well as Asia, however in Osaka, they have their own, special way of preparing this simple, yet delicious dish.
What is Ikayaki?
Putting it in the simplest possible terms. Ikayaki is grilled squid. Ika meaning squid, and yaki meaning to grill or cook.
However, as is always the case with traditional Japanese cuisine, there’s so much more to this story than just this mere simplistic outline.
I remember the very first time I tried Ikayaki. It was in Kyoto, back in 2006. I had only been living in Japan for a matter of weeks. My then girlfriend and I were taking a boat trip from Otsu to Arashiyama. Much to my surprise, though not hers as she’d seen all this before, another boat pulled up alongside our own. They were selling food and drinks.
Knowing little of the food and culture of Kansai at that time (I was still living and working in Tokyo), I asked my girlfriend to choose something for me.
I was then presented with this strange, pungent, yet pleasant white, rubbery meat on a stick, which appeared to have been glazed with some kind of sweet soy sauce.
It was a little salty, but nonetheless, delicious.
And so my love affair with the beautiful simplicity of Ikayaki began that day.
Several girlfriends have come and gone since then, but my love of ikayaki remains constant!
Varieties of Ikayaki
Since any kind of grilled squid is, technically speaking, classed as ikayaki, then this is a dish you will see presented in many different ways. As I previously mentioned, the basic squid on a stick, with either a glaze or a sprinkling of sweet soy sauce is popular, and indeed is a staple of most seasonal festivals and mass gatherings in the Kansai area, especially Osaka.
However, if you go to a local restaurant, or izakaya, another popular way to present ikayaki is to have an entire squid torso chopped into rings, similar in some respects to Italian calamari, but grilled as opposed to the breaded and fried rings used in Italy.
The rings are then served with a splashing of sweet soy and a dollop of mayonaise for dipping.
You can also get the batter and fried variety in Japan if you wish, but this would be called ika tempura rather than ikayaki. Personally, I think squid is better when it’s grilled as it seems to retain more flavour.
Where to buy Ikayaki
Ikayaki is perhaps one of the most common, and therefore easiest to find foods of all those mentioned here on our site. However, each venue will have their own take on how it is served. If you like your ikayaki flame grilled and then served on a skewer, then street food stalls, like those found along the Dotombori or at one of the many food vendors found at each and every summer festival in Osaka are probably your best bet.
However, if you prefer your ikayaki plated up and served with some mayonaise, and my personal preference, a little lemon juice, then an izakaya is probably a better choice for you.
Each izakaya has their own menu, but in more than a decade of going to such establishments on a regular basis, I have yet to see any that didn’t sell ikayaki.
Sometimes, especially during the summer festival season, some of the larger convenience stores may also sell ikayaki. However, I would advise against buying your squid skewers here.
Whilst I’m sure that these places always work to the highest possible hygiene standards, I personally don’t like eating seafood that has been sitting in a hot box for several hours, so I think getting your ikayaki cooked fresh to order off of a street vendor is the way to go.
How to make Ikayaki
Making your own ikayaki at home is surprisingly easy. If you enjoy having barbecues in the summer, then ikayaki is also a great way to show your guests some more sophisticated fare than the usual hot dogs and hamburgers . It’s also a whole lot easier to make than either of these two barbecue staples too.
You’ll need the following ingredients.
500 grams of raw squid (you can use tentacles, but squid bodies are easier to work with.
Light soy sauce
Jar of mayonaise
Begin by chopping your squid into small chunks. If you’re going to cook it on your barbecue then get that set up too. Otherwise, pre-heat your frying pan to a medium with a little sesame oil. Before cooking, glaze your squid with some soy sauce, and a sprinkling of black pepper.
Next put your squid onto the skewers (if barbecuing) or into the pan if using the cooker, and be sure to turn regularly during cooking until cooked all the way through.
Finally, serve your skewkers, or slices of squid, with mayonaise, a little more black pepper and a sprinkling of lemon juice.
I recomend a can of citrus chu-hi as an accompaniment if you can find it. If not, then a nice, fruity alcopop of your choice will also be fine.
However, there truly is no substitute for a delicious squid skewer cooked right in front of you, whilst one of Osaka’s festivals plays out in front of you. Ikayaki isn’t just a street food, it is its own cultural experience!