People from all across Japan flock to Osaka regularly to sample both the local and international delights it has to offer.
However today we are here to discuss not the various imports to Osaka’s food culture, but perhaps its finest export: Takoyaki!
What is Takoyaki?
Translated to English, Takoyaki means grilled octopus, but that is only the most basic of descriptors.
Takoyaki is made by cooking small pieces of finely chopped octopus in a thick and fluffy batter.
The most common way to do this is using a takoyaki maker.
In design, it looks similar to an electric sandwich toaster, or the famous “George Foreman” Grill.
It comprises a two-sided hotplate, with spherical indents. Into each of these indents we place one piece of octopus and then fill it with some of the batter and then close the lid and wait about 3 or 4 minutes.
The perfectly cooked takoyaki should be cooked right through, light, but not runny in the center.
Varieties of Takoyaki
Takoyaki has been a favourite snack of the people of Osaka for generations. Over the years, as tastes and preferences have evolved, so too has takoyaki evolved into a range of different flavours and styles.
The most common way to eat takoyaki is with a sweet brown sauce, mayonaise and some spring onion sprinkled over the top. Finally the whole thing is given a decidely fishy flavour when topped off with dried bonito flakes.
The first time you try takoyaki, I recommend going for this traditional style, to give you a truly authentic experience.
However, if you’re already something of takoyaki veteran and want to sample something a little more cutting-edge, then local stalls also offer a variety of different flavours you can try.
Takoyaki with Wasabi (spicy Japanese radish) flavoured mayonaise is one of my personal favourites.
Also popular among both locals and visitors are takoyaki coated in curry powder, curry sauce covered takoyaki and even “pizza” takoyaki, a form of takoyaki topped off with cheese and tomato.
Where to buy Takoyaki
Most izakaya-style restaurants and indeed quite a few bars and cafes in Osaka will sell takoyaki. However, Takoyaki is a street food and as such it is best enjoyed from one of the many stalls you will find on the street in the more touristy areas. In Japanese, these vendors are called “yatai”. In winter, in addition to Takoyaki, many of them also sell “Taiyaki” which is a sweet made from mochi and stuffed with a sweet filling. This is usually either anko (sweet red beans), whipped cream, chocolate or custard.
During those cold months, these stalls also sometimes sell “Yakiimo” which is a sweet potato baked over hot coals.
Supermarkets also sell bags of frozen takoyaki, to which you can later add your own seasonings and sauces.
Then again, perhaps you prefer to make your own takoyaki at home.
How to make Takoyaki
Despite seldom being sold outside of Japan, Takoyaki is actually remarkably easy to make, provided you know what youre doing. Here’s a handy guide to make your own takoyaki for two in a little over 30 minutes.
200 grams of regular flour
500ml of water
a pinch of salt
a dash of ponzu (Japanese citrus fruit juice) if you don’t have ponzu then lemon juice will suffice.
chopped spring onion (1 small bunch)
chopped octopus pieces
Start by mixing the flour, eggs and water together in a large bowl. Mix them thoroughly, until they are a nice smooth paste.
Next, move on to your octopus. Be sure it is chopped into small pieces, about the size of your thumbnail is ideal.
If you have a Takoyaki maker, then this next stage will be much easier, if not then you can use a baking tray with spherical holes.
Grease each hole with a small amount of oil, then place one piece of octopus inside. Spinkle the spring onions equally amongst all the holes, likewise for your ginger.
Finally fill each hole with batter mix.
If you have a takoyaki maker, then heat the mixture according to its instruction manual.
If you’re using a conventional oven, place the takoyaki in the oven and heat on a medium heat for about 2-3 minutes, until the mixture appears solid.
At this point, carefully remove them from the oven and using a spoon, gently turn each individual takoyaki over. Return them to the oven and heat for a further 3-4 minutes until they are a nice golden brown on the outside.
For garnish, takoyaki sauce is ideal but if dont have it then a sweet brown sauce such as HP makes a decent substitute. Mayonaise is also a good idea.
If you like things a little more spicy, then I personally like a little bit of french mustard on there too.
Whatever way you take your takoyaki, it’s a taste sensation not to be missed.