For those heading to Japan’s cities located in the west, particularly Osaka, expect to come across a variety of local snacks. Osaka is known as the go-to place to indulge in seafood, serving as one of the country’s main ports for trading. As such, many delicacies originating from Osaka make use of squid, fish, octopus, or eel. Okonomiyaki is the city’s most famous dish, which can be eaten as a snack or as a full meal, closely followed by an octopus-enhanced dish, takoyaki.
What are Takoyaki Balls?
Takoyaki balls are basically balls of batter and diced octopus, mixed with several other ingredients that make it packed full of flavor with every bite. The maker of the snack is believed to be Tomekichi Endo, a local street vendor who came across a kind of dumpling called Akashiyaki during a trip to Akashi city in the Hyogo Prefecture back in the 1930s.
Akashiyaki, which is still being sold across Japan to this day, is a dumpling made from octopus and egg based batter. It also goes by the name tamagoyaki, which means grilled egg. Tomekichi greatly loved the snack and decided to modify and improve it by using a wheat flour based batter, instead.
Takoyaki gets its name from the words tako, which means octopus, and yaki, which comes from the word yaku, the term used to refer to the Japanese cooking method of frying or grilling. The snack easily became popular in the Kansai region, then the Kanto region, and later to the other parts of Japan.
What are the Key Ingredients for Takoyaki Balls?
Ever since it was made in 1935, several variations of the takoyaki have surfaced. The Osaka-style takoyaki, for example, does not use cabbage but other takoyaki recipes from regions like Nagoya, Kyoto, Kobe, and Tokyo do.
Many other ingredients may be added to the original takoyaki recipe, but removing some may not result into a food that could still be considered as a variant of the snack. The essence of authentic takoyaki lies on these five main ingredients:
Tako, or octopus, can be purchased raw or cooked in several supermarkets and grocery stores. Tako is initially boiled before being diced and added into the batter. Any part of the octopus can be used for takoyaki but the most commonly used are the tentacles.
- Dashi-flavored Batter
Dashi is a broth made by simmering kombu (kelp) and kezurikatsuo (preserved and fermented tuna shavings) in water. This broth is often used as a cooking stock for Japanese cuisine and also as an additive to the batter of grilled foods for more flavor. It can be made at home but is also available in granulated and instant forms at many grocery stores.
This stock is mixed with flour, eggs, baking powder, soy sauce, and salt to make takoyaki batter. Just as some people have a hard time making pancake batter from scratch and purchase pancake mixes instead, takoyaki mixes can also be bought at many Japanese supermarkets.
Tenkasu, or tempura scraps, is an essential ingredient for getting the rich and umami flavors of takoyaki just right. Umami is a popular term used by the Japanese to refer to the fifth taste after sour, sweet, bitter, and salty. It has no equivalent term in English but is closely associated with the words meaty and savory. Tenkasu also adds to the creaminess and crispness of takoyaki.
- Beni Shoga
Beni Shoga, or pickled red ginger, gives takoyaki a pungent kick of spiciness and a lovely pop of color to its mostly yellow batter.
- Green Onion
With the yellow and red colors brought by the batter and beni shoga, it just makes sense to add green onions to make it look more balanced and appetizing.
Are Takoyaki Balls Made Using a Special Takoyaki Pan, Maker, or Grill?
Given that takoyaki majorly consists of batter, they can only be made using a takoyakikki or takoyaki-nabe, a special pan or grill made of cast iron with molds that come in the shape of half spheres. The material allows for an even distribution of heat all throughout the griddle’s entirety.
The takoyaki batter is poured over the pan’s molds. During the cooking process, a pick is often used to turn and pull the takoyaki balls from the rounded cavities.
Japanese street vendors often use gas-fired takoyaki makers but electric and stovetop variants are available for home use. Several appliance stores, supermarkets, and groceries in Japan sell different takoyaki pans and grills.
Are Takoyaki Balls Eaten Plain, with Salt, or with a Special Sauce?
The most popular way of serving and eating takoyaki balls is to arrange them in six to eight pieces and covering them with takoyaki sauce, green onions, green seaweed, and dried bonito flakes. However, tourists should not be surprised if their order is given to them with no toppings, especially when in Osaka.
Takoyaki balls in Osaka are often rich in flavor so many street vendors serve them plain or with some salt and soy sauce. The locals prefer to eat takoyaki salted and say that this is the best way to appreciate each of its ingredients’ flavors.
Tourists are highly encouraged to try it as the locals would before trying other variants. Takoyaki balls have a crispy exterior but are filled with a soft and smooth dough-like mixture. It is best eaten hot, but not in one bite as the inside can burn one’s tongue.
The Basic Takoyaki Recipe (with Calories per Serving)
Foreigners who want to try their hand at making Japanese snacks can easily follow this basic takoyaki and takoyaki sauce recipe at home. A takoyaki pan is needed, though, as previously mentioned. For those who were not able to purchase one during their trip to Japan, several online stores, fortunately, carry the item. This recipe is meant to produce 26 takoyaki balls, each piece having 75 calories.
- 2 scallions or green onions
- 1 tbsp of beni shoga
- 120 grams of cooked octopus
- 1/4 cup of katsuobushi or dried bonito flakes
- 1 cup of all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp of baking powder
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp of soy sauce
- 1 1/2 cup of dashi
- 2 tbsp of no-flavor oil
- 1/3 cup of tenkasu
- Finely slice and mince the green onions and beni shoga.
- Dice the octopus into bite-size pieces (about half an inch).
- Grind the katsuobushi until it turns into a fine powder.
- Combine and mix the all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
- Add in the eggs, soy sauce, and dashi to the powder mix.
- Whisk all the ingredients together until a well-blended batter is formed.
- Transfer the batter to a handled cup, pitcher, or any other container with a spout for easy handling and pouring during the cooking process.
- Place the takoyaki pan over a medium heat and brush the whole surface (holes and flat areas) with oil.
- When the pan is smoking hot, the batter can then be poured over the holes. It is alright for the batter to overflow a bit to the griddle’s flat areas.
- Add in one to three pieces of octopus to each piece.
- Sprinkle katsuobushi powder, tenkasu, beni shoga, and green onions on top.
- After three to five minutes or after the bottom side of each takoyaki ball has hardened, split the batter located on the flat areas using a skewer. Turn each ball 90 degrees from its original position, making sure to stuff in its edges while turning. The uncooked batter inside each piece will create the other site of the takoyaki ball.
- Set a timer to four minutes.
- Continue to turn each ball from time to time to create a perfectly round shape.
- After the four minutes are done, take out the takoyaki balls from the holes and place onto a plate.
Takoyaki Sauce Ingredients:
- 3 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp of mentsuyu*
- 3/4 tsp of sugar
- 1/2 tsp of ketchup
- Combine and whisk all ingredients in a bowl.
- Adjust sauce according to taste.
*Mentsuyu is a Japanese soup base often used in noodle dishes but can also be used as a sauce for many other dishes. It can be made at home using sake, soy sauce, mirin, kombu, and bonito flakes. Mentsuyu can also be bought at many Japanese grocery stores.
Important Tips to Follow when Making Takoyaki
To guarantee that the resulting takoyaki balls from the recipe above will look and taste authentic, these 3 tips should be noted:
Tip 1 – Use a generous amount of oil
The takoyaki pan must be liberally brushed with oil. Each hole should be filled with about ¼ inch of oil to keep the takoyaki from sticking to it. Using more oil will also result in crispier takoyaki balls.
Tip 2 – Pour just the right amount of batter over each hole
It is alright to have the batter slightly overflow from each hole but not so much that adding the octopus pieces will create a massive mess on the griddle. If the octopus pieces are big in size, the batter should fill each hole just nearing its top edge.
Tip 3 – The first turn should be 90 degrees
For a nice round shape, each takoyaki ball should initially be turned about 90 degrees. The extra batter and uncooked batter should be stuffed and pushed into the holes while turning.
The Osaka Takoyaki Museum
As Osaka is the birthplace of takoyaki, it is not surprising that the city has a museum dedicated to just that. For tourists who find museums boring, do not immediately dismiss the idea of making a visit to this particular one as it is more focused on providing a gastronomical experience than an educational one.
The Osaka Takoyaki Museum is just a short walk away from the theme park of Universal Studios. It was opened after the government received a number of complaints from tourists regarding the lack of authentic takoyaki sellers. As such, the museum is filled with different takoyaki specialty restaurants from different parts of Japan.
Visitors can find a charming little shrine just after the museum’s entrance. This shrine is dedicated to Ebisu, the god of luck and fishermen. It is believed that the presence of Ebisu at the museum helps make the takoyaki balls turn out perfectly round and savory.
The prices of the takoyaki balls sold at the museum do not vary greatly from each other (450 – 1200 yen per order). This allows visitors to appreciate all the variations of takoyaki based on taste alone. The takoyaki museum is also a great place to see the skill and agility many Japanese chefs have.
There are also several souvenir shops inside the museum that sell local goods and all things related to takoyaki, even key chains and stuffed toys. The takoyaki museum does not have an admission charge but, of course, tourists should bring enough cash with them to indulge in the smorgasbord of takoyaki balls.
Takoyaki Near Me – Osaka, Japan
Osaka is, of course, the best place to eat and enjoy authentic takoyaki. Tourists can find the snack at yatais, or mobile food carts, but there are also takoyaki specialty restaurants scattered around the city. Some of the highly recommended ones are:
Kougaryu is a famous restaurant located in Osaka’s Amerikamura area. Many local television shows and magazines have featured the store several times for its flavorful takoyaki. It is among Kansai’s best takoyaki restaurants. Their menu items are priced from 300 to 600 yen.
Wanaka is another one of Kansai’s best takoyaki restaurants and is Kougaryu’s main rival when it comes to being No. 1. They serve their takoyaki balls plain, with salt, with soy sauce, or with their original sauce for 300 - 600 yen per order.
Takohachi is the go-to place for those who want to personally add the sauce and toppings to their order. It is highly recommended that guests first try their takoyaki balls plain before adding condiments.
Umaiya is a famous shop in Tenma and is highly respected by the locals. Their crispy takoyaki balls have a simple taste but are loved by many.
- Jabon Souhonten
Jabon Souhonten’s takoyaki balls are very soft and have a thick consistency inside. Guests can choose from a variety of toppings including mayonnaise, kimchi, and spring onions. Their okonomiyaki and noodle dishes are also highly recommended.
- Takoyaki Dotonbori Kukuru
Takoyaki Dotonbori Kukuri can easily be spotted in the Dotonbori area with its huge octopus sign. It is one of the best takoyaki restaurants in the area and makes use of big octopus pieces. As such, they have named their best-selling takoyaki dish Bikkuri Takoyaki, which means surprising takoyaki, as the octopus pieces often protrude from the balls. Their items are priced at 500 – 800 yen.
Takoyaki Near Me – Tokyo, Japan
In Tokyo, takoyaki is more popular as a summer snack food often eaten at festivals. However, the city is also home to a few takoyaki stalls and specialty restaurants that make the snack every day of the year.
- Ginza Fukuyoshi
Ginza Fukuyoshi is located in Ginza and offers Kansai-style takoyaki. Their takoyaki balls are very rich in flavor and are best eaten without any additional sauce or toppings. Many guests describe their takoyaki as a crunchy ball with a fluffy center.
- Tempu Shibuya
Tempu Shibuya just recently opened in 2014 but easily gained popularity for their izakaya-style (gastropub or bar) restaurant. Customers can enjoy their meals with a beer or sake on the side. It is a good place to enjoy a meal alone or with a friend. They also accept take-out and advanced orders.
- Takohachi Ginza
Takohachi was established in Osaka back in 1979 and has since expanded to the different regions of Japan. Tourists in the Kansai region can visit their branch in Ginza to experience their original approach to eating takoyaki. Before takoyaki balls were topped with a variety of sauces and ingredients, they were initially just dipped into dashi. Takohachi maintains this traditional way and does not allow customers to eat their takoyaki with any other sauce.
Eating balls of octopus covered in pancake-like batter may be quite weird and unheard of for many foreigners. However, the taste of octopus is actually not that prominent when it comes to takoyaki, so tourists should not be so quick in dismissing the culinary experience. Takoyaki balls have a unique and savory flavor, and for a relatively cheap price, tourists will not regret getting an order of it.