Being in Osaka, we can’t sing the praises of Osaka food enough. Okonomiyaki (a Japanese savory pancake), kushikatsu (fried food on a stick), and kitsune udon (udon topped with fried tofu) are all great sit-down options. However, when it comes to street food, takoyaki reigns supreme in Osaka. It makes sense considering Osaka is the birthplace of this tasty dish.
Read on to learn more about this tasty, portable dish!
What is Takoyaki?
Takoyaki is a Japanese street food that comes in a ball shape with a piece of octopus tentacle in the center. Looking at its English name, many people refer to it either as ‘octopus balls’ or ‘octopus dumplings’, as this dish consists of an octopus tentacle wrapped in a batter and grilled. This also makes sense with the Japanese name, with tako meaning ‘octopus’ and yaki meaning ‘grill’.
On Osaka's Dotonbori Street, you can always tell the takoyaki shops by their octopus signs. Image via Unsplash
The batter usually contains flour, eggs, and dashi (Japanese soup stock) with octopus and other fillings put in during the cooking process. While red pickled ginger, green onion, and tenkasu (crispy tempura bits) are common, other batter additions like cheese and bacon can add a unique flavor.
It actually takes a special pan and technique to make these, but we’ll get to that later. Once they’re cooked, they are often brushed with a special sauce similar to Worcestershire sauce, topped with mayo and eaten with seaweed powder and dried bonito shavings. However, the takoyaki sauce can change from shop to shop, and many shops have additional options, like ponzu or soy sauce.
How is Takoyaki Made
Making takoyaki is actually pretty simple… if you have a takoyaki pan. We say ‘pan’, but it’s actually closer to a griddle and has spherical molds that make it easier to evenly cook the octopus dumplings.
During the cooking process, the cook has to flip them or rotate them using chopsticks or a special needle-like pick. The griddle’s sphere shape actually helps the uncooked batter to fall to the bottom of the base, creating the classic Takoyaki shape and cooking it thoroughly. The idea is to get a crispy, solid outside and a piping hot, gooey inside with a fully cooked tentacle in the middle.
Because of this, you can only make it yourself if you own the special griddle or stove-top attachments. If you do, it’s actually very easy to make. You just need to find a batter recipe you like, and you’re set. Japanese folks often enjoy it as a party food thanks to how easy and fun it is to make.
Just make sure you practice your flipping to avoid any burned dumplings (unless you like it that way). Image via Unsplash
The Origins of Takoyaki
Again, takoyaki is an Osaka dish invented by a street vendor named Tomekichi Endo in 1935. He also owned a takoyaki store called Aizuya, which has been open since the 1930s!
Although the exact origins of this iconic Osaka dish are not fully clear, there is a clear connection to three predecessor dishes: Akashiyaki, choboyaki, and the direct predecessor, rajioyaki.
Akashiyaki is a small round dumpling from Akashi in Hyogo Prefecture. It’s quite similar, using octopus and batter, but the batter has more egg than takoyaki, giving it a softer texture. Plus, it’s dipped in dashi before eating.
You can see the similarities with the more popular octopus balls, right? Image via Instagram (@darth_shioshio)
Then there’s choboyaki, a dish that is cooked on a similar griddle, but it has a square body with round mounds of deliciousness throughout. The choboyaki batter has various fillings like konjac, pickled red ginger, soy sauce and more.
Then there’s Mr. Endo’s rajioyaki, which seems to be named after the radio for some reason. Endo originally created this dish, which was basically Takoyaki but with soy sauce and beef. However, he changed it to the octopus we know and love in 1935, supposedly after meeting someone from Akashi. Simply being told that they use octopus instead of beef was enough to motivate the change to octopus.
According to Osaka Info, Osaka's official travel guide, the toppings for takoyaki were influenced by okonomiyaki after World War II. Takoyaki is usually affiliated with yatai (Japanese food stalls) but there are also plenty of takoyaki restaurants where you can sit and enjoy your food with a cold beverage. You can also find plenty of it in supermarkets, convenience stores and even 24-hour unmanned frozen takoyaki shops. Festivals, full of food stalls, are also an easy place to make your octopus dreams come true.
Takoyaki Shops We Love
It's a little weird to see naked takoyaki like this, but Aizuya has a good reason for presenting them as they are. Image via Instagram (@satomi.sky)
The original takoyaki shop is still open almost 90 years later (at the time of writing). As opposed to most shops these days, Aizuya prefers to offer their original creation without the bells and whistles. That means no sauce, no seaweed and no bonito, allowing customers to fully take in the taste of the octopus balls. They also love to explain the history of takoyaki.
A former Japanese candy shop, Wanaka switched into the grilled octopus game and never looked back. This shop has spread all over Osaka and into other prefectures like Fukuoka. They offer four different options for sauce: soy sauce, spicy sauce, sea salt (not a sauce) and their original Wanaka sauce.
Osaka Takoyaki Museum
The Osaka Takoyaki Museum is actually located on the Universal City Walk, which leads to Universal Studios Japan, so it’s an easy place to visit on your next trip to Japan! This museum features a collection of five top shops, all specializing in takoyaki. While you fill up on these tasty Osakan treats, you can actually learn even more about its origins than what we’ve put here.
I was a bit skeptical with the 'gourmet takoyaki' idea, but they definitely deliver. Image via Instagram (@arena_to_cake)
Creo-ru is a shop that is popular among lovers of both octopus dumplings and another Osaka treat, okonomiyaki (a Japanese savory pancake). The reason people this shop is because of their sort of gourmet versions of these foods. For their takoyaki, they feature eight different toppings and sauce combinations, some of which include egg & green onion, grated white radish & ponzu, and truffle salt. This shop has locations in both Osaka and Tokyo, so it’s easy to find.
Famous for the massive three-dimensional octopus hanging on the sign, Kukuru also a favorite among takoyaki lovers. Their most popular offering is their “bikkuri takoyaki” or “surprise takoyaki”, which gets its name from the surprising size of the octopus used in the dish. If tentacles so big that they pop out of the breading is not your thing, they also have normal-sized options, fun limited-edition versions, and even, akashiyaki.
Juhachiban has two shops around Dotonbori and both have unique signs. This one has a giant version of the street food. (@rentarokun_2nd)
Also known for its cuter octopus sign, Juhachiban is known for tasty takoyaki and long lines. The long lines are earned, however, thanks to the sakura shrimp, ginger and crunchy tempura bits added to the recipe for extra flavor and crunch. But don’t be deterred by the long lines. As a street food, you’re waiting for the food instead of for seats to open up. This shop’s locations are super accessible with locations near Shin-Osaka Station (Osaka’s bullet train station), on Dotonbori, and on the Universal Studio Citywalk.
That’s our guide to takoyaki! Are you a takoyaki fan? Would you be interested in hearing about our own personal favorite recipe? Let us know in the comments!