Takoyaki (たこ焼き, literally 'octopus fry'), commonly called "octopus balls" in English, is a quintessential food of summer festivals in Japan. Originally from Kansai, the area of Japan where you can find Osaka and Kyoto, it has since spread to all corners of the country. Likewise, different regional varieties of takoyaki have developed over time as the dish has migrated. Takoyaki is a round, fried food made from batter, octopus and other ingredients, such as green onions and ginger. They are popular at festivals, often prepared from food stands right in front of the prospective customers. However, they can also be found being sold at convenience stores, food trucks, and in people's homes as well! Though, be warned, takoyaki is usually served piping hot, so be sure to give it time to cool while you sip on a beer - or maybe have some shaved ice ready to soothe the burn.
The History of Takoyaki
Takoyaki is from Osaka, where, according to one theory, a street vendor called Tomekichi Endo invented this delicious octopus dish in 1935. However, it wasn’t an invention out of the blue but rather an adaption of a previous version. Supposedly, it all started with choboyaki, the prototype of takoyaki as we know it today. Choboyaki is rather similar in ingredients, but it did not have looks like a flat rectangle rather than individual balls. From choboyaki evolved rajioyaki, likely named after the newest, most popular invention of the time: the radio. The characteristic ball shape was introduced with rajioyaki, and the dish was generally filled with beef. When the beef filling was replaced with octopus cuts, takoyaki was born.
Ever since then, the dish has conquered the taste buds of Japan by storm. It is a staple food of Japanese festivals, sold in stalls called yatai, and can also be found in shops and restaurants all around the country.
Ingredients & Preparation
The base of Takoyaki is minced or sliced octopus that is steamed in batter. Said batter can be freely enhanced with any sorts of ingredients, from a variety to fresh, seasonal vegetables to ginger, green onion, or tempura bits called tenkasu.
Special takoyaki pans that feature half-spherical molds make the preparation of the delicious dish fairly easy: fill the molds with batter, then add octopus and other ingredients. After about 2 minutes of cooking, turn the individual balls with a toothpick, chopstick, or specially made takoyaki turners. Cook your takoyaki for another 3 or 4 minutes, until the batter is golden brown, while constantly turning the little octopus delights. Once cooked, enhance your takoyaki with various toppings, such as takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, fish flakes, aonori seaweed, and more green onion.
Takoyaki - The Staple Food of Festivals
Takoyaki goes with Japanese summer festivals like ketchup goes with French fries. At stalls and restaurants, takoyaki is often served in paper dishes resembling little boats. Don’t be surprised when you’re served a toothpick instead of chopsticks to eat your takoyaki with. Spear the ball and try to eat it while taking care not to burn your mouth! There’s nothing more satisfying than to snack on freshly made takoyaki while celebrating two heavenly lovers at the Tanabata festival, after dancing the bon-odori at Obon, or while watching magnificent Japanese summer fireworks.
Homemade Takoyaki - Sausages, Cheese, and More
Takoyaki can also easily be made at home. Making takoyaki without aforementioned takoyaki pan is rather impossible, as the batter will not stay in the characteristic ball shape. Worry not, however, as such pans are available both all over Japan and all over the internet, even outside of Japan.
As making takoyaki is merely a matter of minutes as long as the batter is readily made, it’s an extremely popular party food that, if you have a portable gas cooker, can be cooked and enjoyed right at the table! While the classic takoyaki is of course made with octopus, this should by no means keep you from trying out all sorts of ingredients to put inside the savory batter - especially if you, your family, or your friends aren’t fans of eating octopus. Sausages, cheese, all sorts of vegetables, tofu: try whatever strikes your fancy!
The only important thing regarding takoyaki? Make sure to eat them right out of the pan, as they’re the most delicious when they’re fresh and piping hot.
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