Takoyaki are warm, golden and crispy meatballs made of batter and octopus, and dressed with mayonnaise, katsuboshi, or ponzu sauce. They are typical Japanese street food. A soft, golden patty of batter that wraps around a mouthwatering bite of octopus. That’s what takoyaki is. The patties are cooked on a special griddle, sometimes along with spring onions. A pan with a series of hollows in the shape of a half-sphere, the size of a ping-pong ball cut in half. Once ready, they are sprinkled with aonori (seaweed powder), katsuboshi (dried fish flakes) or dipped in mayonnaise or takoyaki sauce, similar to a thick Worcester sauce.
Endo Tomekichi: the father of takoyaki
The use of wheat flour in Japanese cuisine can be traced back to the French influences of the seventeenth century. At that time, a thin crepe was common in Tokyo and Osaka, which then evolved into traditional dishes such as okonomkiyaki: a thick egg pancake loaded with toppings; and choboyaki: balls of batter cooked in special pots. It was Endo Tomekichi, a choboyaki vendor in Osaka, who created takoyaki. In the mid-1930s, Endo came up with the idea of adding octopus to his choboyaki, seasoning the batter with various flavors. Now his invention is one of Osaka’s most beloved specialties.
A freezing night in Osaka…
As is often the case with street food, it’s the smell that triggers the hunt. Imagine being in Osaka on a freezing night. The scent of onion, the aroma of octopus, the fragrance of batter…
The preparation is as interesting as the tasting. A ladle of the milky batter is poured into dozens of round molds. It begins to sizzle as soon as it touches the hot metal. The cook adds a small piece of octopus and flavors it with spring onions and tenkasu (tempura batter flakes).
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The show begins. Sharp steel chopsticks allow the chef to twist and turn each ball with skill and precision worthy of Zatoichi, creating perfect golden balls. Once cooked to perfection, they are placed in a styrofoam container and topped with mayonnaise, plenty of takoyaki sauce and a handful of katsuboshi.
Taste the pancake. The outside is springy. Well cooked. As soon as it opens, there’s the hot, soft, still moist heart. The little piece of octopus in the center is heartwarming. This is how to warm up a cold night in Osaka. In Juso, in the red light district, there are some excellent kiosks where for 300 yen (3 Euro) you can have 6 takoyaki. What are you thinking about?
Some add spices to the batter: a sort of secret ingredient. Others season with pickled ginger and dashi (broth). Each vendor has their own recipe; of course, they swear it’s the best. The takoyaki sauce also changes from stall to stall. Some cooks flavor the pancakes with ponzu or soy sauce.
Takoyaki are at their best when eaten very hot. They tend to sag and lose their flavor shortly after preparation. If you don’t have a takoyaki pan, a Pancake Puff or Ableskiver pan will do.
Ingredients (about 16 patties)
- 1 large egg
- about 1 l water
- 250 g pastry flour or 130 g white flour and 40 g cornstarch
- 1 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tbsp. salt
- 1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp. instant dashi (broth) powder
- 250 g boiled octopus or 3 cooked prawns cut into cubes.
- 2 tablespoons pickled ginger finely chopped and squeezed well.
- finely chopped spring onions (a couple of tablespoons)
- finely chopped cabbage (a couple of tablespoons)
- 1-2 tbsp. seed oil.
- 3 tbsp. of mayonnaise (optional)
- 3 tbsp. of Worcester sauce
- 1 1/2 tbsp. of Aomori
- 1/2 cup of katsuboshi
Preparation of Takoyaki
- Beat the egg with water. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and dashi in a bowl. Form a crater and pour in the egg, then mix until you the batter is smooth. Leave it to rest for 15 minutes.
- Heat the griddle over medium heat and grease it.
- When the griddle sizzles, pour the batter into the holes, making it slightly overhang.
- Add a piece or two of octopus or shrimp and a good pinch of ginger, spring onion and cabbage to each pancake.
- Leave it for a minute until the edges are almost cooked, or small bubbles appear on the surface. Using a skewer, pull each patty off the plate and turn it over.
- Continue rotating the balls until they are perfectly spherical, cooked through and golden brown. This will take about 5 minutes. Using skewer or tongs, transfer them to a plate. If necessary, oil the plate again and continue to cook until all the ingredients are used up.