Give a shout out for Osaka, Japan’s second biggest city, because while Tokyo may have the riches, population, an international vibe, and all that good stuff, Osaka has birthplace rights to TAKOYAKI. It’s a bit of a consolation prize, but that doesn’t mean it’s anything to scoff at.
Takoyaki literally means “grilled octopus,” but don’t let this conjure up images of octopus on the grill. Instead, think of donut hole sized balls that are crispy (or at least thick skinned) on the outside, and soft on the inside. The batter is a bit like a savory pancake batter with green onion in it. At the very center of each of these balls is a chunk of pre-cooked octopus.
Takoyaki requires special cooking apparatus, namely a half-moon divot griddle, into which batter and the tako chunk are placed. As the ball cooks, the chef (“Chef”? Why not?) twirls them around in place for even cooking. Once the takoyaki is done, they are trayed up in packs of six, eight, twelve, or more.
The devil of the deliciousness lies in the details of what you douse. The standard setup is a brush stroke of sweet, slightly Worcestershire-like sauce, followed by a streaming of mayonnaise across the tops of all the balls, then a rainfall of katsuobushi (dried bonito tuna flakes). Variations are a plenty, with one noteworthy one being a straight ponzu sauce accent instead of mayo and sweet sauce.
Freshly made takoyaki — and they usually are made to order — are atomically hot, so do use caution. The balls, especially when ordered to go, are generally not eaten with chopsticks, but with toothpicks instead. Poking a few holes in each ball to vent the heat, then waiting for a couple minutes or so, will make for less painful eating.
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