Takoyaki (octopus dumplings) (たこ焼き)

Takoyaki is a baked ball of wheat flour of three to five centimeters in diameter, into which a small piece of octopus is put, a dish originated in Osaka.

Summary

It is usually eaten as a treat or snack. You generally eat takoyaki using toothpicks or chopsticks, but in some stores you are asked, 'How many sticks do you want?' when you order, and three pieces of takoyaki, pierced by a bamboo stick, are served. Today you can eat takoyaki with a bamboo stick as stated above in stores located in Seto City, Aichi Prefecture.

Osaka has by far the largest number of takoyaki restaurants. Many takoyaki restaurants also serve okonomiyaki (savory pancake with various ingredients), and at the time of Hatsumode (the first prayer at Shinto shrine and/or temple of the new year) and festivals, many food wagons dealing in takoyaki are set up. A lot of stores have an eat-in corner with several tables, but most stores offer takeout takoyaki, and there are many "takeout only"stores. An increasing number of tenants specialized in takoyaki are beginning to operate in commercial complexes these days. Especially in supermarkets in big cities, takoyaki restaurants, located near the entrance, attract shoppers who visit the supermarket. In addition, some mom-and-pop candy stores, which have been popular with children since the Showa period, still serve takoyaki but the number of such stores is decreasing.
Judging from the remarkably high percentage of families from Osaka that possess an iron plate and other tools for cooking takoyaki, and from the large number of people in Osaka, both men and women, who know how to cook takoyaki, the popularity of takoyaki is so great in Osaka that people say exaggerate, 'An iron plate for cooking takoyaki is one of brides' household articles in Osaka.'
This is why red pickled ginger cut in very small cubes, which is an ingredient essential to takoyaki, has been sold in a bottle at many stores in the Kinki region since the middle of the Showa period.

Nowadays, special powder named 'takoyaki-ko' (octopus dumpling powder), wheat flour into which a hidden flavor of seasoning, baking powder and sometimes red pickled ginger dried and ground to a fine powder are blended, is on sale. Sauce for okonomiyaki is substituted for Worcester sauce for takoyaki in many families, but sauce exclusively for takoyaki is on sale. Today you can get frozen takoyaki. Some takoyaki contain cheese instead of octopus.

Some takoyaki also contain shredded cabbage in Kyoto and Kanto. However, the dough of takoyaki is diluted with more water than that of okonomiyaki and resists caking, with cabbage added to it, until it is baked thoroughly, and so the creamy texture which is loved in Osaka is lost. Takoyaki is sold outside Japan, but people except for the Mediterranean population (in southern Europe) or Mexicans have no custom of eating octopus, and sometimes takoyaki without octopus or with alternative ingredients acceptable to local people is offered.

One-trip containers on or into which takoyaki is put are mostly boat-shaped trays made of paper-thin sheets of wood (kyogi), but some containers are made of paper, styrene foam or thin plastic sheets. When you order takeout takoyaki, the container is wrapped in wrapping paper, or put in another container made of slim plastic sheets. Generally, along with takoyaki, toothpicks are offered in a pair. This is presumably because takoyaki will not rotate if you pierce it with two toothpicks.

Popular takoyaki in takoyaki restaurants have a thin and rather hard surface croute, and its center is typically as creamy as Monjayaki (a type of Japanese pan-fried batter with various ingredients). But in Osaka, the home of takoyaki, people do not like takoyaki with a crispy surface, but prefer soft surface croute, baked only to the extent that the croute is barely able to keep its shape.

History

Since around 1965, food wagons selling takoyaki have been observed in the Kanto region. Some food wagons in the Ginza, Tokyo offered takoyaki with minced shrimp mixed into it, and it became very popular due to its original flavor.

In the mid-1990s a lot of chain takoyaki restaurants including Kyotako entered into Shibuya Center-Gai and other areas in Tokyo, and created a big takoyaki boom.

Around 2000, Tsukiji Gindaco began to expand its business throughout Japan.
Snacks with the flavor of takoyaki went on sale under the name of 'Gindaco.'

Since 2000, an increasing number of takoyaki restaurant chains have begun to expand into regions other than Kinki.

On the other hand, varieties of takoyaki are appearing in the Kinki region, including takoyaki with ingredients other than octopus, takoyaki with different special sauces, and takoyaki served in a soup or udon (Japanese wheat noodle).

In 2002, an indie song titled 'The Song of Takoyaki' (sung by Kaori UTAKA and Tako Ball Kids), produced by Nobuyuki KAMITANI, the president of Raple Co., Ltd., was released and its CD has sold more than ten thousand copies particularly in Osaka.

How to Eat Takoyaki

Typically, takoyaki is served with sauce spread over it. It is usually dusted with aonori (dried powdered seaweed) and dried bonito shavings, and sometimes smothered in mayonnaise if you like it.

If no seasonings are added to takoyaki after it is finished, you can eat it without any seasonings, (Takoyaki is usually served without seasonings when it already has some flavor.) or you can eat it after adding soy sauce, or ponzu sauce or salt these days.

Around Nagoya, soy sauce is often spread on the surface of takoyaki.

When it is served, it is immersed in clear, salted dashi broth soup (mainly made from small pieces of sliced dried bonito). This style of takoyaki, strongly influenced by "Akashi-yaki," is more common in an area between the west of Kobe City and Himeji City. Sometimes sauce is spread over that kind of takoyaki.

Related Flour Dishes

Japanese style omelet (Akashi City)

Baked balls of wheat flour that resemble takoyaki, but contain more egg than takoyaki are served lined up on a wooden plate similar to Manaita (cutting board), and you dip them into clear dashi broth soup before you eat them. In most cases, mitsuba (Japanese honewort) is added to the soup as condiments. They are more common in the area between the southern part of Hyogo Prefecture and Osaka City.
In Akashi City, they are called 'tamago-yaki' (omelet) instead of 'Akashi-yaki.'

Basic Recipe

The following is a rough summary of opinions heard from clerks of different takoyaki restaurants and from people who often make takoyaki at home. But this is not a complete recipe of takoyaki, because there are different styles and peculiar tastes for takoyaki according to restaurants and people who make it. As there are no definite standards or definitions, it is impossible to name specific sources or supporting data.

Dissolve flour and eggs in water or dashi broth soup.
(You should keep the water or soup as cool as possible in order to suppress the formation of gluten. Some stores use ice water.)
Dissolve until they become something between very thick to very thin, and use it as the dough.
In some cases, a small amount of grated yam is added to the dough. (After this, some stores leave the dough for half a day. They say it is necessary to leave the dough for a while in order to make fluffy takoyaki.)
The viscosity of the dough is a key point in making takoyaki; if it is too thick, takoyaki will taste like dango (sweet rice dumpling); on the other hand, if it is too thin, moisture will evaporate from the dough while it is heated and takoyaki will shrink. A far more delicate adjustment of viscosity is required for the dough of takoyaki than for that of okonomiyaki. However, just as in the case of okonomiyaki, you can purchase 'takoyaki-ko,' wheat flour mixed with dashi broth soup and grated yam in perfect condition, at the supermarket, and it will do as long as you are not very particular about the taste of takoyaki.

Heat up a special iron plate with many hemispheric dents on it using a special stove, apply cooking oil on the plate with a brush, and pour the dough into the dents until they almost overflow.

Then put octopus, boiled and cut into small cubes, into each dent and quickly scatter red pickled ginger and tenkasu (crunchy bits of deep-fried dough produced as a byproduct of cooking tempura) onto it. You can further add green onions and dried shrimp such as krill and small pink shrimps.

When the bottom of the dough roasts to the extent that a thin skin is beginning to form on the surface, turn it over with a special tool which looks like an eyeleteer (a bodkin).

Then, the dough inside the skin, which is still soft and creamy, will flow into the dent and form a ball.

When the other side of the dough begins to roast, turn it over again with the eyeleteer and make it into a perfect ball. If you want to make takoyaki with a creamy center, you had better avoid turning it over too often, in addition to taking much care of the viscosity of the dough.

Arrange takoyaki on a small dish when it is baked until it turns light brown and becomes savory. It is most delicious when the surface is a little solid and the center is creamy, not completely solidified.

Spread sauce over the takoyaki (and add mayonnaise if you like it).

Finally, dust takoyaki with dried bonito shavings and aonori.

Utensils Used for Takoyaki

Particularly in the Kinki region, cooking devices with dents in which takoyaki is to be baked are called 'Takoyaki-ki' (devices for takoyaki).

Variety of Takoyaki-ki

A special cooking device which is designed to be heated directly over a household cooking stove

Gas cooking stove exclusively for making takoyaki

The burner of the gas cooking stove is elaborately designed to transfer heat evenly. Takoyaki-ki for professional use is much larger. You can even find Takoyaki-ki with a gas canister exclusively for making takoyaki at a camp.

A special plate for takoyaki, provided with a hot plate

Electric heating Takoyaki-ki

Automatic Takoyaki-ki

The iron plate vibrates slightly after a lapse of specified time, rotating takoyaki.

The main body is mostly made of cast iron, but some people prefer a copper body. When you make Akashi-yaki, a device with a copper body is basically used.

Takoyaki-ki is either square or round-shaped, as shown in the photographs. Round-shaped Takoyaki-ki of the old type is large enough to accommodate a charcoal stove because it is heated by the stove.

There are sticks exclusively for turning over takoyaki, which are very long (except for the grip) because otherwise you might burn your hand when you turn over takoyaki. Some stores use a serving chopstick made of bamboo (not a pair of chopsticks but, a chopstick) instead of a stick, in order not to damage Takoyaki-ki. At home, an ordinary eyeleteer can be substituted for a stick.

A brush for applying cooking oil is designed to fit in dents of an iron plate for takoyaki.

Old-style takoyaki is not turned over; you bake hemispheres of takoyaki, turn over Takoyaki-ki itself and make the two corresponding iron plates face each other. When you turn the Takoyaki-ki back to its original position, complete balls of takoyaki are left on the iron plate. Formerly this type of takoyaki was served in Snack Park on the basement of Hanshin department store, but it isn't there any longer.

Any store in the Kinki region dealing in cooking devices sells the utensils stated above. Many full-fledged or professional-use tools are sold at the Doguya-Suji (street of professional kitchen utensil shops), Sennichimae, Nipponbashi (Osaka Prefecture).

Korea

The Japanese word 'takoyaki' is used in Korea, too. Takoyaki began to be sold in Lotte World, an amusement park, in 2003 and gained popularity along with 'The Song of Takoyaki,' which was translated into Korean. Takoyaki became more popular with the success of this song, and food wagons dealing in takoyaki spread all over Seoul.

Taiwan

In 1990s a restaurant chain named 'Ship of the Sun' was established, and began to sell takoyaki in the name of 'Octopus small meatball.'
Takoyaki is also sold in the name of 'Baked Octopus.'
Many homemade sauces are sweet, and not just sauce, but also condensed milk is spread over takoyaki in Ship of the Sun.

Hong Kong

Tsukiji Gindaco opened its 'UNY Hong Kong' branch shop on December 15, 2004.

China

Some Japanese-style izakaya bars had served takoyaki since early times, and in 2001 the Taiwanese enterprise Ship of the Sun 'Octopus small meatball' established corporation in the mainland China and started opening a far-reaching chain in big cities.

Indonesia

The first daughter of the Sultan of Jogjakarta got to like the taste and easiness of takoyaki as she frequently visited Japan for PR activities, and invited the opening of the first takoyaki restaurant in Jogjakarta in 2006.
At 11000 rupiah per dish consisting of four pieces of takoyaki